By Kathleen Swift • Photo by Artistic Expressions Photography

George Washington Carver famously advocated the philosophy, “Lift as you climb.” He meant that as we go through life, we should use our experiences and talents to help others. Teddy Steen has applied that philosophy to her life.

Steen, who holds a BS in social work and a teaching certificate in secondary education, has seen her life take several iterations.

“As a child, I dreamed of helping others. One day, as my family was driving past what is now Turn Around Ranch, I knew I wanted to work in a place like that. I think it was a God thing. I had a calling.”

But, as often happens, it took several twists and turns for Steen to realize her dream. As a young adult, she began to abuse drugs and alcohol even as she prepared for careers in social work and teaching.

“I was not ready to seek help until 1987, and then it was only to slow down. I went into treatment, and it hit me that I was an addict. Otherwise, how did these people at the treatment center know all about me? I knew I had to do what they were telling me to do. I don’t like being told what to do, but with a 12-step program, you have choices. I could choose not to use.”

As Steen began her 33 continuous years of sobriety, Cable One took a chance and hired her, even knowing she had to go to her 12-step program meetings in the evenings.

“God intervened for me with that job. I had the perfect boss who kept me accountable. I worked for Cable One for 24 years, eventually becoming a regional manager.”

During her career, Steen developed her sense of philanthropy. She began the process of giving back to her community. She also continued her education in substance use recovery getting credentialed to counsel others.

Steen recalled, “I started volunteering with many organizations in our community, such as probation and parole, Rotary and Ronald McDonald House.

“After being sober for 10 years, I started going to church, which was something I had vowed to never do. When I walked in the door, Pastor Aaron Brown changed all that for me. At first, I thought he was preaching from the 12-step book, but then, after a time, I realized it was from the real big book, the Bible. And he, along with Saint Paul’s, have been instrumental in the building and growth of ASCENT Recovery.”

In 2008, Steen founded ASCENT Recovery as meth use ravaged the community. She developed the program to provide sustained recovery management in a faith-based environment.

“There were so many innocent children who were affected by the meth use ravaging the community,” said Steen. “I wanted to start helping the fathers. If they were given the tools to develop respect and honesty and integrity, they could become the men God intended them to be.”

Twelve years later, ROCC, the Recovery Outreach Community Center, was born with many like-minded people working together with the generous support of entities such as Saint Paul’s Methodist and the philanthropic society, which is part of the Joplin Community Foundation and the Missouri Foundation for Health.

But Steen has her hands in many more aspects of lifting as she goes. “I work with the treatment court system. Treatment court teams hold people accountable, and it is an intense program to help offenders grow and teaches them skills for living. It’s a great program,” said Steen.

“I currently volunteer with One Joplin and the ROCC. I think collaborative groups work well when many people bring their ideas together. Part of my philosophy is that I understand that I can’t save people, but I can provide a place for people to find out about God and themselves. I can plant the seeds and give people the tools, but each person must choose to improve his own life.”

When asked what keeps her going, Steen said, “The key to not burning out is knowing there are so many good organizations. If you volunteer where your passion and your gifting is, you won’t burn out. And make time for yourself.

“When you see someone graduate from the program and take hold and make the decision to change their life, it’s rewarding. It is especially rewarding to see men becoming real fathers to their kids, who are often the innocent parties in a family with drug and alcohol abuse. If a man can get clean and step up and take responsibility, life is better for the whole family.”

It’s all a part of lifting as we climb.