Azalea Prevention combats substance use and poor community mental health through training Certified Recovery Peer Specialists

The Azalea Project Prevention program trains Certified Recovery Peer Specialists to connect people who have experienced recovery with substance users to help achieve its goal of preventing substance-exposed newborns and infant mortality. During the third full week of June 2018, twenty-six individuals completed the forty-hour course and provided insight as to what the training meant for them and the community members they hope to help.

Azalea Prevention’s plan is to eliminate the negativity surrounding substance use and mental health and to treat substance use as a mental health condition. Substance-using pregnant women are often afraid to disclose substance use to their health care provider. A CRPS who understands the situation can help provide empathy and trust.

Training to become a CRPS gives a person credentials to use their personal life experiences with substance use and mental health conditions and skills learned from the training to help others build mind-body recovery and resiliency skills to combat their mental health and/or substance use conditions.

The Azalea Prevention grant from the Office on Women’s Health is funding one CRPS training a year in order to increase the capacity of substance abuse and mental health services in the Jacksonville community. Lutheran Services Florida provides the training for the class.



Melissa Morgan describes nearly losing her family because of poor mental health and substance use issues as a stay-at-home mom for twenty-five years. She then began to recover and rebuild her relationships and took a position at Gateway Community Services helping others. She took a position working in the field of peer recovery.



Sherita Douglas-El is a course facilitator who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after her time in the military. She wants others to overcome their challenges to have a healthy and productive life. “My desire is to build a multitude of peers that touch lives and bring hope through love, compassion and empathy globally. When we peel back the layers of trauma and stress, we come to realize all is possible. Our stories are not for ourselves. They are for us to share and give hope to others,” Sherita said.



Stephen Hedgecock wanted to become a CRPS because when he was going through his recovery journey, he was by himself. “I want to be able to help those who feel helpless and alone through their recovery journey. Though things may seem bleak at this moment, there is a light at the end of it all,” Stephen said.


Sherita Douglas-El and Bryan Mingle, the two course facilitators from Lutheran Services Florida.


Bryan Mingle, another course facilitator realized that when he was going through recovery that no treatment or aftercare model was suggested to him other than 12-step. He believes that the community must nurture peer recovery as a valuable solution to substance use and mental health conditions, and he is a trainer to help people find their meaning and purpose in life.