Healing to Wellness Court graduate, Verle Smith, proves recovery is possible

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

The Tulalip Police Department issued a recent press release that included a report from the Washington State Department of Health, stating that there were eighty-one deaths linked to fentanyl in the first half of 2018. An increase of nearly seventy percent from the previous year. Last year there were approximately 72,000 deaths nationwide, which was shocking on its own. This latest news means that the opioid epidemic is still very much on the rise in America, as families and communities continue to search for solutions to help their loved ones recover. 

At the beginning of 2017, the Tulalip Tribes decided to take different approach to help heal their people struggling with addiction by introducing the Healing to Wellness Court. Similar to a state drug court, Tulalip’s five-stage program also requires addicts convicted on drug-related charges to take random drug tests and attend mandated court appearances. When conjuring up the idea of the wellness court, the tribe put together a team dedicated to reinstilling traditional values that tribal societies hold so dear, community and culture. 

“We take in what’s called high-risk, high-need,” explains Healing to Wellness Court Coordinator, Hilary Sotomish. “High-risk to reoffend criminally and a high-need addiction, meaning they can’t do it [sobriety]by themselves, they need a team to help them through it. Our program is about eighteen to twenty-four months and depending on how well they go through each stage determines how long it takes. For some people it takes eighteen months, but we expect relapse to happen. If they have relapses or have things that they can’t get done, we require them to take life skills classes and have a job or be in schooling. We don’t go over twenty-four months. Research has shown that if you have somebody in a wellness court or drug court for over twenty-four months, it’s not successful.”

Tribal member Verle Smith joined the Healing to Wellness Court a few short months after the program began. For nearly two years, he’s followed the program, rebuilding relationships with his family and within the community, rediscovering who he is.

“At the beginning it was a struggle, I didn’t know which way to go,” he says. “I had to give it to my higher power, listen up and work on myself. It slowly got brighter.”

Verle mentioned that he relapsed during the course of the program but didn’t let that dark moment deter him from his path to sobriety. He instead used the relapse as a learning experience, a reminder of what was truly important to him. On December 10, Verle’s family, friends and supporters gathered at the Greg Williams Court to proudly cheer him on as he became the first graduate of the Healing to Wellness Court.

“There was one struggle in between but I brightened up and just punched forward,” he states. “Life became so lovely. I now have the opportunity to be around family. I love it. I still struggle today but every morning I have the opportunity for another day, so I’m living it one day at time. I do my mediation prayer and I believe that’s the key, make sure you say your morning prayers. I talk to a lot of people every day, like my best friend. Him and my family are my inspiration to fight harder for other people who need it. I love that people still have my back after everything.”  

Hilary and the Wellness Court team presented Verle with three gifts in recognition of his accomplishment; a blanket, a drum and plaque that showcased the five coins he received when completing each phase of the program. Over the course of an emotional two hours, Verle’s friends and family members offered teary congratulatory speeches as well as many long embracing hugs and a couple traditional songs. All six Tulalip Board of Directors expressed their happiness of Verle’s success, including Les Parks who helped get the Healing to Wellness Court started.

“This was initially a pilot project that is obviously working,” Les expressed. “The wellness court team is tasked with ascertaining who is on highest risk, highest need in our community. Our court identified nineteen high-risk, high-needs and I bet you there are over two hundred members out there who would love to take part in this program, who don’t fall under that category. We need to expand this program and keep working to bring on some of those low-risk, low-need people.”

Every Tuesday, wellness participants attend court at the Tulalip Justice center and speak directly with Judge Ron Whitener about their struggles and successes. Depending on their setbacks or progress, Judge Whitener awards the participants with either a sanction or an incentive. 

“Tulalip, like most communities, are facing a lot of issues with heroin,” says Judge Whitener. “Programs like the wellness court are a more traditional way of doing things. Regular drug court is very hands off, not very supportive and the person’s expected to go and fix themselves. You got to work with them, try to get through it with them, knowing it takes a long time. I think that process is really more appropriate for Tulalip. 

Just as Board Member Parks said, we’re looking to expand the ideals of this wellness court, which is for our highest risk people, and move those ideals down into the other cases and try to make the whole court look more like the wellness court. I’m really proud of Verle, I’ve known him a long time and he’s a good person. I’m really happy he was our first graduate. We have serval others coming up, so we’re looking to make these celebrations quite regular in the community.”

The Healing to Wellness Court is on track to present seventeen more plaques to recovering addicts, who are slated to graduate from the program throughout 2019. 

The wellness court participants developed their own community of support and often encourage each other to stay focused on their journey. Each participant was in attendance of Verle’s graduation and a few even spoke, stating that Verle serves as an inspiration to his fellow participants. This was something that Verle was pleased to hear and reassured the community that he’s willing to help others and hopes that his story shows that recovery is possible through hard work and determination.

“My son is here with me today, you have no idea what that means to me,” Verle emotionally expressed. “My daughter was by my side all day today, like she wasn’t going to let me go again. If it wasn’t for the wellness court, I don’t know where I’d be – if I’d even still be here.  They gave me the opportunity to experience something that works for my life. I didn’t know which way to turn, so I figured I’d try something different and I’m grateful for it. When I first went to treatment, I told my wife that I’m in the place that I need to be. I want to thank the wellness court for it all. I now plan to go through the rest of my life bringing the next person closer to where they’re supposed to be, to where they’re needed.”

For more information about the Healing to Wellness Court, please contact (360) 716-4773.

Illicit fentanyl linked to increasing number of overdose deaths in the state

Press Release, Tulalip Police Department

The Washington State Department of Health reports that illicit fentanyl is being detected in new forms and is causing an increasing number of overdose deaths in the state.

In the first half of 2018, there have been 81 deaths linked to fentanyl, versus 48 deaths recorded during the same time last year. This represents an almost 70 percent increase.

Public health officials urge people who use opioids to take these actions to help protect themselves from an overdose:

  • Seek treatment.
  • Carry naloxone.
  • If you witness an overdose, call 911, give naloxone and do rescue breathing. Fentanyl may require multiple doses of naloxone to restore breathing.
  • Never use drugs alone.
  • Be careful about using too fast. Fentanyl is fast acting and deadly. Many experienced opioid users have overdosed or died by using too much, too quickly.

Tulalip has adopted the Lois Luella Jones Law, if you have a friend who is overdosing; you can and should call 911.The law says neither the victim nor persons assisting with an overdose will be prosecuted for drug possession.

Naloxone is a lifesaving medication used to counteract opioid overdose. Naloxone kits are now available FREE for Tulalip Tribal members at Family Services 360-716-4400. Kits are also available at the Tulalip Pharmacy through your insurance company. In addition, visit StopOverdose.org for additional locations that provide Naloxone.

Tulalip Family Services can also help tribal members detox and get treatment, 360-716-4400 or https://www.tulaliphealthsystem.com/BehavioralHealth/ChemicalDependency

Non-natives can seek help by visiting, http://www.warecoveryhelpline.org/or calling, 1-866-789-1511.

Tulalip Police Halloween Safety Tips

OFC Dyer,  Tulalip Police Department

Summer is over and Halloween is here! The Tulalip Police department wants everyone to enjoy this spooky holiday safely. Here are some tips for families to stay safe and enjoy a night out Trick-or-Treating.

Going door to door to stranger’s houses, crossing streets at night, and accepting food from people you don’t know are all things that parents generally hope their children avoid doing. The major exception to this is Trick-or-Treating.

Parents and Guardians can mitigate these risks by accompanying their children as they go door to door.

Limit what candy children eat as they Trick-or-Treat so that you can inspect it prior to it being eaten.

Avoid homemade treats unless you are comfortable with the source.

As children walk around at night they can increase their visibility with glow sticks, flashlights or reflective material. Be sure to follow all pedestrian signs.

Costumes that depict realistic weapons should be avoided in public as they can scare people and generate false police calls.

Encourage children to stay in groups and to have frequent contact with their Parent or Guardians.

If the house does not have decorations or at the very least porch lights it is likely that the residence is not participating in the festivities and should be avoided.

Jack-O-Lanterns may also present fire danger if they are left unsupervised. There are electronic illumination alternatives to keep your pumpkin shining bright.

Halloween Night is famous for mischief and pumpkin smashing. It may be necessary to take pumpkins or other decorations inside to avoid tempting vandals.

The Tulalip Police Department wishes you a fun and safe Halloween!

Legacy of Healing hosts open house during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

Located on the corner of the Marine Drive and Water Works Road intersection is a small purple building next to the Tulalip Bay Fire Department. Inside the building is the workspace for a team of dedicated ladies who share the same goal of assisting the women, children and yes sometimes men as well, of Tulalip who are in or fleeing a domestic violence relationship, being stalked, or have experienced sexual assault. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the ladies at the Legacy of Healing opened the doors of the purple building on the afternoon of October 18, to inform the community about what domestic violence is and what services they have to offer.

