The group offers addiction recovery support that is culturally sensitive to the needs of the Latinx community to foster an environment in which Latinxs feel heard and free to express themselves without judgment from others.

Every Thursday night at PRO-ACT’s Philadelphia Recovery Training Center at 17th Street and Lehigh Avenue, a group of Latinxs meets to share their experiences and support each other in their recoveries from substance use disorder.

The Latinos in Recovery support group is a much-needed resource for people who speak, read, and write Spanish in Philadelphia, a city in which in 2017, 14% of individuals who died of unintentional opioid overdoses were Hispanic, but only 17% of Hispanics with a substance use disorder participated in outpatient services, and only 19% participated in intensive outpatient treatment.

“I remember standing in an intake unit, and the people at the location were not sensitive to my needs or culture,” said Evan Figueroa-Vargas, a person in recovery who co-founded the group in 2011 with Luis Soto, who is also in recovery.

“I remember standing in an intake unit and the people at the location were not sensitive to my needs or culture."

— Evan Figueroa-Vargas, Latinos in Recovery co-founder

Figueroa-Vargas and Soto discovered throughout their recoveries that a lot of the material and support groups available to people who have substance use disorders are for people who speak, read, and write English, and culturally didn’t fit their needs.

“I recall it still being very challenging even though I knew how to read and write English,” Figueroa-Vargas said. “I couldn’t get into treatment.”

The Latinos in Recovery group aims to create an atmosphere that is culturally sensitive to the needs of the Latinx community. The group focuses on addiction recovery, but participants are not limited to talking about that topic.  

Each week a total of 10 to 15 group members attend the meeting, and the meetings are facilitated by a volunteer. Soto, who sometimes facilitates the meetings, leaves the floor open for anyone to express anything they’d like to talk about, whether it is addiction related or not.

“I like to create a laid back and comfortable environment for them,” said Soto. “Sometimes, I’ll just buy everyone some pizza to take some of the tension off.”

"I found people just like me and I feel comfortable because we share similar experiences."

— Jose Martinez, Latinos in Recovery participant

The atmosphere of the meetings allows some of the participants to feel comfortable enough to open up about their personal experiences. Sometimes, they’ll share trauma they’ve buried within themselves, which may help identify the root cause of some underlying problems and helps them through their recovery.

“I found people just like me, and I feel comfortable because we share similar experiences,” said Jose Martinez, who attends the group.

“I feel better leaving because I am able to get things out that have been buried for years,” Martinez added. “I can escape positively, and I know that PRO-ACT is here.”

Rodolfo Lopez, one of the group’s main facilitators, is trying to implement more activities that don’t revolve around addiction, like relaxing and fun ways to unwind. As of now, they have a Salsa night every last Friday of the month from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at PRO-ACT. They invite family members to have dinner and dance.

“I try inviting my family every so often, but we need more women to get them dancing,” Lopez said.

“It’s a stepping stone for sure but it is also a place where you can go to and feel more human. People are not going to judge you because 90% of the people there have the same problem.”

— Edwin Hernandez, Latinos in Recovery facilitator

In addition to creating a welcoming environment and social support for Latinxs, the group also offers services such as free job training. The job training helps Latinxs overcome some of the obstacles that they may face in seeking employment, such as preparing for interviews, building a resume, obtaining a state ID, and using computers so they can access trainings and applications, translators, and potential employers. Lopez was able to find employment due to his volunteer work and the resources available at PRO-ACT.

“Everything started here. I had the freedom to be able to get multiple free trainings,” Lopez said.  “PRO-ACT has given me friends, employment, and family.”

Edwin Hernandez, another volunteer and group facilitator, said that in addition to the Latinos in Recovery group, he has used the resources available at PRO-ACT to further his education and to empower himself and others. Hernandez teaches the mental health group at PRO-ACT, which focuses on how participants feel and encourages them to analyze their thoughts.

“I gain power by volunteering, putting in time, and getting a degree,” Hernandez said. “You can benefit step by step, but you have to use the resources.”

The facilitators of the group are there for anyone who is seeking help or needs access to the resources PRO-ACT has available. Since the facilitators are all in recovery, they are also able to provide emotional support which creates a welcoming and comfortable environment for others seeking help.

“It’s a stepping stone for sure, but it is also a place where you can go to and feel more human,” Hernandez said. “People are not going to judge you because 90% of the people there have the same problem.”

The Latinos in Recovery group meets every Thursday from 1:30 pm to 3:00 p.m. in the conference room at PRO-ACT, located at 1701 West Lehigh Avenue.