The road to recovery is one step at a time

Since its debut this fall, Recovery Rides has proven to be a successful method of providing transportation to and from substance abuse treatment facilities.

In the San Juans, organizations exist to support people wanting to overcome addiction, but if enrollment at a mainland rehabilitation center is needed, that’s often a significant challenge. A high percentage of community members who have wanted to obtain treatment were unable to simply because timely transportation couldn’t be arranged.

Orcas-based Recovery in Community, which pairs trained advocates with clients seeking sobriety, spear-headed a county-wide collaboration called Recovery Rides with Compass Health on San Juan Island and the islands’ three community resource centers. The program matches drivers and riders with clients on all three islands who need a lift to an addiction facility, which can be as far north as Bellingham and far south as Everett. The trip involves several transitions: from home to the ferry; ferry to taxi; taxi to the facility and then later, the same trip in reverse.

“We had a watershed day on Oct. 18,” said James Connell, who helped found Recovery in Community. “Our first ride was completed. At the crack of dawn, an RR Driver picked up the client, the RR rider accompanied them on the ferry and on to Anacortes, and the client checked in at the treatment center that afternoon. The rider had a 14-hour day, and said, ‘I’ve never been as tired and grateful at the same time!’”

Since then, a total of four San Juan County residents have been escorted through the program. When a bed is secured for a client, they often need to arrive at the facility the following day, or the spot is given to someone else. It’s critical that drivers and riders are on-call each day of the month in the event that a trip is required.

“We had a supermajority of days covered in September, October and November with full teams on Orcas and San Juan Islands,” Connell said. “For Lopez, we are still looking for that kind of coverage.”

One island resident, who wished to remain anonymous, checked into a rehabilitation facility to overcome alcohol addiction in March. He was released on Nov. 15.

“I’ve heard so many success stories from people staying in for the longer term,” he said. “It was probably one of the most beneficial things I’ve done. It was tough and there were times I wanted to come home, but I know for me and my son it was something I needed to do.”

He wishes Recovery Rides was in existence when he first went to the program because it would have been “so much easier to get there.” He did, however, utilize the service after completing treatment.

“Recovery Rides was excellent. I had someone to talk to the whole way, and we stopped and had lunch on the way back,” he said. “It helped a lot, having someone to confide in and talk to. We still talk almost every day and he checks up on me. He keeps me motivated and interested in going to meetings for AA and NA. Having someone there to keep me accountable has helped tremendously.”

Connell added, “It is important to note that Recovery Rides is not affiliated with any specific recovery program or treatment facility. Riders and drivers are trained and supported to simply get the client where they need to go.”

There are three elements to the program: volunteers who drive clients to an island ferry terminal; paid “riders” who accompany clients to and from the treatment facility; and off-island drivers, generally a contracted commercial vendor such as a taxi. For more information about participating as a rider or driver, email

On Orcas, two business partners have joined the cause: Kaleidoscope and Terra Firma Northwest.

“The leaders themselves are participating as riders and drivers and encouraging and supporting their employees to do the same,” Connell said.

San Juan County and Compass Health contribute to the partial reimbursement of transportation costs from designated funds. Connell raised $5,000 for the pilot program to run through December, and fundraising for a full year is happening now. To donate, visit or mail a check to Orcas Community Resource Center, PO Box 931, Eastsound, WA 98245 (write For Recovery Rides/RIC). Recovery Rides is also in the Give Orcas campaign that is currently underway:

“People have really stepped up,” Connell said. “It’s been great and it’s been a real learning experience.”