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Michelle Dunn to be Recognized with MWCC’s Service Above Self Award

A woman stands in front of the window of a storefront.
Michelle Dunn stands outside of Alyssa’s Place Peer Recovery and Resource Center in downtown Gardner. She will be honored at MWCC’s Commencement ceremony on May 23.

Michelle Dunn is set to be recognized as Mount Wachusett Community College’s 2019 Service Above Self Award recipient for her ongoing work to support those recovering from addiction and those impacted by opiate addiction.

“Michelle Dunn has committed herself to aiding those in opioid addiction recovery and providing support for those impacted. She has persevered through personal loss and focused on the needs of her community; devoting herself to working with people impacted by Substance Use Disorders. Her personal strength and her resolve to help those struggling with addiction is incredibly impressive. I am so pleased we are able to honor her as our Service Above Self Award recipient this year,” said MWCC President James Vander Hooven.

Dunn will be presented with the award at MWCC’s commencement on Thursday, May 23. She is being honored for her work creating the A.E.D. Foundation and Alyssa’s Place Peer Recovery and Resource Center, which is located in downtown Gardner. Both of these organizations have their foundation in Dunn’s personal tragedy of losing her daughter Alyssa to an opioid overdose in 2013. While Dunn had been interested in helping those with substance use issues, pursuing education on the issue, Alyssa’s passing pushed her into greater action.

“Our family had decided that we needed to do something and that her death would not and could not be in vain. In early 2014, we established the A.E.D. Foundation in an effort to Assist individuals and their families in the recovery process, Educate the community, and Defeat the stigma associated with Substance Use Disorders,” said Dunn who helped found the Gardner chapter of Learn to Cope in 2014 and established Alyssa’s Place in 2015. “I knew that it was better to be proactive instead of reactive and prevention was the key.”

But Dunn’s work as a champion for those struggling with Substance Use Disorders (SUD) has continued to expand. With an ever growing number of people losing children, spouses, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins to overdoses it became apparent that a grief peer group was needed, according to Dunn, and she founded HALO 15 (Healing after loss to overdose) to offer a safe place for anyone who has lost someone to overdose to come and get much needed support. Photographer Veronika Patty approached Dunn in the spring of 2016 to collaborate on Project Redemption, which has used photographs to help de-stigmatize people who struggle with SUD. These photos have appeared at the Fitchburg Art Museum, the Northeastern University School health academy summer school (Cape Cod), and the Massachusetts State House as well as many other venues, according to Dunn.

In 2017, Dunn started working for GAAMHA as the Director of Community Engagement for SUD services which has allowed her even more avenues to help individuals and their families navigate the complicated treatment system.

“The core tenet behind the work I do is the belief that everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect and have equitable access to quality treatment,” said Dunn. “It is my belief that no one is beyond redemption. That as long as there is breath there is HOPE. I want to help people begin to see their value, know that they are worthy of being well, and that people do recover.  It has always been my position, as well as the AED directors’ positions, that if we could make a difference in one person’s life then we have been successful.”

Dunn is thankful for the Service Above Self Award and hopes that it will shine a light on the resources she has devoted herself to creating and supporting in the greater Gardner community.

Dunn will be honored at MWCC’s Commencement ceremony on May 23 where Congresswoman Lori Trahan will be the keynote speaker.