LEWISTON — Jeremy Hiltz is a drug and alcohol counselor who, six months ago, started spending Friday mornings at the Lewiston CareerCenter, giving addicts advice on how to get back to work.

It’s about self-esteem and a paycheck — and he speaks from experience.

Hiltz, a 37-year-old who looks like he only stopped playing high school football last week, is quick to say he’s not there to judge.

Some people walk into Interview Room 2, close the door and tell him they’ve stopped using. Some don’t.

They’re all good people, he said.

“It’s not who they really are; it’s not who I really was,” Hiltz said.

Hiltz, who grew up in Turner and lives in Leeds, had been working at a local counseling service in an intensive outpatient program when he asked the CareerCenter if someone was available to come in and talk job options.

“What I saw was a lot of families were struggling,” he said. “They’d be sober for a while and say, ‘What’s next? I can’t find work.’ There should really be a bridge between substance abuse services and vocational services. Substance abuse and job loss go hand-in-hand.”

CareerCenter staff made a positive impression on Hiltz and his clients. Last October, he decided to repay the favor by starting to volunteer there from 9 to 10:30 a.m. each Friday.

“Addiction is so prevalent in this community, it’s all around us,” he said. “I hear stories from staff. They find alcohol cans in the trash cans here.”

He’s had weeks of no takers and weeks of three or four people walking in, sometimes at the encouragement of their career counselor. Sometimes it’s a family member of the addict.

Hiltz, who became licensed as a drug and alcohol counselor about five years ago, has a private practice and still works with an intensive outpatient program.

He starts by simply asking what’s going on — and how can he help.

Just to be in the building and in front of him, “They’ve taken some huge steps already,” Hiltz said.

He may recommend different agencies or treatment programs, depending on the substance, if people still need that help. He also coaches that it takes time: Someone may consider an available job that they consider beneath them or not what they really want to do.

Tough, he said. Work at it six months to a year to show the next employer that you’re dependable.

“Sometimes we want to be further ahead of the game than we really are,” Hiltz said. “Sometimes it takes humbleness to say, ‘This is where I really am.’ When I was getting sober, I was making $8 an hour, scraping paint off a house. If somebody’s frustrated about the situation they’re in, I may share a piece of that.”

Watching someone regain their self-confidence and independence and be able to support their family again feels good, he said. But not every story ends that way.

Patti Gray at the CareerCenter said Hiltz has been eye-opening to staff and a great example to the job-seekers who have a seat across from him.

“(He’s) a perfect example of determination and drive to move and grow forward to reach your goals,” Gray said. “He makes people believe they can do the same.”

From a future employer’s perspective, “I think people love the underdog,” Hiltz said. “When somebody can prove that they’ve turned their life around, they’re getting help and they’re honest about those things, people want to help.

“It’s when we hide in the shadows, we’re deceptive — that’s when no one wants to help you,” he said.

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