Tom Kepner Receives NCADD Lifetime Achievement Award

(left to right) Robert St. John, Tom Kepner, Nelle Cohen Photo by Natasha Carter

(left to right) Robert St. John, Tom Kepner, Nelle Cohen Photo by Natasha Carter

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence honored Tom Kepner on Sept. 19 as the Bronze Key Recipient for his service to the community during the organization's 70th Annual Celebration: A Night of Honor event.

Kepner grew up on the West Coast, both in Oregon and in San Diego, and he eventually found his way to Mississippi about 35 years ago. He has worked at COPAC Inc, Pine Grove Recovery Center and Next Step, and he now works for the Professionals Health Network, where he works to help licensed professionals who have potentially impairing conditions, like substance abuse.

Kepner has spent most of the past 35 years helping in recovery efforts, working extensively in counselor training and treatment development. He has served on the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors Board of Directors twice, been the president of MAADAC twice and coordinated events for anonymous 12-step programs.

Initially, Kepner came to Mississippi for treatment, and he realized that Jackson was where he wanted to call home.

"I stayed here in Jackson because this is my powerbase. I didn't know any using people here; I just knew recovering people. So I threw myself pretty headlong into the recovering community around here," Kepner says. "I also found the people to be real nice here. When I first started walking around, I saw people waving at me, and I thought they were flipping me off. Instead they were waving. I truly like the people and the experience of living here."

Kepner went to his first NCADD event in 1985. A woman named Marty Mann from New York founded the organization with the hope of creating an area for public education and discussion about recovery from alcohol and drug abuse. The annual event is traditionally one of NCADD's biggest fundraisers of the year, where they have a silent auction, guest speakers and live music.

Kepner shared his admiration for the NCADD and how appreciative he was that the board asked him to be the recipient. "I just want to say how altruistic the people are that are on the board. These are truly people that care. Not everybody is in recovery. They're doing it because it's the right thing to do," he says.

Kepner admitted that he was both humbled and overwhelmed to be the Bronze Key Recipient. Service has always been a big part of his life as well as education around recovery, but he was still surprised when he was asked to be a recipient.

"It's kind of one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I have all these people saying, 'Well, it's about time.' What's important to me is that I can take part in supporting the National Council in this process of fundraising," he says.

Kepner believes that turning around and helping other people after having had gone through the recovery process himself is important, he says. In 1984, he was going through his own challenges with trying to stay sober, and recovery changed his life. Now, he gets to help others.

"It's such a privilege and an opportunity. Because, you see, when people's lives are falling apart, they intrust me and others like me to help them get back on the road where they can get up and do something that can reconstruct their lives," Kepner says. "Recovery is all about reconstruction of families, communication, and relationships. I get to play a role in that."

The biggest takeaways from his life experiences, Kepner says, were the importance of service and kindness. He says that a big part of his recovery was being so service-oriented, and he believes it is necessary to be nice and kind to everyone.

"I think all people have a calling. Mine happens to be talking to alcoholics and drug addicts. I have the ability to sit down, and in about 10 minutes I establish a relationship with people who are suffering from alcohol and drug abuse," Kepner says. "People talk about it and say it's because of your experience, but no. I had my appendix taken out, but it doesn't qualify me to take yours out. You know what I mean?"

In his free time, Kepner enjoys cooking for events where he helps feed a hundred or more people at each one, as well as attending 12-step meetings.

To learn more about the NCADD and its endeavors, visit their Facebook page here.

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