Take Action Today, An RCO in Rural Illinois, Honored as Business of The Year!
First Lady Betty Ford's 1978 public statement about her alcohol use disorder played a major role in destigmatizing substance use disorders. Residential treatment facilities expanded exponentially to treat substance use disorders. The next several decades after the First Lady's public testimony, the nation experienced a crack and heroin crisis in metropolitan communities and a methamphetamine and opioid crisis in rural communities.
The nation’s responses to these crises increased the stigma of addiction, and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment shifted from treatment centers to jails, prisons, and the child welfare systems. Recovery advocates began discussing the importance of ‘restoring citizenship’ and being involved as good neighbors in recovery in the communities where you work and live. Persons in recovery were encouraged to volunteer in their community, get involved in community cleanup, join civic groups, and other acts of service. The belief was that these activities could help with recovery, as the slogan says, “In order to keep it, you've got to give it away.” It was also believed that getting involved in your community in recovery could help decrease the stigma of addiction.
Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs) play a crucial role in creating a community connection and changing attitudes toward SUD. RCOs are comprised of individuals in recovery who come together to support each other and promote positive change in their communities. In addition, RCOs are increasingly viewed as vital contributors to community well-being. One outstanding example is Take Action Today, an RCO in Southern Illinois recently honored by the Benton/West City Chamber of Commerce as the 2024 Business of the Year.
Previous recipients of this award have been for-profit-type businesses, which we often think of as members of chambers of commerce. Previous winners in the county have included banks, restaurants, automotive shops, hardware stores, and a mall. Take Action Today is doing a stellar job in the county, sending the message to the six counties that they serve that we can and do recover and we are a part of the solution! RCOs, Recovery Support Organizations, and people interested in reducing the stigma of SUD can congratulate Take Action Today for this accomplishment.
Following the news of the honor, I interviewed Mike Tyson, Executive Director of Take Action Today. See his responses below.
What kind of services has Take Action Today provided in Benton/West City?
Mike: Take Action Today has been blessed to forge bonds within the community, which is the county seat. We began working with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in 2022 to deliver peer support services and an educational program within the county jail—the community benefits from fresh leadership with a newly elected sheriff and mayor. Both have been beyond supportive. The mayor worked with us to decorate Benton City Square with purple ribbons for Recovery Month. But what I think pushed us over was opening a Crisis Warming Center in West City, which has brought the community together uniquely. The outpouring of support from the community has been nothing less than inspirational, testifying to the desire of rural community members to help if they have good leadership to follow. Our aim has always been to be an organization people seek out when they want to help.
Does Take Action Today participate in Chamber and other meetings in the county?
Mike: Yes. Shara Robinson serves as our Community Development Coordinator. Part of her role is developing relationships with civic groups in our communities. Last summer, we began participating in a few of the Chambers in our service area. This approach has helped us establish relationships with key stakeholders we might not otherwise have access to.
Do you think that the presence of people in recovery who are a part of RCOs has the power to help reduce the stigma of addiction in communities? If yes, has that been the experience of TAT in the counties you serve?
Mike: Yes. Part of our goal at Take Action Today is to develop not just service providers but community change agents. The power of our stories connects us to the community, and our presence proves that recovery works. Stigma is an ever-present specter that looms over everything that we do. The impact of stigma can be seen to varying degrees in different communities. Any stigma we have encountered in the six counties we serve has been overcome through transparency, collaboration, and consistency.
Do you have any suggestions for other RCOs across the country wanting to impact communities served, particularly in rural communities?
Mike: Rural communities thrive on personal relationships. I have found that identifying and developing local community champions is essential to building those relationships. I strongly recommend that RCOs greet their communities with the hand of collaboration, seeking ways to serve the community before asking the community to support them.
Are there any staff you would like to highlight for their work in the county?
Mike: Paul Tart, CPRS, was one of our first peers. He joined us in 2021 through IL Recovery Corps and pioneered most of our services within Franklin County, especially with justice-involved populations. Paul has been essential in the impact of our organization in Franklin County and has been a testimony to what formerly incarcerated people with substance use disorders can achieve.
Thank you, Mike, and congratulations!