Here is a conversation with Troy Boze [Peer Navigator] about Musical Pathways to Wellness, a program for he founded and continues to run at the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW) for both program residents in recovery as well as the wider Lower East Side community.
the How long have you worked at CRW and how did you first start working here?
November 17th will make two full years that I’ve been at this facility and it’s been quite an amazing ride for me so far. It all started when I was working for the Brooklyn Community Recovery Center, I was a CRPA-P before obtaining my full state credential of CRPA. I was over there and I started a music program called The Musical Pathway to Wellness where I was just grabbing random people off the street and giving them guitar lessons, piano lessons, and bass lessons. I was trying to do a little bit of civic duty because the role of a Peer is to be instrumental in providing informational and emotional support, non-clinical but rather holistically.
That’s when I was discovered by Keithie Lawrence [Director of Peer Services]. I was over there giving a class one day and I was jamming with a few people, and he popped his head in there and he was like: ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool stuff man, that’s pretty awesome. Could you come over to our facility? I want you to show my directors what you’re doing here.’ I said, ‘where are you at?’ He said, ‘CRW at the Education Alliance.’ And I said, ‘where is that at?’ He said, ‘that’s Avenue D on the lower East side.’ I’m flipping out because I’m a person in recovery and during a lot of my recovery journey, this was one of the hoods that I used to navigate back in the day. I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the belly of the beast.’ I get to CRW and I see this amazing place here. I said, wow, I never even knew this existed. I come to find out Educational Alliance is a 130-year-old organization and I was amazed at that.
My interview went something like a James Brown tune. When I came in there there was no formal interview per se. I was asked to bring my bass and my amp and just show them what I got. John Gordon [Director of Community and Recovery Services] was there, Brendan Kavanaugh [Assoc. Executive Director of Clinical Programs], Robert Anderson [Executive Director], Suzette Ross [Director of Admissions] and Angela Frazier [Peer Navigator] all came through. They all sat there and watched me jam out to a little James Brown, a little Michael Jackson, and next thing you know, they’re like, ‘we need that here, are you interested in coming to work for us? So they offered me a job here as a peer providing support for people in recovery.
How could we utilize my music skills and incorporate that into Peer Services? Long story short, there was a grant being offered by Alan Van Capelle [President and CEO of Educational Alliance] where he was giving out requests for idea (RFI) grants at $5,000 a pop. On my third day here, I’m thinking okay, let me submit my idea. I want to bring Musical Pathways to Wellness to this organization because after all, as a Peer, I deal with multiple pathways of recovery. There’s not just one way like a 12–step or medically assisted treatment, but there’s multiple pathways: yoga, acupuncture, exercise, etc. However they want to recover I meet them where they’re at.
I have a history as a musician for over 45 years, playing, recording, and gigging all around the village and Newark and New York. My own lived experience being in treatment was that after about three months of being clean I wanted to play my instrument, but at that time the facilities that I was in didn’t allow you to have that.
When I got here two years ago, I introduced myself to the residents here in the house meeting. I said, ‘hey, my name is Troy and I’m a person in long term recovery. I’m also a musician and I’m hoping to maybe parlay with you guys and maybe we can do a little music.’ And everybody was up and happy. Thank God this grant came about and I won the $5,000, hence the Musical Pathways to Wellness Program was born. I bought congas, drum sets, synthesizers, bass guitars, guitars, PA system microphones, anything and everything.
Then what happened was like the snowball effect. Through Musical Pathways, I became pretty much instrumental in anything that we do here audio related. I provided music for the Katie Pettit dance troupe, I’ve given various talent shows here with the residents so that they can showcase their talent, and I formed four bands of different genres of music here with the residents.
The program spiraled way outside the doors of the facility when the community wanted to be a part of what we were doing in here on Saturdays. We got the okay from Robert and Brendan and they said let’s make this into a community center instead of just a recovery club. Flyers went out and people from the community across the street started to come in on Saturdays and jam out with me. Angela was instrumental in running a Seniors day here where these ladies came in, and we had the instruments out and they were playing congas and dancing and the Latin music flavor started happening. And next thing you know I had a Latin band going on here, it was amazing.
The Musical Pathways to Wellness program became connected to the community in different ways. There was one gentleman who was being treated for pancreatic cancer and he was getting radiation treatments weekly. He found one of my fliers and he brought his guitar over here and then he started coming every week. He said, ‘man, I don’t know what it is but I’m so glad that this is here because I get to play my guitar with some other musicians and I don’t think about the pain that I’m in going through cancer. So, we talk about it being a holistic program, it’s evidence-based right there about what music does for people spiritually and emotionally. What better way to help a person in recovery be able to explore themselves through the types of music that they’ve listened to growing up? Because we know music incites emotion and I use it as a tool to help people to emote, like ‘what were you doing when this song was out’?
