In Pursuit of Recovery Equity

A Q&A with LaCresha Dotson

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
9 min readFeb 6, 2024

This Q&A, facilitated by Jeremiah Gardner of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, was published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.

LaCresha Dotson talks to Fox9 reporter and anchor Tim Blotz at Hazelden Betty Ford in Plymouth, Minn.

When LaCresha Dotson came to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation as a health unit coordinator at its award-winning Center for Teens, Young Adults and Families in Minnesota, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She just knew she wanted to work someplace that made a difference in people’s lives. In the years since, she has found a calling and is now leveraging her leadership talents and passion to help Hazelden Betty Ford broaden its banner in pursuit of recovery equity, inclusivity and reaching more people. Thanks to an innovative new pilot program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School, she’s also on track to earn a master’s degree in integrated substance use and mental health care — something she never imagined until now.

LaCresha, you came to Hazelden Betty Ford without some of the more typical motivations (e.g. your own recovery experience or the goal to become a clinician). What about the mission, the organization, and the young people and families you serve has not only kept you here but inspired you beyond your expectations?

In all transparency, I wasn’t very familiar with the organization until after I became employed at the Plymouth site. I began my journey in November of 2014 in an on-call capacity. During that time, it was customary for new staff to shadow other departments, and I had the privilege of shadowing the facilitators of the Plymouth Family Program — which at the time (we have multiple family service options available today) was a three-and-half-day experience for families of our patients, providing them with fundamental education on addiction. What I remember most was how impactful the program was for family members. Intense is an understatement. Through tears and vulnerability, I was both humbled and empowered to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for many of the individuals who attended. I made up my mind that I wanted to be involved in the organization full-time and began seeking positions to apply my talents.

As a survivor of a parent who lost their life to addiction, I have learned so much about the importance of support for families in the fight against alcohol and other drug addiction. My ongoing motivation to work at Hazelden Betty Ford comes from a deep desire to help others who are affected by addiction, as well as to honor the memory of my parent by making a positive impact in the lives of others who struggle with substance use and mental health. I have often wondered how different my family’s life would have been had we known and had access to the Hazelden Betty Ford Family Program.

Today, I have several “bricks” or foundational reasons for my commitment to the Hazelden Betty Ford mission. Primarily, though, it’s the opportunity to be of service and to be part of a life-saving process that contributes to saving not only lives but families and communities. One thing my grandmother always said: “When you learn about a good thing, you’re supposed to share it!” So, that’s what I’m doing — learning, helping, and sharing whenever possible.

Everyone at Hazelden Betty Ford has a platform to be an ambassador for the recovery and to advocate for those we serve. What does the role of advocate mean to you, and in what ways do you feel personally connected to Hazelden Betty Ford’s mission as a force for healing and hope and its vision of empowering recovery and well-being for all?

The word “advocate”— to champion, support, boost — and all the words that reflect allyship resonate deeply with me and fall within my wheelhouse concerning service. Part of my role is to advocate for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues, provide support, raise awareness, and fight for access to quality treatment and resources. I am personally connected to Hazelden Betty Ford’s mission because it aligns with my own values and goals in advocating for individuals in need. I believe in our vision of empowering recovery and well-being for all and am committed to working toward that vision in my advocacy efforts. After losing a parent to addiction, I feel especially connected to this mission and motivated to be the force of healing and hope that Hazelden Betty Ford represents.

LaCresha Dotson

You are enrolled in a master’s degree program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School. And you happen to be part of a cohort of students admitted under an Alternative Admission Pathways pilot designed to open opportunities for people who are prepared for graduate school success despite not having a bachelor’s degree. It’s a pioneering approach in higher education that could help meet the national shortage of addiction and recovery professionals; attract greater diversity of professionals into the workforce; and empower people who, even with decades of experience, may be getting held back from professional growth, earnings potential and opportunities to ascend into leadership roles and — most importantly — save more lives. What was the application process like (still rigorous?), how is school going, and what does the opportunity mean to you, your eight other Alternative Pathway classmates, and potentially our field?

It is exciting to have this opportunity, and I am incredibly appreciative. To call the Alternative Pathway innovative and pioneering is an understatement. The reality is some people don’t or can’t pursue higher education before entering the workforce for many reasons. And for those who gain some combination of valuable work, military and/or other school experience, they may be ready to succeed in graduate school but not have the time or resources to go back to square one of obtaining a bachelor’s degree first. I, for example, have been working for many years and have completed some undergraduate courses but am still a long way from my bachelor’s degree. This new pilot pathway is enabling me to accelerate my educational path while I continue to work, demonstrate the value of my experience, advance my career, and bolster the workforce.

