Tackling substance use with teens, wider community
July 13, 2023, marked 28 years of sobriety for Pam Pearce. Today, decades after being voted Lake Oswego High School’s “biggest partier,” she has helped hundreds of people on the path to sobriety.
At the start, when she was just 26 years old, Pearce openly talked about her struggles with alcohol to hold herself accountable through radical honesty. So that’s what she did: discuss her journey openly and honestly with anyone who’d listen.
Eventually, Pearce, who lives in West Linn, became the person many community members reached out to when they or a loved one were struggling with drugs or alcohol. For her dedication to helping people achieve sobriety, Pearce was named Pamplin Media Group’s 2023 Amazing Neighbor from West Linn.
“When you’re able to share it out loud with someone, that’s when the healing begins,” Pearce said.
Pearce said she usually receives two or three calls a week from people seeking help.
“I always answer,” she said. “I open up and introduce a different way of doing life, a different path to individuals, and I will connect them with people. I will connect them with treatment places.”
Pearce’s reputation as the person to go to when starting down the path to sobriety led her to connect with Julie Edwards.
Edwards, a local mother with a family member struggling with substance abuse, founded the West Linn Community Task Force to help others battling addiction find connections and resources.
Eventually, Edwards sought someone to continue her work after her child graduated.
Everyone she spoke to answered with Pearce’s name.
Pearce took over leadership of the task force in 2015 and, recognizing that substance use disorder reached beyond West Linn, renamed the group Community Living Above.
The organization’s mission is to “engage, educate and empower individuals in drug and alcohol prevention.”
Through her work with the group, Pearce encountered the documentary “Generation Found” about a substance use recovery school. Pearce said she cried throughout the movie and immediately knew she had to open such a school herself.
Two years later, in 2019, Harmony Academy, the state’s first recovery high school, opened in Lake Oswego. Following Pearce’s path, a second recovery school is set to open this fall in Portland and another in Springfield.
Pearce met with hundreds of people as she worked to find Harmony. Describing how the school came together as “supernatural,” she said she believes everyone was so willing to help because she had been so open and honest with them.
Pearce mentioned she felt particularly blessed on May 7, 2018, the day the Lake Oswego School Board voted to charter Harmony Academy, which also happened to be the anniversary of her father’s death.
“That property where I sat and listened to them unanimously vote in the state’s first recovery high school, that’s the property I learned to drink and use on,” Pearce said.
One day Pearce hopes we no longer need recovery schools. But she acknowledged that day is likely a long way off.
In the meantime, Pearce considers it a win every time she shares her story with a new person and talks honestly about substance use, hoping they will eventually pay it forward and help someone else in a crisis.
“I’m humbled to be a part of that,” Pearce said. “I’m honored, and I’m humbled that I get to sit and tell them the truth and then tell them that it will be OK. Because, when you’re in the dark like that, literally, the world feels like it’s very, very heavy. And I know with 100% certainty that healing is possible. And to be able to share that with people as often as I get to is an incredible blessing.”