Gayeane “Sam” Lester began attending SMART Recovery online meetings in 2004. Less than a year later, she was co-facilitating online meetings; six months after that, she was facilitating online meetings herself. “Sam was one of the first volunteers when we were developing the online community many years ago,” explains Shari Allwood, former Executive Director for SMART Recovery.

Lester’s passion for helping others through the online community was apparent as she took on greater responsibilities. “In preparation for the launch of the new Get SMART FAST Training Program, I approached Sam to see if she’d be interested in becoming part of the Onsite Training Team [a group of face-to-face trainers for group facilitator training] when that group was being created in 2016,” says Jim Braastad, Training Program Manager for SMART Recovery USA, Inc. “As a result of my Message Board Volunteer Liaison role at the time, I was familiar with her through her posts and ongoing involvement on SROL. Those posts conveyed all the qualities, knowledge and skills that we were looking for in the training team role, so the ‘recruiting’ effort began. With a little bit of arm twisting — it didn’t take too much, Sam agreed to join the team in early 2011 and has been a rock-solid member ever since. She brought all of the attributes mentioned above to her new role with the training… and then some!”

Braastad points to Lester’s knowledge, support, friendliness and calm demeanor as reasons she has been so successful as an online facilitator. These traits greatly enhance the experience for other volunteers she trains. In addition, Lester also has been involved with face-to-face meetings for several years. Again, her soothing tone and her ability to eloquently share her own experiences overcoming addiction create an ideal atmosphere in which participants can learn, relate and grow.

As it happens with many SMART Recovery volunteers, the desire to help others draws Lester to experiences that have a deep effect on her own life. As she shared in a SMART Recovery blog post titled “Love One Another,” Lester was assigned to conduct an onsite facilitator training session at a meeting facility in Duncan City on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. “Being a landed emigrant in Canada in 1958, this brought me back to my ‘homeland,’ which was more than fulfilling on its own,” she writes. “Most of the trainees represented tribes from the First Nation, a predominantly indigenous people in Canada, south of the Arctic Circle. Over the two-day training, I was privileged to experience insight, support, understanding and a connection of loving people.”

As she led the training session, Lester was able to show the First Nation trainees that the SMART Recovery process closely embraces their own beliefs in bringing support and compassion to others. “What they didn’t expect was how nonjudgmental and supportive SMART is for all who are in need, whether it be because of addictive substances or behaviors,” Lester writes. “They could also see that this was a way to help their people.”

It isn’t unusual for Lester to leave a lasting mark on trainees and others involved with SMART Recovery. “Words can’t adequately convey all that she’s brought to the table to SMART, the training program and the training team over the years,” Braastad says.

Allwood concurs. “Again, compassion, empathy, patience, kindness all help Sam to succeed with her SMART volunteer work,” Allwood says.

Lester’s impact on SMART Recovery and the people with whom she interacts is far-reaching. Although Braastad has yet to meet Lester in person, he feels a strong connection to her. “I don’t view Sam as only being a member of the training team; I view her to be a friend whom I’m lucky to get to work with,” he says. When they do meet, he anticipates that friendship to only strengthen. “I’m sure it’ll be like a gathering of old friends and I’m glad that our own individual life paths and journeys have crossed!”

“SMART Recovery is the core of my way in life.  It has given me the tools which have helped me make positive changes but also a place of comfort,” says Lester.

SMART Recovery thanks Sam for sharing her talents and serving as a SMART role model through her in-person and online work. 


About the 25 in 25 Volunteer Recognition Program

The heart of SMART’s 25th Anniversary celebration in 2019 is the story of an extraordinary community of volunteers who have built a worldwide organization devoted to supporting individuals recovering from addiction and their family members and friends. These volunteers include addiction scientists and treatment professionals who designed a self-empowering 4-Point Program® and joined people with the experience of recovery and trained them to lead mutual support group meetings.

Together they have created and refined a peer-professional mutual-support group model that combines the best science for treating addiction with the lived experience of recovering from addiction – the world’s largest and only community of this kind with more than 3,000 group meetings in 23 countries. Each year, participants in these groups help each other recover at more than 150,000 meetings, in-person and online, led by volunteers trained how to use the SMART program.

Throughout SMART’s 25th Anniversary year, culminating in our National Conference September 20 – 22 in Itasca, Illinois, we will honor volunteers representing many types of individual service.

Click here to learn more about the program and to see all who have been recognized.

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