Thursday, July 10, 2008

Linda DeShields, A Pioneer of Addiction Treatment in Delaware, Dies at 63

Linda DeShields, a steadfast advocate for Delaware's most disadvantaged citizens who helped build programs for treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation, died on Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. She was 63.

Linda was one of the pioneering black females in Delaware’s treatment services. She opened the doors for people of color to enter this field, and is thought of as “the Harriet Tubman of treatment” for the state’s African American women and men. This legacy continues today, as many of the outreach workers she hired have ascended to supervisory positions. Her daughter, Rochelle Booker, is the supervisor of Delaware’s first needle exchange program.

In the late 1980’s, Linda started her career at Brandywine Counseling, Inc. (BCI) as Delaware's first HIV/AIDS outreach worker. Later, as Director of Outreach Services, she hired a team of indigenous outreach workers who were in recovery themselves, and often recently released ex-offenders. She had a strong work ethic, often working 10-12 hours a day when it was necessary to get the job done. She passed on these values to her team, many of whom had never held a job. Throughout her career, she became the voice for her clients in the community and diligently worked on behalf of them to ensure better access to the services they needed.

Linda recognized that addicted persons face interrelated challenges such as housing, crime, and domestic violence. In addition to her full-time job, she worked with numerous community organizations that dealt with these social ills. She was a liaison with the Wilmington Housing Authority for drug and alcohol services, a position that was the impetus for the creation of the NSAFE HIV case management program at BCI. She also worked with Mayor Sills’ administration as a community liaison focusing on substance abuse and related problems. Linda also appeared on the cable TV show “Women 2 Women” on channel 28 to interview women on women’s issues. She highlighted successful business owners, struggling domestic violence victims, as well as those addicted to drugs, and offenders.

One of the populations Linda was most passionate about was inmates, particularly women. For nearly 20 years, she volunteered at the Women’s Correctional Institution. She would go to WCI on a daily basis, meet with inmates about to be released, and prepare them for what to expect and to meet important goals like rejoining the workforce. She was also a very dear friend to the staff and often called to just check in on them. The staff remembers her as “an inspiration [who] always had a listening ear, and never turned away.” The way she touched the lives of the offenders and so many officers was like “being touched by an angel.”

Linda also volunteered at the Plummer Center, coming to the dining hall to have lunch with ladies who did not get family visits or any money. Her heart was in this work and she genuinely cared for the inmates. She continued her visits even after suffering a stroke that left her in a wheelchair.

Linda was also a member of the Police Advisory Board, and went to many parole board hearings to advocate for ex-offenders. She did substance abuse evaluations on offenders who had been referred to the Public Defenders office, and made recommendations for treatment as well as for pre-sentencing investigation.

Another passion of Linda’s was children in at-risk situations. She did weekly prevention and education interventions with arrested youth at Bridge House and Ferris School. She also worked with organizations seeking mentors, such as Eighth Street Baptist Church’s "Magic and Minds Together," which developed therapeutic drama skits for kids. The program was the result of a faith-based partnership with Brandywine Counseling, a connection Linda initiated before such partnerships were mainstream.

Rev. Ty Johnson recalls that Linda “was way before her time. She made the connection between the power of spirituality and power of recovery and knew it was vital to success and healing.” She knew that once she connected Eighth Street Baptist, whose board members were ex-offenders in recovery, to the recovery community that had resources, that things could change.

Linda DeShields was an inspirational and influential figure at BCI. She laid the groundwork for many of the services we provide today, and positively affected the lives of countless Delawareans. She will be greatly missed.

Funeral services will be held Monday July 14 at 12 Noon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 2300 N. Claymont Street, Wilmington, 19802, with viewing from 10 am - 12 pm only.

No comments: