Author archive for Jess Villarreal

  • Stories of Recovery

    Peer Lead Spotlight: Jose

    Meet Jose!

    Our Peer Leads are dedicated to supporting recovery journeys, all while balancing busy personal schedules and commitments!

    January’s Peer Lead spotlight, Jose, has been involved with Recovery Beyond since 2018.

    Jose elaborates on why he has remained a supporter of Recovery Beyond for so many years, “I truly believe in this group and the purpose behind it. The community and the relationships that have been built. It gives you the feeling that we are not alone and that is very comforting.”

    We are thankful for Jose’s warm personality and his ability to make anyone feel comfortable. Keep reading to learn more about Jose’s story.

    Read more from our conversation with Jose

    What motivates you? 

    Breaking chains is my motivation!

    Teaching people to break those cycles and free themselves from the captivity and suffering of substance abuse. Growing up I lived in a household where drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence were very “normal”.

    My motivation is to completely shatter and obliterate the notion that that is a normal way of life. To show by example and to teach my kids and others that it is in fact not normal and that there is so much more in life to truly live for and strive for. To provide that safe place where they can actually be kids and allow themselves to truly live out their childhood and nurture all that comes with that.

    Breaking those cycles is my motivation!


    Anything you’d like to share about your recovery story or yourself? 

    Too much to write here! I’ll try and keep it short. It’s been quite the journey, humbling, challenging, heartbreaking and so uplifting.

    A true roller coaster of emotions to say the least BUT I stand behind this saying, the best gift I have ever given myself in my journey through recovery is the ability to feel.

    The raw emotion of every moment as it comes, to live in those moments as hard or as beautiful as they may be, that right there is the sweet spot. Honoring them for what they are and growing with those moments. Life on life’s terms.


    How do you balance your busy personal life?

    LOTS AND LOTS of prayer!

    No joke, being centered in my Higher Power, my Savior; Yeshua has kept me grounded and balanced through it all. I cannot begin to tell you the many ways God has shown up in my life and there are many times that I reach a breaking point.

    I have to stay connected to Him because I’ve tried to live life without Him and well, we know how that turned out!


    What have been your favorite Recovery Beyond activities?

    It’s hard to choose one event, the hikes have always been the center of the deepest conversations and connections I’ve experienced with Recovery Beyond, the bike rides were so much fun too because I LOVE biking, the river float for Scott’s birthday! That one was so much fun too!


    Every time I attend an event there is excitement to see my people and after every event there is so much contentment and satisfaction, reflection and perspective from others’ points of view too.

    I am so blessed to be a part of this group!!



    Jose is part of our Peer Advisory Board. You can read more about him on our Team page.
  • Stories of Recovery

    Peer Lead Spotlight: Kamaria

    My name is Kamaria Benge and I am happy to be a Peer Lead because I get to help others learn how to live life again.

    In my recovery, I did all the right things. I managed a Recovery House, went to meetings, saw my counselor regularly, met with a peer counselor, and even became a peer counselor myself.

    I loved the empowerment I got from being responsible again and was enthralled to have my daughter back in my life and have my family start to trust me again, but I was still missing something.

    Then my coworker invited me to Recovery Beyond event. All of a sudden I knew what I was missing – experiencing life while connecting with others!

    I got to go kayaking for the first time, and it was amazing! I tried boxing, and it was a blast. Just recently I tried bouldering. I thought I wouldn’t be able to climb the walls or wouldn’t like it, but it was so much fun!

    Having someone there to support you when you get scared or self-doubt yourself makes it better and having someone to share in the experience is priceless!

    I want to share the experience with the world, especially those who are familiar with the negatives in this world, like me.

    I have overcome homelessness, substance use, and having no faith or hope. And now I have my own place, a car, my daughter, and best of all, hope, faith, and love 🙂

    About the image: Myself, my daughter, and my husband on the Recovery Day at the Mariners. This was the day I got to watch my daughter go from hating going to the game and being grumpy, to smiling, having fun, and begging to go back again. That right there is why I joined RB.. to see that memorable moment reach more people.

  • Program Spotlights
    Hands put together in group huddle

    Peers Supporting Peers

    Peers Supporting Peers

    Peers Supporting Peers is at the center of Recovery Beyond conversations and activities.

    You’ll find people at all levels in recovery who can meet you wherever you might be in your journey.

    Whether the event is boxing, rock climbing, or kayaking, you know you’ll have the support of peers cheering you on through physical activities and challenging life moments alike.


    Let’s Walk and Talk

    Tawnia photoTawnia, Recovery Beyond’s Peer Support Supervisor and a certified Peer Counselor, is creating a new event series specifically focused on discussing life skills and recovery. Topics include conflict resolution, using “I” statements, and building a support network.

    These new events, known as Chat Walks, will offer a place for organized, topical discussions as you stroll through various parks in King and Pierce counties.

    If you are unable to attend Chat Walks but are interested in conversing on these topics, we offer weekly Virtual Huddles. This virtual option will cover the same themes as Chat Walks but you can participate from the comfort of your home.

    You can find the bi-weekly Chat Walks starting in 2023 on our Community Calendar.

    Options for Support

    If you need extra support in recovery, light case management, or resources for services, you can schedule a meeting with Tawnia.

    She can help navigating larger systems, resources and referrals for housing and food assistance, guidance and support with self-advocacy, or assist in improving life skills such as communication. Contact Tawnia here to set up a one-on-one appointment.

    She describes a certified Peer Counselor as, “Someone who guides and supports you in your hardest time. Peer Counselors are there to remind you of your value, worth, and importance. It’s someone who has your best interest at heart. Their only role in your life is to see that you get your needs met in the way that’s best for you, knowing that you are the best expert in yourself.”



  • Program Spotlights
    people hiking on snow

    8 Tips for Handling the Holidays

    Holiday Stress? Here’s What To Do

    Did you know 80% of people report that the holiday season is somewhat or very stressful? 

    The holidays can be difficult, especially when you’re in recovery. 

    Holidays tend to amplify feelings of grief and loss and it can be hard to feel happy, celebratory, or grateful.

    Family gatherings, holiday parties, and less daylight can trigger anxiety, fatigue, irritability, feelings of loneliness, and abnormal sleeping habits.

    8 Tips for Beating Holiday Stress:

    1. Check in with your support system
    2. Move your body
    3. Give yourself something to look forward to after the holiday season
    4. Consider creating new traditions
    5. Expect a range of emotions – that’s okay!
    6. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
    7. Prioritize your recovery
    8. Stick to a routine

    We’re Here For You!

    Remember, loneliness is a state of mind, not a state of being. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself as the year comes to a close.

     We’re here for you if you need extra support. 

    Check out our Community Calendar, full of activities for moving your body and finding peer support.

    Find out more information about booking a one-on-one session with a Peer Counselor here.

  • Program Spotlights

    7 Days, 9 Participants, 1 Adventure: A Recap of the 2022 Annual Expedition

    Recovery Is An Adventure

    At Recovery Beyond, we believe in cultivating a spirit of adventure, wholeness, and health through consistent, no-cost, programming. This ranges from weekly bouldering sessions to monthly community gathering, to our larger, more unique events.

    The Audacious Annual Expedition is the largest event of the Recovery Beyond calendar year and gives Participants a substantial goal they can work towards.

    Our 2022 Audacious Annual Expedition took Participants on a kayaking trip around the San Juan Islands.

    Learning New Skills

    The Expedition Team carried their gear and set up camp each night while kayaking over 20 miles total on the Salish Sea. Cultivating soft skills, in addition to hard skills, became important as the group traveled together.

    Communication, collaboration, gear know-how, and long physical days were critical components of the trip.

    A Participant shares, “I learned how to perform a wet exit in a kayak, how to ‘put a kayak to bed’, how to properly pack gear and belongings in a kayak, and how to better communicate with others in a group setting.” These skills can be carried into other aspects of life – whether that be communication at work or feeling confident in adventuring solo. Another Participant elaborates, “I have a realistic view of what it takes to kayak camp now! The solo day can be reproduced by myself anytime, it was so beneficial.”

    Capturing the Spirit of Adventure

    A week of island hopping in the Pacific Northwest without cell phones provided space to be present and still, a Participant explains,  “The one takeaway for me is how important it is to have quiet time in a fast-paced and frantic world…”

    A break from the constant business of life, and ample time outdoors, fosters reflection. Contemplation, physicality, and connection to the self and others is important in holistic recovery.

    Another Participant conveys, “I can choose to be intentional about prioritizing in my life – family and self first, work second.” While the trip offered these sacred moments, there was plenty to do and plenty of laughs to be had!

    Favorite memories from the Expedition include seals following the kayaks and the infamous “raccoon incident”. An overarching theme, however, was that of gratitude.