The application process was no more or less rigorous than any other educational institution of higher learning. As an older student who does not work in a clinical role and had been away from academia for a decade, I was more concerned with the unknown of entering into a new field of study than my ability to manage the online learning platform. For some, finances can be an overwhelming and unsurmountable barrier, and the Alternative Pathway is not less costly than the traditional pathway. However, financial assistance is also available to assist those who need it, and I know that’s been important to many students.

I was driven by my desire to assist with the lack of diversity in counseling and what that means for patients from diverse backgrounds. This was fuel for me to push through, regardless of my fears. Fortunately for me and the others in my cohort, the Graduate School has designed an amazing orientation simulation to assist with preparing and onboarding. Without this fundamental element, I don’t think I would have been as prepared or enjoying the success I currently am with my studies. School is going well, and the program has provided me with the necessary knowledge and skills to excel.

The opportunity to be part of this trailblazing program means a lot to me and my classmates who were admitted under the same Alternative Pathway. It provides us with the opportunity to advance our careers and make a meaningful impact in the field of addiction and recovery. I find it a remarkable and equitable resource with far-reaching benefits to students, the institution, and the future patients we aspire to serve.

You have been an impactful leader in helping to drive and support Hazelden Betty Ford’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts the past few years. You serve on the DEI Committee, spearhead cultural recognition activities, and much more. Several news stations even highlighted your efforts to promote healing and inclusivity by updating the artwork on display at Hazelden Betty Ford’s Center for Teens, Young Adults and Families. President and CEO Dr. Joseph Lee says this is generational work — meaning change happens over years. How do you see Hazelden Betty Ford evolving already, and what are your hopes, dreams and aspirations for “recovery equity” and the future of the organization?

Thank you! I’m honored to be a part of the efforts to drive and support Hazelden Betty Ford’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. The organization has already shown progress in its evolution toward a more inclusive and equitable environment. By actively involving the DEI Committee under the leadership of DEI Director Andrew Williams, and spearheading cultural recognition activities, Hazelden Betty Ford is demonstrating a commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive community.

The recent news coverage of our efforts to promote healing and inclusivity through updating the artwork at the Center for Teens, Young Adults, and Families is a testament to the organization’s dedication to positive change. This demonstrates the organization’s commitment to creating an environment that is welcoming and representative of all individuals. As we continue this work, my hopes, dreams, and aspirations are centered on creating a more equitable and accessible recovery experience for all individuals, regardless of their background or identity.

I envision a future where every person seeking recovery receives the support and resources they need, and where Hazelden Betty Ford continues to grow as a leader in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of addiction and recovery. I believe that by prioritizing recovery equity and continuing to drive DEI efforts, we can create a lasting impact on the lives of those we serve and contribute to positive change in the broader community. My aspiration is for Hazelden Betty Ford to be a beacon of hope and support for all individuals on their journey to recovery, embodying the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in every aspect of our work.

I find that Hazelden Betty Ford is becoming better known in BIPOC and marginalized communities and that we’re serving more of the overall population. The small push of word-of-mouth can be a mighty amplifier. And there is much more work to do.

Happy Black History Month, LaCresha! What does the month mean to you, to Hazelden Betty Ford, and to all of us? What are you reflecting on?

Happy Black History Month to you as well, and to all who read this! Black History Month is a time of great significance for me, as it provides an opportunity for reflection, pride, and celebration of the historical contributions of African Americans. While it is important to recognize that the impact of Black history cannot be confined to just 28 or 29 days, it serves as a dedicated period to honor and pay homage to the ancestors and achievements of the African American community.

During Black History Month, I engage in activities such as learning and sharing new and interesting facts about the diaspora, watching civil rights films and speeches, and immersing myself in the rich cultural heritage of the Black community. It is a time to fill my cup with the wonderful things that define the experience of being a Black person in the United States, despite its challenges and shortcomings. It is crucial to recognize that Black history is an integral part of American history, and as such, it is incumbent upon every citizen to familiarize themselves with it. Understanding and appreciating the contributions and struggles of African Americans is essential to any comprehensive understanding of the nation’s history and to promoting inclusivity and unity. By celebrating Black History Month, we honor the resilience, achievements, and cultural impact of the Black community, and we acknowledge the ongoing journey toward equality and justice for all.

(L to R) LaCresha Dotson and her daughter Jordan Dotson and husband Kevin Dotson.



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