Team Award for Excellence presented to PeerWORKS and Project FUTRE

May 16, 2024

Members from two colleges and the Comprehensive Center for Pain & Addiction were honored for their outstanding service, organizational efficiency, diversity and inclusion efforts.

10 people lined up for a group photo after winning a team award

Several members of the PeerWORKS and Project FUTRE team were on hand to accept the award presented by Interim Provost Ronald Marx, PhD, Staff Council Chair Melanie Madden and University Initiatives and Policy Project Director Danielle Oxnam. (From left): Kevin Phillips, Cheryl Glass, Randa Kutob, MD, Madden, Allison Huff, PhD, Todd Vanderah, PhD, Marx, Veronica Lopez, Jess Wallace and Oxnam.

PeerWORKS and Project FUTRE, two paraprofessional workforce development programs led by the Comprehensive Center for Pain & Addiction, where awarded the University of Arizona Team Award for Excellence at a May 3 ceremony at the Bear Down Gym.

Each year, the university presents the Team Award for Excellence to recognize outstanding achievement by teams whose members are committed to a common purpose, share specific collaborative performance goals, and hold each other mutually accountable. Teams are judged on their exceptional contributions toward efficiency and effectiveness of operations, outstanding service to the university community or visitors, and special efforts in practicing inclusive excellence in the workplace.

The PeerWORKS and Project FUTRE team is committed to helping individuals, families and communities recover from substance use disorder by addressing the behavioral health workforce shortage. To date, 119 people have graduated from the educational portion of the program and 57 are apprenticing or employed at partner organizations in nine counties across Arizona.

“This team has accomplished amazing things during incredibly difficult times,” said Todd Vanderah, PhD, director of the Comprehensive Center for Pain & Addiction, Regents Professor and head of the Department of Pharmacology in the College of Medicine – Tucson. “They created and launched two programs during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, wrote and implemented curricula, built relationships with partner organizations and expanded their scope of service to reach across Arizona amidst school closures, remote work and numerous adversities.”

Project FUTRE was started in September 2020 with $2.2 million in funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration. The team developed and implemented an education and apprenticeship program to train people from families where substance use disorder is present as family support specialists. Once certified, they work with children and families impacted by opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders.

In September 2021, the same team used additional $2 million in HRSA funding to launch PeerWORKS. Adults who are in recovery from substance use disorder or mental illness are trained to serve as peer support specialists for people experiencing substance use disorder or mental illness.

PeerWORKS and Project FUTRE’s educational sessions are offered online, and laptops, internet access and computer training are provided to trainees when needed. By streamlining processes and investing in tools to manage and track projects and successes, the team provides ongoing support to applicants, trainees, apprentices and workplace partners.

Both programs strive to reduce or eliminate health disparities and advance health equity through curriculum that was designed to prepare trainees to provide culturally relevant and inclusive services to better meet the needs of the individuals served. Trainees also learn to improve advocacy efforts for themselves and others, and to address microaggressions, implicit bias and structural inequities in the workplace, health care, education, housing and criminal justice settings.

The award-winning interdisciplinary team is comprised of members from the:

  • Comprehensive Center for Pain & Addiction
  • College of Medicine – Tucson
    • Department of Pharmacology
    • Department of Family and Community Medicine
      • Workforce Development Program
  • Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health
    • Arizona Center for Rural Health

The team members are: Vanderah, Benjamin Brady, PhD, Jennifer S. De La Rosa, PhD, Allison Huff, PhD, Randa Kutob, MD, Alyssa Padilla, Cheryl Glass, Elena Cameron, Veronica Lopez, Victoria Molina, Kevin Phillips, Rita Romero, Victoria Silva, Stephanie Valencia and and Jess Wallace.

“The PeerWORKS and Project FUTRE team is helping meet a critical need in Arizona by expanding a skilled behavioral health workforce that understands and can relate to the unique needs of people, families and children in crisis, especially surrounding opioid and substance use disorders,” Vanderah said. “The team’s impact will benefit Arizona residents for years to come as we continue to reimagine and transform health care for pain and addiction.”