    One Participant shares, “I am eternally grateful that I was able to find the strength and the courage within myself to get myself out out of my addiction (in October 2019) This was an a remarkable part of my recovery journey, going in this sea kayaking adventure and sharing it with [the team].” Another Participant echoed that statement, saying, “I am grateful for new experiences. I am grateful for my life. I am grateful for natural places.”

    Words of Wisdom

    The 2022 Audacious Annual Expedition was a space for connection, reflection, and community. We’ve received positive feedback from the team and are immensely thankful for the openness, bravery, and courage shown by all who attended.

    In the spirit of preparing for the 2023 Annual Expedition, we asked the 2022 Expedition team what they would say to someone interested in joining in 2023. Here are a few words of wisdom:

    •  – “It’s never too early to start packing or preparing, go in with an open mind and open heart. It’s ok to be nervous, it’s completely normal and human!”
    •  – “Breaking your routine and discomfort are a part of the experience – be open and learn.”
    •  – “Just let it happen how it is going to happen. Bring more snacks.”
    •  – “It’s worth it.”
  • Program Spotlights

    Passing The Torch

    Passing The Torch

    Today Recovery Beyond is announcing that its Founder and Chair, Mark Ursino, is passing the torch as Board Chair. Mark is confident in the current direction of the organization and will continue to be an enthusiastic supporter and donor. He states, “We have an exceptionally strong Board, we have a clear definition of our purpose and direction. Megan Fisher and Mark Adams have done an ​excellent job in defining how we develop our new programs, finding partners, and training volunteers…I see Recovery Beyond becoming the first widely successful model in the Northwest for post-treatment, long-term care for people dealing with substance use disorder.” This confidence, in addition to his extensive length of time on the Board, influenced his decision to step away.

    In 2011, Mark began what is now known as Recovery Beyond in partnership with Union Gospel Mission. Together, they turned the dream of summiting Mt. Rainier into a reality with the creation of the Climbing Out Of Homelessness program. This time period continues to hold a special place in Mark’s heart. He shares, “​All of my best memories from Recovery Beyond center around the climbing program that started it all. Working with the men and women of the program, teaching them the ways of the mountains, and seeing them grow and develop.” Recovery Beyond Paradigm was created as a nonprofit in 2016 to sustain and broaden the Climbing Out Of Homelessness program. In 2019 the nonprofit’s name was shortened to Recovery Beyond. Soon after, the organization began expanding its offerings from the original climbing track.

    Mark leaves us with this thought, “Recovery Beyond is by far the most meaningful and spiritually enriching work ​I have done in my life. It has been truly life altering. If I were fit to be a volunteer, I’d still be volunteering in the programs. I would encourage anyone ​who is at all inclined to share something of themselves with others to get involved. Helping people keep their lives on track is an experience you need to have.” To put his love of service and passion for the organization into perspective, he explains, “I was an expedition mountain climber. I was part of an expedition in Peru that was called to assist an ailing climber at 19,000′ on Huascaran Sur. We ended up saving his life. That touched me deeply. The only experience that I’ve had since that has touched me in the same way is volunteering with Recovery Beyond.

    Over the past 11 years, Mark has done profound work for those in recovery from substance use disorder and those who have experienced homelessness. He has left a positive impact on the volunteers, participants, and staff members who have been a part of this organization. We are grateful for his vision, indescribable generosity, and support. His legacy continues in the spirit of Recovery Beyond.



    Mark Perry New President of the Board

    We are proud to announce that Recovery Beyond Board member, Mark Perry, is now the President of the Board. Mark has been dedicated to Recovery Beyond since 2020 and has been instrumental in supporting the organization by acting as Interim Executive Director in 2021 and holding the position of Treasurer on the Board.

    Mark Perry has over 35 years of experience in sales, marketing, and general management that covers a broad range of roles in the Information Technology (IT) industry, most recently at Microsoft where he served an illustrious 25-year career. He enjoys being outside hiking, cycling, and fishing. He works closely with Washington Trails Association (WTA) on trail maintenance teams and is an advocate for increasing access to the outdoors.

    Mark has several philanthropic interests where he contributes his time, talents, and financial support. He contributes to Medical Teams International (MTI), Seattle Union Gospel Church, Acres of Diamonds, and Sophia Way. Mark has always had a strong interest in giving back, utilizing his career and personal experiences to help those in need and uplift local communities. He believes philanthropy is the love of mankind.

    Introducing the 2022 Board of Directors

    Mark Perry – President and Interim Treasurer

    Brad Halbach – Vice President

    Marcia Hansen – Secretary

    Britany Ferrell – Board Member

    Read more about our Board of Directors here.


  • Program Spotlights

    Say Hello To Our Activity Programs Coordinator, Elisa!

    Recovery Beyond is excited to welcome Elisa to the team as our Activity Programs Coordinator. Elisa will be our boots on the ground, interacting and managing Participants, Peer Leads, and activities. She says, “I am very excited at this new opportunity for my life. I originally got involved with recovery coaching because I am a trauma survivor. It took me a really long time to officially admit that. Once I was able to fully accept that I was a trauma survivor, it inspired me to help others that have also endured severe trauma. I found that engaging in nature and other activities helped me in my recovery tremendously so I began creating groups and activities for my clients as well. I am really excited to get back into it and join this amazing group of people.”

    Before joining Recovery Beyond, Elisa was a District Manager for 2 years for Healthcare Services Group specializing in Environmental Services and a Program Manager for DDA Residents in Pierce County. She worked with and supported many of the youth in Pierce County to work toward sobriety, graduating high school, finding housing, getting jobs, finding their own meaning of being in recovery, and learning how to change and correct the future they believed they were given. Elisa was also a youth advocate for youth being released from juvenile detention centers as well as a seat at the table for the Tacoma Gang Project.

    We asked Elisa to share a bit more about herself, read her answers below!

    Why are you interested in Recovery Beyond?

    I am interested in Recovery Beyond because I love the program and the company’s mission. I used to be a recovery coach for youth struggling with SUD about 3 years ago and I loved that job so much. After accepting a different job, I began to miss it so much. So I am very happy to back in this field, helping others and engaging in so many different activities.

    What are you looking forward to in this role?

    In this role, I am looking forward to helping others, coordinating events and activities, engaging in the super fun activities, building my education and skills with peer support, and working with my new wonderful teammates!

    What hobbies/outdoor activities do you enjoy?

    I love to Hike, Rock climb, and anything to do with Water. My biggest passion is Colorguard. Colorguard is where you spin rifles, flags, and sabers while incorporating dance. I performed for about 11 years and now I coach at BLHS. I have been coaching for 6 years now.

  • Program Spotlights
    Tawnia photo

    Recovery Beyond Welcomes Peer Support Supervisor To The Team!

    Recovery Beyond is thrilled to welcome Tawnia Nelson as our Peer Support Supervisor. Tawnia Nelson has been a Certified Peer Counselor for over 7 years. She focused on the reduction of disproportionate costs and emphasized on improved health outcomes by increased community coordination and reducing major gaps in services. .  

    She joined We Care Daily Clinics in 2020 and began working on the daunting task of building a peer program in a Medicated Treatment Facility. Aligned with the experiential knowledge and education she began studying the census and the needs of the population. She focused her attention over each departments interworking’s and dynamics. Tawnia also felt the importance of recovering gaps of knowledge and maturity as a supportive approach to education. Through her lived experience she created a 52-unit curriculum with 9 fields of study. The classes quickly developed into a university style learning experience with unit completion and certification and curriculum graduation.  

    Over the course of her life, Tawnia learned that her spontaneity and creativity led her to some of the most exciting adventures from hiking, white water rafting, to program development. Which was clear when she found Recovery Beyond. She is excited to be apart of building a program that is forever going to change the future of recovery and create an environment of hope through action.

    We asked Tawnia to share a bit more about herself. Read more about her below!

    Why are you interested in Recovery Beyond?

    I am interested in the reality of recovery getting to the next level, creating a vision of community, togetherness, and compassion. Living and creating a new lifestyle with adventure and community.  

    What are you looking forward to in this role?

    I am looking forward to seeing the smiles that come from creating a sustainable lifestyle. I love that moment when you look into someone’s eyes, and you see their realization that there is life in recovery. That aha-moment of knowing although recovery is a choice, if given the right compass life can be its own unbelievable adventure.  

     What hobbies/outdoor activities do you enjoy?

    I love to take long drives into nature filled areas, wander down trails and find paths to explore, you can 

    find your best treasures and gemstones along the way. As a family we have found the most exciting adventures come when you have no plans or expectations. Our favorite getaway is Whidbey Island. We love to hike near Deception Pass early in the

     morning, spend our afternoon rock collecting along the beach and finding a group sized hammock to watch the leaves dance about the air. Of course, there’s always ice cream and more beaches to comb. We grab a bite to eat and find ourselves in a formidable game of monopoly as we are tucked away in the corner of some random market. We always cap our day playing at the arcade and going to the drive in.

