April Jackson remembers the time her son took a yoga class as part of an after-school program. She noticed a difference in the way he reacted to a problem. Instead of getting angry and lashing out, he simply stood there, silent and calm.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m just breathing.”
He had learned those techniques in yoga. She was amazed that something so simple could make such a big difference.
And now, many years later — as Jackson begins a new journey as the rural health coordinator for Thrive Allen County and after more than two decades in recovery herself — she uses that story to illustrate how something small can change someone’s life.
“There’s a different kind of language for recovery versus active addiction. Something as simple as changing a word can mean a difference,” she said.
As rural health coordinator, Jackson works with the Southeast Kansas Misuse Prevention Coalition. She works with agencies, organizations and individuals in a six-county region to bring together resources for prevention and treatment, and to find strategies to help those with substance misuse issues.
“I want to bridge those gaps for people. I have an understanding of what it takes to reach people who are suffering and connect them with the resources to help. The recovery language I learned is not a secret. It’s just something that started to make sense.”
JACKSON considers Moran her hometown, even though she lived in other parts of Kansas during her childhood.
She often spent summers and weekends with her grandparents in Moran, Iola and Fort Scott before moving to the Moran area and graduating from Marmaton Valley High School.
After high school, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with the rest of her life as far as a career path.
“I really wanted to be a mom, be on the farm and do rural living,” she said.
She headed to Independence Community College, had a baby and got married. The marriage ended and she moved back to Moran “to figure out what life had in store for me.”
Jackson noted one constant of her life: It’s always changing.
“It’s always been about timing. One door slams shut, and another door opens when it’s time to move on.”
The next years of her life would include several jobs, moves to different towns and failed relationships. She was married and divorced again, with another child. She went back to college a couple of times, and graduated from Emporia State University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in earth science and geospatial information systems.
She recently started a business as a home-herbalist, making herbal teas and crafts.
She moved back to her family’s homestead this past summer and worked for TLC Garden Center in LaHarpe before deciding she wanted to find a career where she could use her recovery experience to make a difference in her community.
HER recovery story started in Chanute, when she was 24 and a single parent to a 6-year-old.
“I had a love-hate relationship with alcohol and pills, and at that point, anything else,” she said.
“I was not sure that I wanted to continue living, but I knew I didn’t want to leave that kind of legacy for my daughter.”
A family member with similar substance misuse issues had found a different kind of life through recovery. He helped her see she had options.
She visited a doctor who helped enroll her in a detox program. She didn’t understand it was a 28-day program, and checked herself out after three days.
“It did give me a moment to realize I was willing to do whatever it takes not to be where I was.”
She started attending a 12-step fellowship program. She entered counseling.
Her life started to change.
She could just breathe.
“It didn’t happen all at once,” she said.
“There’s always a different choice to make. Sometimes they’re very hard and I’ve not always made the right choices. But the one thing I’ve not done is put any of that stuff back in my body.”
Still, it’s an ongoing process.
Things haven’t been easy. Doors keep closing. New doors open.
Her son, Justin Courtney, became very ill during his freshman year of high school, and the family still isn’t entirely sure what happened. He’s now recovered, graduated from high school in May, and is getting ready to start a new job at a ski resort in Colorado.
Her daughter, Carley Swanson, has a 3-year-old son, Jaxxen, and Jackson enjoys taking him to school.
After about 10 years of recovery, Jackson realized her entire family needed to heal and she went back into counseling.
“There was still stuff I was holding onto that I needed to work through. That’s the message I carry now to people in recovery. What you are doing right now is awesome. Don’t stop. Even if it gets hard, it will get better again.”
JACKSON’S career has included jobs in sales and marketing.
She worked more than 13 years for Muckenthaler Inc., a restaurant equipment company in Emporia. She was able to travel the country, attending conferences and learning leadership skills.
That motivated her to go back to school. She intended to pursue a marketing degree but instead found a love of earth science.
After moving back and forth from Emporia — and after Muckenthaler closed and her son graduated from high school — Jackson ended up back home in Moran. She was working for TLC when she read in the newspaper about the rural health coordinator position at Thrive.
“I was thinking about how I could serve my community. How can I share my recovery and what I’ve gained?”
The Thrive job seemed like a perfect fit, so Jackson sent an extensive cover letter outlining her qualifications and experiences.
“I threw everything but the kitchen sink into it. I just felt super passionate about it.”
The combination of being in recovery, and having a sales and marketing background, gives Jackson a unique opportunity to connect with a variety of people.
“It’s about getting people excited to do uncomfortable things,” she said.
She’s only been on the job for about three weeks, so she’s still learning. She’s reading the criteria for the grant and reaching out to people in the community who can offer resources to help those in need.
“I’m not afraid to have a conversation and be vulnerable with somebody. Let’s find common ground.”
She noted several programs in Southeast Kansas and Allen County that are already working, such as a Drug Court program under Judge Daniel Creitz in the 31st Judicial District, and the efforts of the Allen County Multi-Agency Team (ACMAT) in alcohol and tobacco prevention for area youth.
She also wants to see more programs that can help someone thrive as they begin to recover. That could include something like a sober living house or other ways to help someone’s transition.
“What works in one stage of recovery doesn’t always work at another,” she said.
“For me, the stakes are higher. Maybe I would like to try new things, but sometimes the environment is not safe, depending on my spiritual and mindful position. I can’t lose sight of my purpose. It’s a tricky balance.
“This job means I can serve my community and bring those resources to light.”