When COVID hit the program got shut down for a minute, but thank God that we were able to reopen about three weeks ago just with the residential program right now. We just had a COVID screening training where hopefully the community members will be able to come back in safely. Then hopefully with social distancing and a limited amount of people in here, we can get the community back involved with what we do over here at CRW via the Musical Pathways to Wellness program.
I’m just so grateful to this agency for having an open mind to such an idea. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would ever be able to utilize my gift in a way that helps people get better in their recovery process. I thought I was just going to be a rock star someday but guess what? This is better than the stage and this is better than the studio. As a matter of fact, I got to thank Alan Van Capelle for even having that grant available because they’ve done it again. I didn’t win this time, I wanted an extension with my program. But it appears to me like out of all the programs that got the RFI grant, mine is still going strong. After two years it’s still flowing.
There’s a new group of residents there now and we’re about to start The Vibe number five, cause that’s the name of our recovery band here. I got to get a shout out to Mariano Weinstein [Artist and Teacher in Residence] who also does music lessons with the residents here. Every now and then Mariano and I have collaborated on some jam sessions which went really well. I would like to see both of our expertise come together wherein the residents get lessons and after you graduate and you come and get into The Vibe. But as of now anybody can get into The Vibe. I don’t care if you don’t play an instrument or not, you can make some noise we’ll make it sound great. Just come and explore these instruments and I’ve seen what it does for people.
It’s been two years now and I’m sitting here looking at my equipment and I’m thinking, wow, so many hands have come through this facility and have experienced coming and jamming out in our community center slash recovery club. I’m grateful today to be able to share that passion with other people like me who are in recovery.
What do you find challenging right now?
Challenging right now is of course the pandemic, the connection, the touching, the hugging, the crying. Like I said music creates emotion. When we back got in here for the first time about a week ago, we all got in unison and we all sang a Temptations song that everybody knew. The whole room just sang it: “I got sunshine on a cloudy day”. And that is a recovery song in a sense because when we started playing it the whole room just joined in! It was just amazing, everybody just on one page, one accord through song.
One of the other major challenges for me in this program is space. This type of entity really needs a department, it really needs its own space to set up in. I hope down the line, they see how instrumental that this tool is and maybe give me my own department. This is a plug, maybe my own room, and definitely some storage space where I could just set up and keep it set up, maybe even a studio.
How else would you like to see the program develop?
I hadn’t spoken to my dad in seven years since the last time that we had a falling out. When I got clean four years ago, I didn’t know how to explain to my dad that wasn’t the real me, that was me on the substances. What I did was I recorded it on a CD what I wanted to say to him, I mailed it to him and he called me like that night immediately. He said, ‘when I heard what you were talking on the CD, first I want to tell you that I love you and I’m proud of you, and just call me every day,’ and that blew me away.
Then I thought, how can I incorporate that into my support for the residents here in recovery? Through the program, I want to set up a recording space where people can go in and record what they would like to say to a loved one or someone that they may have wronged. If they don’t know how to do it face to face, they can record it and send it to them.
What does it look like, what do I need to get it started, and how do I incorporate that into the treatment here? I believe it’s a valuable part of the treatment here. It’s not didactic, it’s not clinical, and it lets people release privately. That’s just one of the tools or one of the modules I would like to see set up with the program.
So that’s the challenging part there, how do we set that up? How do we get it going? Then how about this––how do we share the program with other recovery centers, other treatment facilities, and make this thing go viral? When I researched it two years ago, the only other place that was doing anything like Musical Pathways to Wellness was in Florida.
Is that like how you would like to see Musical Pathways to Wellness develop, like a long term goal is to have the program be a billable service that you can like offer to other recovery centers?
Absolutely. I have already made it an instrumental part of Peer Services. We’ve given staff parties where we’ve set up music, we’ve done the black history month, we’ve done poetry slams here. One of my Manhattan Treatment Court clients one man spoken word show about all of his recovery process. I’m talking about costume changes, music in the background, backdrops with the Wizard of Oz on the screen back here. And we had a whole community, a whole treatment center come by to visit just to see that show. The directors from the Manhattan Treatment Court came through also to see the show, unbelievable.
This program is just another component that we could offer as a billable service. You have people in your treatment facility that could travel here to partake in our program, and then they go back to their treatment facility, they would just come here for the service. So that’s what I’m envisioning down the line. I talk about it with John Gordon and we try to map out like how to set it up as a program module, so it’s still in the works, but that’s one of the challenges right there.
What I used to do on Saturdays with my recoveries that are musically inclined, we would do a little jam, and then we would take 15 minutes just to talk about how did that make you feel? What was going on through your mind when you were playing that song? That’s a billable service because I’m providing emotional support. I’m instrumental in their recovery process, I’m affiliating them with a tool of recovery. When I sign and they sign, that is a billable service right there. I’m looking to expand that in a group format and make the group billable as well as the individual protocols, so I’m looking at this as a whole market or a fiscal driver.