As much as many of us may love our community, there’s a sad reality we must be aware of; it’s not perfect. Elko is not a place without its dark side. Like any place, you’d live or visit; there’s brokenness, addiction, abuse, and crime. Perhaps, you or someone you love knows this all too well. If not, then please know it’s out there. There’s people in our town battling and facing the consequences of these demons whom you would never expect. However, there can be hope in the all the trouble. Thankfully, we have people in our community, like today’s featured individual, who genuinely do want to be a source of light in the darkness. We have people who want/love to help others. We have people who care.
“Today, we’re joined by Sierra Smith. Sierra is an addictions counselor and recently became the treatment provider for adult drug court. Her desire, to use her position to help give others hope for the future, is something we hope becomes very clear the more you hear from her. Ok, Sierra, let’s first get to know you a little bit. “I started off as just a small town, country girl. I grew up on a ranch outside of Battle Mountain. My dad worked a lot on the ranch, and my mom dealt with a lot of medical things. She had ten massive brain surgeries. Through that, at nine-years-old, I started working the yards on the ranch; I did this until I about eleven. At fourteen, I stopped going to traditional school, and I started homeschooling. However, at sixteen, I ran away from home and moved to Montana. It was at that point when I decided I wanted to get back into public school, so I completed all four years of my high school education with honors in a year and a half (I didn’t do very much work when I was homeschooled). After graduation, I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I moved back to Nevada, but then I got really sick. I started going through testing; they thought it might be fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis. However, despite all of that, I ended up getting pregnant and became a single mom at nineteen. I started working three jobs but knew doing this long term would not be enough to provide for my kid, so I decided to start taking some college classes in the midst of all of that! I took at least twelve credits a semester. Human services sounded like a good degree to work towards; through that, I ended up doing some shadowing at the Family Resource Center. I went out on a few calls and cases, and I was sold! I went down to the college (Great Basin College) and asked them what I needed to do to make a major in the field of social work, and I started taking twenty-two credits a semester. In May of 2013, I was in the hospital doing my finals because I had emergency surgery and they released me the night before graduation. I was wheelchaired across the stage to get my Associates Degree!”
“My education continued with twenty-two credit semesters, until 2015 when I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree. After this, I started working at DCFS. I worked with many kids with cases all based around substance abuse, and I also taught adult education classes to give coping skills to those, because of substance abuse, who did not have the basic skills to be successful. I was doing all of this when the drug court coordinator, at the time, told me they wanted me to be a part of their team. I took the job with them because I just saw, through my time at DCFS, how drugs were often at the root of what some many of those kids had to deal with at home. I took eighteen credits over two semesters and a licensing exam to get my substance abuse degree and my counseling license. My son was born a week before starting the work for my master’s Degree which I received in December of 2017. And now, I’m currently working on getting my licensing passed in my Master’s in social work so I can start clinical hours; right now we have to refer all of our people out for mental health treatment.”
Wow, Sierra! That’s a great deal of hard work you’ve put in to get where you are today! Why does this specific career mean so much to you? Your job can’t be the easiest or the most glamorous field in the world to do every day. “I was in a relationship with someone when my daughter was young, who struggled with substance abuse. He was in prison, but got out, found a really good job, and seemed like he had his life figured out. However, he had a meth problem and just sort of lost it; he tried to strangle me and kidnap my kid. There’s also a lot of substance abuse on my family, on both sides. I just saw the hopelessness that people go through, and it really impacted me. So now, I get to watch and be a part of people change their entire lives! I’ve seen people get college degrees while in the program. I’ve had people get their kids back. I’ve had people reunite with their spouses. I’ve watched them change their whole life in twelve/ twenty-four months. I love getting to be a part of these stories because the most successful people in the world are only successful because of their support system.”
Wonderful! You’re helping save people’s lives, Sierra! Your attitude is excellent, but do you ever get jaded working with people with less than ideal circumstances all the time?’ “To me, the glass is always half full, not half empty! Any opportunity I have to impact someone’s life is positive in my mind; my job is to get a smile out of anyone who comes in to see me and give them a little bit of hope because the hardest thing for me is watching people struggle. Some people don’t make it through the program. To even be in drug court you would have had a felony. So, if they slip up, they’re going to prison. I’ve had clients pass away because of overdoses. Addiction is really tough; you don’t win them all. I also do private DUI work as well. I do DUI and substance abuse evaluations through referrals. So, the biggest thing is knowing that not everyone is going to take in what you’re saying. Not everyone is going to take the process seriously. Some DUI people, for example, come in but have no intentions of changing. My job is to try to convince them to, but it’s their choice.”
When it comes to the topic of substance and alcohol abuse in our community, have you noticed any themes or trends when it comes to those who are falling into these kinds of holes? “It’s not a secret that Elko has been taken over by substance abuse. There’s a lot of alcohol-centered events in our community, but not a lot of “sober” events as a whole. Young people with several off days in a row (and money to spend) can find themselves falling into the drinking/partying culture. However, meth is a big one for a lot of the people with wild work rotations and schedules because it helps you stay up for days. When we have rough, ever-changing schedules, it affects our bodies, and we tend to try and “self-medicate.” So, someone may drink to sleep better and/or do meth to stay awake and work. Heroine as has taken a big toll on the community, and this often starts off with pain pills. Someone might get hurt at work; they get addicted to their pain pills, then they move on to heroin. It’s difficult to nail down specifically, but I do think our unique work culture plays into it.”
Well, this is why we need people like you in our city, Sierra! Thank you! Is there anything else you’d like to say to anyone reading this before we let you go? “I was a single mom, working three jobs who couldn’t make ends meet. Now, I can comfortably take care of my two kids. There wasn’t one second that wasn’t a fight for my degree. I have serval learning disabilities, and I struggled through every second. However, now, I can tell my clients that it’s never too late; let’s get through it together! I love people, and I want to make a positive impact in this community, whether it’s through the drug court or private referrals. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched by substance abuse one way or another; it’s a big deal…it really affects everyone.”
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See you around, Elko!