News /Tobacco Harm Reduction Coordinator honored with community service award
By Kelechi Ubozoh
With a big heart and a quiet strength, PEERS Tobacco Harm Reduction Coordinator Jader Tadefa inspires many through his work and was recently recognized for his tremendous efforts in the community.
On June 21, the Alameda County Tobacco Control Coalition held its annual meeting and awards presentation in San Leandro. Tadefa was one of the seven award recipients whose efforts to reduce tobacco harm in Alameda County were highlighted. Pamela Granger, Tobacco Programs Manager – North Coast for the American Lung Association in California, presented Tadefa with the Service to the Community award. Granger was impressed by Tadefa's character and modesty during his acceptance speech.
"I just wanted to cry it was so moving!" Granger said. "Here is an individual who has overcome personal addiction issues and is in the unique position to help people stop smoking. He was so humble and appreciative. He has no way of knowing just what a wonderful service he is giving."
In his role, Tadefa facilitates the Peer-to-Peer Tobacco Education program. The program is designed to give consumers the facts about tobacco use in an effort to create more awareness and help motivate consumers to seek help in quitting smoking. Tadefa travels throughout Alameda County to various provider sites making impactful presentations.
"If I could get just one message across, it would be that it’s not impossible to quit smoking," Tadefa said. "It might take more than one try, so try not to be discouraged."
Program Director Dr. Cathy McDonald and Project Manager Judy Gerard of the ACBHCS Tobacco Dependence Treatment Program both nominated Tadefa. McDonald described Tadefa as a "breath of fresh air, who really picks up the ball and runs with it." She isn't exaggerating. During his first nine months, Tadefa had reached out and booked presentations in several halfway houses, wellness centers, and case management offices. He even recruited and trained 14 other peer presenters.
"In the past, I was thinking about when I was going to get my next pack of cigarettes, or where I was going to get high again, or if I was going to lose my housing," Tadefa said. "Now I look forward to what I am working on this week. It keeps my head filled with positive things."
At the awards ceremony, Gerard noted that Tadefa was an outstanding role model who deserves recognition.
"He's an excellent presenter who has received exemplary praise from his peers for his skills and nonjudgmental approach to this important and sensitive topic among consumers," she said.
However, you won't catch Tadefa relishing in his accomplishments. He admits that just looking at the award in its frame makes him feel shy. The soft-spoken but powerful man shies away from attention, but thrives on personal connection.
"When I have a sense that I've actually helped someone see there is an alternative to smoking, I feel closer to my spiritual goals," Tadefa said. "It helps with my physical and mental health, and puts me in a good state every day of my life."
The Hayward native has struggled with substance abuse since the age of 12. Tadefa started experimenting with drugs because they were readily available in his neighborhood. The drug use ultimately led to his homelessness and by the time he was 20, was diagnosed with a mental illness and became a frequent resident of mental hospitals.
"I was in out and of psych wards and spent a lot of my adult life in board and cares," he said.
Tired of bouncing from home to home, Tadefa applied to a "recovery boot camp" and was able to get the wellness tools that led him to a transfer to an independent living residence. When Tadefa was introduced to PEERS at a job fair, he knew he wanted to be a part of their empowering work.
"I wanted to be involved in the mental health community and to be of service," Tadefa said. "I also wanted to do whatever could for PEERS."
He joined PEERS as a consultant and started working as a mentor for the John George Peer Mentor Program, where former patients of John George Psychiatric Pavilion mentor newly discharged patients. After taking a Tobacco Facilitator training, Tadefa was encouraged to take on the Tobacco Harm Reduction Coordinator role, where he instantly flourished. In the fall, Tadefa plans on creating a Tobacco Cessation support group for his peers in recovery.
"I have a lot of equally good and bad memories here," Tadefa said. "This is where I was homeless many times, in the mental hospitals, on drugs, and on the streets. But I also have a lot of good memories. I'm able to just be here and to be doing good in the same places I was doing bad."