No Goal is Out of Reach

Journey to Recovery Supported by United Way Programs

Between laughter and tears Shelby Spence shares her journey of recovery up to her latest achievement—earning a promotion at her workplace. Shelby is a relative newcomer in Grand Rapids, having moved to the area for after-care upon completing an addiction recovery program. For her to continue to stay sober, Shelby says leaving her former hometown behind was imperative.

“Addiction took me to places I never dreamed possible and I lost everything, my home, my family,” she says. “When I came to Grand Rapids, I started the journey to figure out who I am.”

Along with the challenge of sobriety comes the need to separate from the people and places associated with drug use. As Shelby neared her graduation from treatment, she knew she needed help finding an environment where she could continue her recovery. She reached out to First Call/United Way 2-1-1, an organization that helps those in need find resources, like housing assistance and crisis support.

“Going back to my hometown would make it hard to avoid falling back into the same habits,” Shelby says. “I needed to be in a new community where I could find a support system, friends, a job, and live a new lifestyle without the stigma of being an addict.”

After completing a housing assessment, Shelby was placed in a supervised transitional home through a crisis-housing program that helps residents gain or improve employment, participate in continuing education, or learn life skills. The program operates under KOOTASCA Community Action and receives support from United Way.

“At first I didn’t appreciate some of the rules, like the one where you can’t have visitors,” Shelby says. “But that was a good rule for me because it forced me to get out into the community and attend meetings. I developed real friendships, and now I have friends that I can call for anything.”

With support from her new community, Shelby concentrated on her healing and began to put her life back together.  She pursued her career, worked on regaining her driving privileges, and focused on her goal to live independently in her own apartment.

“I could focus on my recovery and move forward,” Shelby said.

Less than two years since Shelby arrived in Grand Rapids and a year after she began working with KOOTASCA, she is thriving. She moved into her own place after stepping into a new role at a Grand Rapids nonprofit that helps vulnerable adults. As the site supervisor, she manages and operates the facility and hires and trains staff. Even with her added responsibilities, Shelby continues to attend meetings, speak publicly about her journey, and surround herself with her support network. Once a week she is giving back by chairing a support meeting.

“I finally have my life back again,” Shelby says. “I have friends that love and support me and help me to keep my sobriety. And I’m back in touch with my family.”

KOOTASCA Crisis Housing and First Call 2-1-1 are programs supported by United Way of 1000 Lakes. United Way works to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities to create lasting change. To learn more about the support United Way provides to Itasca County and surrounding communities, visit