Whenever someone in East Tennessee asks for help for addiction and alcoholism, her name almost always finds its way into the conversation.
On social media, pleas for treatment are met with a litany of tags of her personal profile. Her phone number appears in various support groups, urging those in need to call at all hours of the day or night. On literature and on blog posts, on message boards and Facebook pages and scraps of paper passed around until they’re dog-eared and yellowed, her name is a beacon to those who need it most.
Small wonder, then, that Cornerstone of Recovery’s own Teresa Hazel was named as the Professional of the Year at this week’s Journey Together conference, the annual gathering by the Tennessee Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (TAADAC).
“Our main goal is to help give people training and help them become Licensed Alcohol and Drug Addiction Counselors (LADACs) and other professionals, like Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) or Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs),” says Nancy Dabbs, the president of ETAADAC — the East Tennessee chapter of TAADAC — as well as the Newcomer’s Program director at Cornerstone of Recovery. “Every year, the state TAADAC board meets and considers nominations for three awards: Lifetime Achievement, Counselor of the Year and Professional of the Year.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve had a Professional of the Year honoree who wasn’t a clinician. We’ve had folks who have owned treatment centers or worked as CEOs, but Teresa is the first person in a marketing role that I believe we’ve ever had.”
A lady on a mission
It’s a well-deserved honor, Dabbs adds, because while Hazel works for Cornerstone of Recovery, her mission is recovery, period. She started working for Cornerstone 4 ½ years ago, and while her official title is that of Regional Outreach Manager, her work with addicts and alcoholics who need treatment extends beyond just Cornerstone.
“When somebody walks up to our booth, I like to say, ‘I’m Teresa, and I get people into treatment,’” Hazel says. “I befriend them, and I try to be with them, to encourage them, to talk to their parents and family members, and to meet them at the door, if need be. I follow them through their treatment plan, and some I’ve even stayed in contact with afterward. I place people into treatment — that’s my job.”
In so doing, she draws on her own experience as an alumna of Cornerstone of Recovery. She went to treatment at Cornerstone of Recovery eight years ago, and when she arrived, she says, she was terrified.
“I tell people all the time, I remember going in and sitting in the corner, crying,” she says. “I walked in very scared, because I didn’t know what drug rehab was about. To be able to talk to somebody who believed in me and encouraged me and met me at the door, somebody that I could call seven days a week at any time, makes a huge difference.”
“The majority of people in our business got into it because they were inspired or touched personally, and they want to help others,” Dabbs says. “Teresa goes above and beyond what a lot of people do, in that she makes those connections. She’s so personable, but where her specialty is, is that one-on-one contact. She believes in what recovery is, and she’s a recovery ambassador. Other people at other treatment centers love Teresa, because they know that her mission is a good one and a noble one.”
Perseverance through tough times
It was an honor, Dabbs says, to present Hazel with the award on Thursday, Sept. 5, and Hazel herself was stunned by the accolade. In recent months, she’s dealt with the death of her father and the physical and mental decline of her mother, who suffers from vascular dementia. She’s juggled work with her duties as a single mom and a caregiver, a demanding schedule that has stretched her thin.
Not once, she adds, has she thought about using — but neither has she thought about awards.
“When they told me I was getting it, I started crying,” she says. “I just thought, why? There are hundreds of people who do so much more across the state than me, people who are on committees and go to every event, and I just kept thinking, ‘I don’t deserve it.’ I wasn’t thinking that because I wanted some reassurance; I truly felt that way, so I was very shocked. I was very grateful and humbled and honored.”
The TAADAC awards judges, Dabbs said, clearly felt otherwise. Earlier this year, Hazel won the Professional of the Year honor from TAADAC’s East Tennessee arm, and ETAADAC members Lori McCarter (herself a long-time ally of Cornerstone) and Phil Donley sent her name on to the state committee. That Hazel was selected, Dabbs points out, is proof that substance abuse professionals and facilities across the state value patient care and personal recovery above their collective bottom line.
“Teresa’s like a one-stop clearinghouse for anybody who needs treatment, regardless,” Dabbs says. “Her reputation supersedes business. She does great work for Cornerstone, and of course she’s going to try to refer clients to Cornerstone or Stepping Stone to Recovery, but if that doesn’t work out, she’s going to send them somewhere. She’s going to make sure they get help. She just has this reputation: If there’s an addict in need or a family member seeking help, Teresa is going to be there.”