Grateful For Savage Lessons

I have often said that I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me. Many incredible people have mentored me. All have been a blessing. When it comes to my role as a recovery advocate, Bob Savage trained me.

Bob founded the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR). He had just retired from the State of Connecticut after a career of more than 30 years. Brilliant at startup operations and not one to sit idle, Bob set out on a new project. He sought to answer two questions that plagued him over his state career.

“Where were representatives of the recovery community when decisions were made that affected them?”

“Could the recovery community be organized?”

Working diligently and effectively from his home, Bob crisscrossed Connecticut, spoke wherever he could and found a few individuals who were passionate about putting a face on recovery. They were strongly motivated to advocate on issues of importance to the recovery community. CCAR’s Michael Askew was one of these people. Long before CCAR was officially founded, Michael led Friends of Recovery – Norwalk. After I applied for the CCAR Associate Director position, I attended a couple membership meetings. I was impressed. Michael served on the committee that interviewed me.

I was fortunate enough to get hired. For the previous two and a half years, I had worked as a stay at home dad (that may have been my toughest gig). I was CCAR’s first hire (other than Bob) and started in January 1999. I had no idea at the time that this would blossom into my life’s purpose. I learned a lot while working along side Bob. Here are a few of the Savage Lessons.

Family, family and more family. Bob considered himself a family member often referring to his dad’s early demise. He believes family members have the potential to be the recovery advocacy movement’s most powerful constituency. I agree.

Pick a few things and do them very well. When building an organization, carefully and thoughtfully select your projects. Some people would advise to “pick the low hanging fruit”. Don’t try to do everything that comes your way. Not every idea can be implemented. Quality counts. And it’s okay to say no.

Be an ally of the Single State Agency (SSA). Work with the primary state department that deals with addiction, not against them. In our case we have forged lasting relationships with people in the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS). This seems like common sense to me, but I’m amazed at how many people view the SSA as their adversary.

Pay your people (especially people in recovery) well. Value their experience. If a recovery community organization doesn’t set the tone for paying members of the recovery community well, who will?

We have a right to be heard and to speak even when it’s uncomfortable to voice our opinions. Bob was well known for his passion particularly on matters of injustice and inequality. He would not remain quiet when he saw people poorly treated. He labeled it “discrimination”. He would not let it go. Much of the system transformation in our state was because of Bob’s persistence.

Treat your Board with utmost respect. The CCAR Board is my boss. I am accountable to them. It is not a role I take lightly. I appreciate the time they take to serve. I respect their responsibility to lead CCAR.

Hire carefully. Hire fairly. Follow appropriate procedures. Yolibel Lebron, CCAR Director of Administration/HRO (Human Resources Officer) has been with CCAR since 2002. She has instituted a comprehensive hiring process and once people are hired, a very thorough onboarding regime. The temptation is to shortcut this procedure by hiring people you know, friends and/or family members. I have seen it often in the recovery movement and rarely does it turn out well.

Address all personnel situations in reasonable time frames. I can still hear Bob’s voice in my head, “Phil, 20 minutes of intense discomfort is a small price compared to months, or years, of prolonged pain.”

Seek help. Sometimes unique issues arise. Seek advice and/or consultation from people who have more experience than you in that area.

Share your challenges as well as your successes. This has evolved into the concept of transparency within CCAR. Read about RIGHT Conduct here.

Surround yourself with great people. I learned the art of true delegation – providing someone a leadership opportunity and then letting them do it. Bob allowed me to either fail or succeed with our first Recovery Walks! He said to me,“Phil, do you think you can get 50 people there?”

“Well, yeah. I do.”

“Then it will be a success, because no one has ever done it before.”

Again, he was right. We both beamed with pride when more than 700 people showed up.

Bob Savage’s legacy will live on through the work of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery. I have been blessed to build on his foundation.


Phil Valentine
Phil Valentine

In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During all that time alone with my Creator, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is a way for me to share things I have learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. I find that when I speak I present the same messages over and over. It’s time to write them down.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

1 thought on “Grateful For Savage Lessons”

  1. I never understood this more clearly than I do know when I say “thanks to all those who came before me” and who set the stage for this recovery movement to take root and to grow as it has, in order to reach as many suffer and lost individuals as we possibly can!!
    I am proud to be in long term recovery and only wish that I can carry this message clearly and effectively to ever corner of this planet!
    Thanks guys for your passion, dedication, and persistence.
    Best Regards,

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