Windham Eagle Choice Awards

Friday, October 26, 2018

New project coordinator connects with area youth through personal experience

By Lorraine Glowczak

Nicole-Raye Ellis
It is one thing for an adult to encourage youth to make wise choices in terms of alcohol and drug use, but the message has much more impact when it comes from an adult who made choices as a teenager that led her into a life filled with hardships and the death of loved ones – not one, not two, not three – but many loved ones.

Nicole Ellis was hired on Wednesday, October 3 as the new Project Coordinator for Be The Influence Coalition – an organization with the mission to promote community collaboration and positive choices in reducing youth substance use in Windham and Raymond.

Although Ellis holds associate degrees in both liberal studies and education from Southern Maine Community College, graduating in the top ten percent of her class and was a member and Vice President of Service with Phi Theta Kappa, the real contributing factor to her new role as Project Coordinator is her personal experiences that Be The Influence relies upon to encourage local youth to make wise decisions.

http://betheinfluencewrw.org/index.htmlEllis, a 2006 graduate from Gorham High School, knows all too well about how life’s adversities make choosing the path of mind-altering substances a way to escape and deal with the many harsh realities that come our way. “Although it is true that I was experimenting with various drugs and alcohol in my early teens, it was the result of being prescribed pain medication after a serious car accident that began my downward spiral at the age of 15,” Ellis explained. “It’s where my addiction began. Because I was feeling the regular teenage emotions combined with my family history of alcohol and drug abuse, I became addicted. I look back now and wonder why the medical professionals didn’t take a closer look at my family’s history with addiction before prescribing them to me.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Opioid painkillers are highly addictive. After just five days of prescription opioid use, the likelihood that you'll develop long-term dependence on these drugs rises steeply — increasing your risk of eventual addiction and overdose.”

Ellis explained that she was born into a family of substance abuse and alcoholism. Having the genetic make up and being prescribed a highly addictive painkiller, Ellis eventually fell into a crowd of friends who used and abused drugs which lead to both overdose and death of those she loved dearly.

She explained about her teenage experiences, “I witnessed many of my friends die from addiction. I saw my friend who was much like a brother to me, die of an overdose. I also had a few friends who died while drinking and driving,” she stated. This story does not include her step-dad who also died while he was drinking and driving. “And this is only the beginning and a snapshot of my young life,” Ellis reiterated.

Ellis eventually left Maine for two years, spending a year in Florida and a year in California before returning to her home state. Having some time away from her friends plus the announcement her brother made that he was going to have a daughter, Ellis made a conscious decision to move in a different direction. “I wanted to be a part of my nieces’ life, but my brother disowned me due to my life choices with drugs and alcohol, which I never blamed him for” Ellis stated. “Having a niece was the motivation for me to become healthy.”

In 2010, Ellis checked herself into Mercy Rehab. “The year 2010 is a special year for me. It is the year I became clean and the year my niece was born.”

As with any change one makes in life, it was not an easy journey. “I was lonely for the first four years after I became sober,” Ellis said. “I purposely chose not to be with all the contacts I had before who might pull me back into that lifestyle as well as any events that would remind me or had any association with drug and alcohol use. The thing is, I still loved my friends and I missed them a lot.”

She sought out new friends who had no experience with drugs to not only help her remain healthy but to see what life was like for those who didn’t participate or had very little experiences with mind-altering substances. “I was curious,” she said. “My experiences thus far had been so involved with nothing but drugs and alcohol, I had to see for myself what the other side was like.”

By choosing to take this path, she got to meet her daughter’s father who helped her on the road to sobriety and continues to do so. Together, they gave life to their daughter, Annabella, who was born in 2013. They continue to work jointly to provide a wholesome and productive life for their daughter.
In addition to the births of her niece and Annabella, another contributing factor that turned Ellis’ life around was the decision to be of service to others. “I began volunteering for organizations who help others such as Habitat for Humanity and the Ronald McDonald House. Serving others was a real-life changer for me and helped ease the pain of loneliness.”

https://www.facebook.com/Bill-Diamond-Maine-State-Senate-District-26-535326616567615/Now, Ellis’ focus is to help area youth learn from her life experiences and is one of the reasons why the Director of Be The Influence, Laura Morris, chose Ellis to fill the Project Coordinator position. “I chose Nicole because of her passion from personal experience and understanding of addiction and how it can ruin your life,” Morris began. “She saw this position as an opportunity to share her story in hopes of helping others to make healthy decisions. She is also the ying to my yang and able to help with some efforts behind the scenes with accuracy and structure. This relates directly to our mission and will definitely have a positive impact of the youth we serve.”

Together, Ellis and Morris are working on a variety of innovative, fun and creative efforts to adhere to the BTI mission and to invite local youth involvement. One of those endeavors include creating a video.  

“Right now, we have a Public Service Announcement video contest established,” explained Ellis. “We are inviting all students ages 13 to 18 in the Windham and Raymond community to submit a one to two-minute video on why it is important to be a positive influence in living a drug-free life.” Ellis also explained that there will be chances to win first, second and third place prizes that will be donated by local business. The prizes will be announced soon.

For more information regarding other activities, projects and the organization, explore the Be The Influence website at www.betheinfluencewrw.org or contact Laura Morris at director@betheinfluencewrw.org. Donations for the video contest can be directed to nicolerayeellis1227@gmail.com.

As for Morris’ belief in Ellis’ contribution and fulfilling Be The Influence’s mission, Morris had this to say, “She is going to rock this – and blow it out of the water.”

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