To kick off National Recovery Month this September, we sat down with President and Chief Cause Officer of the CLEAN Cause Foundation, Julie McElrath, MSSW. Her career in recovery-based organizations has equipped her with an expert perspective that has piloted the CLEAN Cause Foundation from the ground up.
What's your background with recovery-focused organizations?
As with many others in this field, I arrived as the result of a very personal experience.
My work in the recovery field is a second career. In 2013, while finishing my graduate degree in social work at the University of Texas at Austin, I served on an exploration committee with a group of community members passionate about adolescent recovery.
This work led to the founding of Central Texas' first recovery high school and the first recovery high school in the nation to have a strong collaborative relationship with a collegiate student recovery organization. I supported this organization as Executive Director for several years and had the opportunity to join with other leaders to strengthen our integrative working relationships with each other in an effort to better support our community’s recovery efforts.
Through this process, three of the network's organizations merged to form the Austin Recovery Network. The impact of this merger was an organization that provided services from birth through adulthood and I was honored to support this organization as CEO for almost two years and through the pandemic.
Over the years, it has been my pleasure to serve on several local, regional and national recovery-focused committees and work groups. I currently serve on the National Association of Recovery Schools board of directors as its treasurer, the board of the Austin Chapter of the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals, the Austin Recovery Network board of directors, and the Austin Community College Students in Recovery Advisory Council.
Can you tell us about your personal experiences with addiction?
I have personal experience with addiction and recovery through both my immediate and extended family. Through my work over the past several years, I have seen first-hand the impact of the disease of addiction and also the beauty in recovery. Through all of this, I continue to be given the gift of opportunity for inner-reflection and growth in the areas of my life that need recovery. While I do not have a substance use disorder, it does not mean I am free from challenges and things I can recover from.
What does recovery mean to you?
For me, recovery means striving every day to live as healthy and well as I can in the moment, and to stay steadfast to my commitment to a life of learning - acceptance, patience and kindness (with myself and others), integrity, honesty, humility, trust, owning my part, and always remembering the importance of imperfection.
Why did you join the CLEAN Cause Foundation?
I joined the CLEAN Cause Foundation because I've witnessed the positive impact CLEAN Cause has made in the community over the past several years - over 3,600 recovery housing scholarships worth 1.7 million dollars. As the CLEAN brand founder, Wes Hurt, says, “We are part of a private solution to a public problem.”
50% of the company’s net profits* support individuals in recovery from addiction. The vehicle for this is the product, and it continues to fuel the mission each time someone buys a can of CLEAN.
In turn, the CLEAN Cause Foundation, is taking this support and investing it in impact-driven solutions that promote best practices, further research, and support systems change. The CLEAN brand is equal parts product and purpose.
Tell us the last inspiring thing that happened at CCF.
The inspiration never ceases here at the CLEAN Cause Foundation! We are learning every day. What a privilege to be trusted with the experiences shared by so many people in early recovery. They are the true experts in this field! One very recent example is a conversation we had with leadership from a peer-led recovery housing organization in which they reminded us of the importance of the principles of recovery as growth opportunities. How beautiful is that!
Why do you think recovery housing is so important?
It is the first step (literally) back into the community... the real world... and to know that an individual early in their recovery has a safe and supportive environment to go to is critical, necessary, and even life-saving.
What do you wish more people knew about addiction or recovery?
I wish there was more awareness and acceptance around the science of addiction as a chronic illness - that it was normalized - similar to other chronic illnesses. Just like diabetes and hypertension, it requires ongoing support and maintenance. That’s why recovery housing is so important.
What do you and your team ultimately hope to achieve at CCF?
At CLEAN Cause Foundation, our vision is a world where everyone with a substance use disorder has what they need to support their recovery journey.