VALATIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Addiction and overdoses increased during the pandemic as people found themselves increasingly isolated. But one remarkable woman lends a hand to those on the road to recovery, a journey that she knows first-hand.

“I’ve really gotten to grow up in recovery,” said Cortney Lovell, who entered recovery at just 19. “It’s the life that I’ve known that’s made my life today possible.”

Lovell said she first heard the call to help those struggling with substance abuse after she completed her own recovery from opioid addiction. “Not just recover from their substance abuse and get into a space of healing,” she said, “but then to go on and lead full, productive healthy lives in recovery.”

At first, Lovell worked as an outpatient counselor but noticed gaps in recovery outside of treatment hours. “So much of life happens after that 9 to 5,” she said. “So much of life happens in the evening and on the weekends, and if there aren’t safe places for people to go and find community and healing and help, I think it’s easier for them to fall back on old unhealthy coping mechanisms.”

Next, she started working on creating recovery community organizations before joining with the late Laurie Quinn to start Our Wellness Collective. There, people can receive recovery training to help others.

“It was [Quinn’s] passion for helping families mixed with my passion for helping individuals who are struggling that made all of this a reality,” Lovell noted. “We realized that if you can help the individual heal as well as the parents and the siblings and the loved ones, then you create this whole community of healing, and it’s contagious.”

Then came another contagion: COVID. “The pandemic changed everything. So many components of healing revolve around connectedness,” she said. Lovell stressed that not “being with other people—and having to isolate and separate ourselves from our communities—only made people, I think, more unhealthy.”

It wasn’t easy, but Our Wellness Collective moved all their training online, creating a digital bridge to connect more people. “To make training and become a certified recovery coach, a peer advocate, possible for people—it just might not have been possible before, because of work and maybe schooling,” Lovell said.

“Trying to get to a weeklong training with childcare and all these obstacles that would have been in the way before are now gone. And we’ve made it so anyone who wants to be trained can get to the training, as long as they can get to their phone or computer. And they can afford it! We’ve made it much more affordable than it ever was before.”

Cortney Lovell

Her inspirations are her two children, motivating her to keep pushing for change. “I want them to grow up in a world where it’s normal and ok to ask for help,” Lovell said.

Her message for those who are struggling or watching a loved one suffer from addiction is that recovery is possible no matter how far you feel you’ve fallen. “As long as there is breath in your lungs there is always hope for healing,” Lovell said.