Philip Cooper: Inspiring Change

For Philip Cooper, INSPIRE Coordinator at Land of Sky Regional Development Council, helping his community recover from substance use disorder is not just a job – it’s a personal, lifelong commitment.

Philip’s family has called Appalachia home for generations. Though the spirit of hard work and resilience was always in him, life circumstances – divorce, moving into public housing with his single mother, and poverty – took an early toll. Philip began looking to “the wrong role models” to channel his work ethic; specifically, role models who “weren’t broke” by selling illegal substances. Years of selling and using eventually landed Philip in prison in 2007.

I didn’t have drugs. I had to feel everything…One of the best and worst things in recovery is you get your feelings back.

– Philip Cooper

To cope emotionally, Philip joined A New Direction, a treatment program where he eventually became a peer counselor and was encouraged by staff to pursue it as a career. After completing his sentence, Philip soon enrolled in community college, worked in crisis stabilization, got certified in peer counseling, and earned his degree.  

A Career in Counseling

Eventually, Philip’s energy and growing expertise brought him to Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, where he was recruited to work for their ARC-supported recovery-to-work program, UpSkill. Philip soon represented A-B Tech at an ARC recovery-to-work listening session, was selected for the Appalachian Leadership Institute’s Class of 2020-2021, served as class speaker, and then joined Land of Sky to oversee their ARC INSPIRE project, WNC Recovery to Career: A Collective Impact Ecosystem.  

WNC Recovery to Career provides comprehensive support services for employers and individuals in recovery across 11 counties, many of which are considered rural and lack adequate recovery resources. Through the project, 72 workers who are affected by a substance use disorder will retain employment for at least 12 months, ultimately reducing turnover rates across 30 businesses in Appalachian North Carolina. 

Helping Community Members Recover

“Philip is my little brother,” said Leslie B., one of his recovery clients. He has “built my confidence…and encourages me to go to meetings…He has been through the struggle and wants everyone to succeed. If there were a bunch of him, the world would be changed.” 

Another client and mentee, Halston Fisher, recalls the first time he heard Philip speak at a treatment facility.  

“His aura was of happiness and joy, even [given his] pain. But he was pushing through it. Mr. Perseverance is what I used to call him – perseverance over everything.” 

Philip’s vulnerability, humility, resilience, and passion is the type of leadership every Appalachian community needs to overcome challenges like substance use disorder. ARC is proud to partner with him and Land of Sky to help Appalachians recover, reenter the workforce, and contribute to the Region’s continued growth.  

Watch the video above for more from Philip, Leslie, and Halston. ARC thanks them for sharing their personal recovery stories.