    I also enjoy camping, hiking, and doing acro-yoga. Acro-yoga is both exhilarating and empowering. Though I admit my absolute favorite hobby is finding a basketball court in any place we discover and pretending to play basketball as my daughter tries her very best to let me score some points.

    Anything else you’d like to add! 

    Back to Rock Tumbling and Rock Hounding, I know it’s an unusual hobby, but it is so exciting. When I was early in my recovery I was often fidgeting, nervous, and shaken. I would go places and invite the most distasteful stares and stigma. I needed to find a way to harness all that energy into something that was a grounding point. One day I found a random rock laying around and I scooped it up into my pocket. I later found myself fiddling with this glorious rock and the fidgeting became isolated, it stopped the stares, and it gave me freedom from the stigma. I loved the feeling of being able to anchor all the energy I felt  into something. As I have grown through my experiences, I have found multiple layers of grounding, but this one has always been at the forefront of my heart.

  • Stories of Recovery

    Olga’s Journey: Mental Health and Recovery

    “Taking care of your mental health gives you the ability to cope and live with stress. Positive mental health helps you live to your full potential.” – Dr. Rach Rohaidy

    Recovery Beyond Peer Lead, Olga, sat down with us to discuss the importance of mental health and share parts of her journey. Born and raised in Ukraine, Olga moved to the United States in 2016 to join the University of Maryland’s tennis team. This monumental change took a toll on her well-being and affected her confidence in herself. Olga remembers, “It felt like being released into the wild without making my own decisions before that [attending college in the USA].” This move across the globe made her feel unprepared and unsure of her emotions. “There was a lot going on”, Olga explains, “I wasn’t processing it, I felt more and more overwhelmed, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”

    Olga began isolating herself from the tennis team. Her teammates noticed a change in behavior and suggested she address the issue. She says, “I had to deal with it, it’s the toughest thing to figure out. What’s the best approach? How do you deal with your own anxiety? How do you not be so tough on yourself? It’s interesting because you realize a lot of it is from you beating yourself up. But how do you not do it? How do you stay kind to yourself?” Knowing she had to work on her mental health, Olga began seeing a psychiatrist, got a formal diagnosis, and began taking medication. That wasn’t the end of her struggles, “I was holding onto my diagnosis too much, I wasn’t working through it in a healthy manner. It was almost a crutch. […] I realized later, I also struggled with substance use disorder and went through tough relationships in college and with my teammates.”

    Olga knew she was still relying on substances to cope with feelings. She explains, “I decided to blame everything on substances. I thought, ‘Once I quit, things are gonna get better.’ And it’s true, after I got sober things got better. But over the first year I realized there’s much more to it. My substance use was just my way of avoiding dealing with those things.” When asked about the importance of mental health, Olga responded, “To me, taking care of my mental health is everything. Everything I have can just fall apart easily if I don’t take care of my mental health. People say that a lot about sobriety. But for me, first, you also have to take care of your mental health. Otherwise, you have so many things around you. It’s so easy to slip if you’re not in a good mental state. It’s the most important thing.”

    Olga has a toolbox of mental health strategies that she refers to when faced with challenges. This mental health toolbox includes meditation, exercise, and connection. Olga emphasizes the value of consistency, which means that you can start small and make changes over time to create habits. She stresses the importance of seeking out help and support when needed, as well as exercising and participating in relationship-building activities. She elaborates, “It’s essential to build connections and to feel like you are a part of the community, and that there are people that understand and will be there for you even when things get tough.” For example, Olga has included events such as Recovery Beyond sporting events as part of her weekly routine. These activities have encouraged her to try new sports (such as climbing) and lean on relationships with others in the Recovery Beyond community. She describes Recovery Beyond as an essential part of taking care of her mental health and recovery. Mental health is just as important as physical health and wellness. Olga explains, “You have a disease [depression], you have to try to take care of it and keep it under control. It’s possible, there are ways to do it, same as diabetes – there’s medication, diet, and lifestyle changes. It’s the same for depression, little by little you have to figure out how to keep it under control.”

    Dr. Rach Rohaidy, a psychiatrist with Baptist Health, mirrored this in a recent webinar with Advanced Recovery Systems. Dr. Rohaidy advocated for meditation, exercising, volunteering, and relationship building to improve mental health. She recommends small amounts at first and building up to these habits. If you know someone struggling with their mental health, Dr. Rohaidy emphasizes that open lines of communication are crucial; sit with someone, be an ear for someone. If you or a loved one need someone to talk to, here’s a list of community mental health resources.

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