“We’re doing an open house so that people from the community can come in and see the building, so it’s not so intimating if they come in for services,” says Legacy of Healing Lead Advocate, Tiffany McLaughlin. “What we do is advocacy for victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, sex trafficking. We do legal aid and we have a therapist so we provide emotional support. And we can accompany them wherever they need to go to file papers, we’ll go to court with them and I can help with protection orders.”

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly twenty people are physically abused by their partner per minute in the United States, totaling to more than 10 million victims each year. One in five women and one in seventy-one men have been sexually assaulted during their lifetime. And 5.1 million men and 19.3 million women have experience stalking, mainly by a former partner. Unfortunately, many people do not even realize they are in an abusive relationship because things haven’t escalated to a violent, physical level.

“A lot of people still have it in their minds that domestic violence is only physical,” says Legacy of Healing and Safe House Manager, Leora Jones. “They don’t think about the power in control, the verbal or mental abuse, and I know that because I was that person. When I first started working here I thought domestic violence was just physical; the verbal and mental abuse never even crossed my mind. Still to this day, a lot of people don’t even know that they’re in a domestic violence relationship. So the biggest thing our program has been working on is education and letting people know that you have support and we’re here to help you.” 

“It doesn’t have to be an arrestable offense to be DV,” adds Tiffany. “Calling you names every day, being in control of all of your finances or giving you the keys to the car only at certain times like to pick up groceries, things like that. There doesn’t have to be physical proof for it to be abuse. If you find yourself changing your routine or avoiding doing something that you like because it makes your partner upset, like going to the gym, those could be red flags. And they might not show those signs at the beginning of the relationship, during the ‘honeymoon’ phase, they wait until you are emotionally attached and thinking, ‘they wouldn’t do this to me if they loved me’.”

As the afternoon progressed, the Legacy of Healing received plenty of foot traffic as community members dropped by to check out the open house. Guests were treated to a full tour of the building which includes a computer lab as well as a playroom for the kids. While attendees enjoyed a variety of snacks in the Legacy of Healing kitchen, they also purchased $3 raffle tickets for a chance to win a number of great prizes. 

“Money raised from the raffle goes to support the women and children at the Safe House to provide them with personal care, personal hygiene items as well as gas gift cards and diapers,” explains Legacy of Healing Crime Victims Outreach and Training Coordinator, Dawn Augustus. “We’ll hold the raffle until the end of October and will hold the drawing on November 1. This year we are showcasing local artists Cy Fryberg, Marcia Horne, Kelly Moses, Patrick Ives and artists throughout the area who have generously donated their artwork for us.”

The Legacy of Healing works with the Tulalip Tribal Court system and receive referrals for survivors and victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Legacy reaches out to let the victims know what services are available to them. They also take on self-referral cases to help community members who may be escaping a dangerous relationship.

If that’s the case, the women and children may benefit from staying at the Tulalip Safe House which houses between seventeen to twenty people at a time. The Safe House, as well as the Legacy of Healing, are safety zones, meaning that anyone whose been charged with domestic violence or sexual assault cannot enter the boundaries of that area. While at the Safe House, the survivors work with Safe House Coordinator Elizabeth Plowman, to work through their traumatic experience and prepare for the next chapter in their life.

“When you’re leaving a DV relationship you’re not leaving with access to the bank account or a car,” says Leora. “A lot of the women who come in don’t have prior job experience, they’ve been the stay at home mom. They work with Elizabeth and are able to get on TANF. Even clients who are no longer in the Safe House, still have access to that case management and advocacy from Elizabeth.”

A number of departments showed up in support of Legacy’s open house, including the Tulalip Bay Fire Department, Tulalip Community Health Department, Karen I. Fryberg Health Clinic and the Tulalip Police Department. 

“I stopped by to see the resources they have,” states TPD Officer, Haison Doung. “The more resources we have, we can use while on duty and this is another great addition. The Legacy of Healing, the Safe House and the Child Advocacy Center do so much good for the community. To be able to show support is important because they give the victims all of these resources and that is important for healing.”

The Legacy of Healing has played an active role in this year’s Tulalip Unity Month and hosted a presentation, informing the youth about domestic violence. The department will continue making appearances throughout the community for the remainder of the month, helping spread awareness and education about domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and trafficking.

“I hope that people take away that we’re friendly because domestic violence and sexual assault is not something that people want to openly talk about,” says Tiffany. “I hope that they can come in and feel comfortable and see that we’re not scary or judgmental, we’re just women who want to hold their hand and walk with them through this journey. Because most of us on our staff have been in a domestic violence relationship or are also survivors of sexual assault, we get it and we just want to be there for them.”

