VOORHEES - Deborah Kroop often ducks into the Living Proof Recovery Center, one of the Center For Family Services programs assisting people with addiction and mental illness.
A member of the nonprofit's board of trustees since 2007, the 69-year-old Woodbury resident is passionate about the need for such a program in South Jersey. Nearly 20 years ago, she sought treatment for alcoholism and still attends a 12-step program to help her stay sober and guide others.
In explaining her decision to share her own story publicly, Kroop said she wanted to offer hope to others affected by addiction who are too afraid to seek help.
"Many people stay in this disease because they don't realize there is a way out," Kroop said. "The stigma keeps them in the disease."
On Saturday from 1 to 4pm., the peer support center will celebrate its five-year anniversary with an open house and barbecue lunch. It's an opportunity to connect with peer volunteers like Kroop, who will be honored at the event for her work.
"I keep myself in a recovery community, which is why the Living Proof community is so important to me," Kroop said. "It's very unusual to have something like this in the area."
When it opened, with financial backing from the state and now also the Camden County Department of Drug Addiction and Mental Health, Living Proof was only the second recovery center in New Jersey, behind Paterson.
Since then, the center has counted more than 7,000 visits from people seeking support and community. The center offers free peer support and services.
"It's very important in sobriety to surround yourself with the recovery community - it's a huge part of sobreity. And it's a place of hope, and a place to be among other recovery people," Kroop added.
When Kroop sought treatment, she entered a strict 30-day program in Maryland, paid by her insurance. She followed that with three months in a recovery halfway house in California. She was 60 at the time, with two children and a career in the women's fashion and retail industry she set asisde.
"I will have, hopefully, 20 years of sobreity in November," Kroop said. "It's important that I do this one day at a time. That's the way the 12-step program works. We all have today, and we try to stay in the day."
Entering treatment was one of the best decisions she ever made, Kroop said. She well recalls what it was like to withdraw from alcohol, a difficult few days marked by hallucinations and tremors. Alcohol withdrawl is dangerous without medical supervision and medication to suppress seizures, which can be deadly, she noted.
"It is much easier to stay sober, than to have to get sober again," Kroop added.
Today, Kroop uses her experience to counsel others. She calls recovery "an amazing journey."
"It can be a roller coaster of emotions, but it's very joyful," Kroop said. "It gives you a chance to understand life in a different way. You appreciate life more, at least I do. I appreciate the little things much more...it allows you to be much more grateful. It teaches you to give back."
It's why she spends hours volunteering for the nonprofit and the Living Proof Recovery Center.
Jen Hammill, a spokeswoman for Center For Family Services, pointed to the need for recovery services: An estimated 142 people die every day in the United States due to a drug overdose, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
That's more than double the number killed in car crashes and gun homicides combined, according to a national opioid commission convened by the White House.
"People in the recovery community are welcome here as volunteers," Hammill added. "They can play a role in supporting others in their journey to recovery."
The center is at the Regina Hill Center for Counseling, Support, and Healing, 108 Somerdale Road, Voorhees.
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