To help support the women and children of the Safe House, be sure to purchase a raffle ticket before the month ends. And for additional details, please contact the Legacy of Healing at (360) 716-4100.

Wellness garden offers sense of community and strength of Cedar

Wellness Garden and Trail

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

In the midst of fast-paced urban Tulalip, there exists a lush, quiet oasis. A special place that invigorates the spirit and awakens our long-held connection with nature. Located next to the health clinic, this hidden gem is the Wellness Garden and Trail.

Carefully cultivated and crafted over the last few years, the Wellness Garden and Trail has come to represent community engagement at its finest. Veronica Leahy, Diabetes Program Coordinator for the Tulalip Health System, and her dedicated team of health-conscious staff members have been instrumental in fostering the sense of community a wellness garden can offer.

“Our goal has always been to make everyone feel welcomed, needed and valued,” reflected Veronica on the success of garden day classes routinely hosted at the Wellness Garden. “Our diabetes prevention team is greatly appreciated; everyone gives their all for our events. I feel humbled to be a part of the effort to teach people about healthy foods and increased activity in ways the community connects with. This is the essence of a proactive, holistic approach to diabetes care and prevention.”

A community of expert and novice gardeners made up of tribal members of all ages routinely attends the monthly garden day classes. Over the past planting season, the group tended the soil and grew vegetables (kale, squash, zucchini, cabbage), edible flowers (sunflowers, lavender, nettles), an assortment of seasoning herbs, and berries galore. Raspberries, strawberries, elderberries, and salmonberries, just to name a few, have all taken to the Wellness Garden’s planting beds and have shared their sweet nectar via healthy snacks and meals.

During summer’s final Saturday, the community gardeners came together for this season’s last garden day walk and gathering. There were nearly 30 community members altogether, varying in age and expertise, who enjoyed getting their hands dirty by weeding and pruning the garden, before harvesting apples and pears aplenty. A memorable experienced was shared when the group planted several baby Cedar trees. 

“It’s been such a lovely day,” shared honorary tribal member, Father Pat Twohy. “Everybody came together with good spirits to work in the garden. There was so much happiness shared while we picked apples, pulled weeds, and especially when we planted Cedars. To top it off, the cooks provided us with a lovely breakfast and magnificent lunch. Altogether, it was a happy day and I’m so grateful for everyone who made this possible.”

Gardening is a great way to incorporate the power of ancient wisdom and traditions while cultivating food to bring about growth and healing. There is tranquility in the sounds of nature, the smell of fresh earth, and the warmth from the sun. Most gardeners agree that they feel a sense of calm wash over them as they work with the plants and flowers. Some even are reminded of a time not too long ago, before cell phones and the internet ruled the day.

“It warms the heart to see so many happy people in one place,” beamed Tulalip elder Virginia Carpenter. “I just love gardening, and it’s so great to see the younger generation come out and be a part of this. Seeing families, parents with their kids, out here having a good time it reminds me of the olden days; when kids used to go with their parents everywhere and people were happy to be out of the house.”

Of the 30 community member who attended the September 22 garden day, several were first-time tribal member participants. They jumped right in to the garden activities and assisted their elders whenever possible. 

The youngest and longest attending tribal member, 15-year-old Kaiser Moses who has been attending gardening classes since he was just 4-years-old, was seen teaching others how to plant a variety of crops and how to best harvest the ready fruits. Kaiser reiterated our connection with nature by sharing, “the plants and trees are alive, and it’s up to us to take care of them and keep them healthy.”

“I stood back and listened to Kaiser’s words and teaching and my heart was so full, it was hard to hold the tears back,” added Veronica. “I watched our elders work with the new tribal members and saw real joy in their faces; this is my motivation for the garden days. Every bit of effort and time is worth it to see and feel the community effort shared by all. It has always been and continues to be a very special time for whoever comes and joins us.”

Following several mindful hours in the Wellness Garden, the group organized indoors for a delicious meal cooked by culinary chef, Britt Reed. There were pumpkins and pumpkin carving kits given to everyone, along with a variety of raffle prizes that included gardening supplies and cooking utensils. 

This upcoming winter, an all-new greenhouse project will be opening to the community which will allow the gardening activities to continue inside and more classes to be taught around food preservation. Be on the lookout for future flyers detailing this project on Tulalip News and Tulalip News Facebook page.