Shawn Olsen, vice president of Kodiak Area Mentor Program, was awarded the Change Maker Award at the Annual School of Addictions conference in Anchorage on May 8. Olsen, a recovered alcoholic and drug addict who now mentors those seeking sobriety, received the award for being an inspiration to others and in recognition of being “the kind of person others in recovery aspire to be.”
Because Olsen was not able to attend the ceremony, he was presented the award at one of KAMP’s weekly meetings on Friday evening. Due to his absence, Olsen wrote an acceptance speech that was read out at the Anchorage award presentation.
“I am very pleased and humbled to receive this award,” Olsen wrote. “When I first started this life of recovery, I had no idea it would lead me down the path it has taken. The further I go, the more I see around me the needs of others who also struggle. I guess that is where my real story has taken me. Soon into my recovery, I found great joy in sharing what a life in sobriety means.”
According to the Annual School of Addictions website, the Change Maker Award is given to an individual “whose very life is an inspiration to others.” The individual is responsible for their own recovery and is considered a contributing member of society in a significant way.
Candidates for the award are nominated by another individual; Olsen was nominated by Jill Bunting, who was his probation officer and works alongside him at KAMP. Bunting’s nomination essay provides insight into Olsen’s journey to recovery.
The essay begins by describing a 2009 car crash in Kodiak. Olsen was behind the wheel and had been drinking. His friend was taken to hospital for treatment of severe injuries; Olsen was taken to jail.
Having been hit with some prior felony convictions, he served three years in prison. He arrived back to Kodiak homeless and with a lot of debt. With the support of some friends and family, Olsen moved into transitional housing at the Salvation Army. He found a sponsor to help him stay sober and took jobs with a construction firm and then the City of Kodiak, before landing a job on Coast Guard Base Kodiak, where he still works as a mechanic.
“The only reason I am able to be where I am is because my sponsor showed me how a spiritual life with Jesus combined with accountability and a willingness to change can transform a life,” Olsen wrote in his acceptance speech. “It was through this change that I quickly found how rewarding it is sharing with others what it means to break the cycle of addiction and incarceration.”
In May 2014, Bunting co-founded KAMP with Theresa Slaughter. KAMP is a program that aims to nurture mentoring relationships between Kodiak community members and individuals dealing with addiction, mental health, legal issues and other struggles.
“Shawn started attending the KAMP meetings and functions and his experience of rebuilding his life after incarceration became an inspiration to others. He continued to grow spiritually, he successfully completed probation, he got completely out of debt, bought a duplex and a boat, and got married,” Bunting’s essay states.
Olsen ultimately became a KAMP mentor and was approved by the Kodiak Police Department to mentor inmates inside Kodiak Jail. He is also a member of Celebrate Recovery and, since 2016, has run his own nonprofit organization, Fishers of Men Marine Service, Inc. Through Fishers of Men, Olsen takes individuals in recovery, as well as others who may otherwise not be able to afford it, sport fishing.
“The boat and nonprofit is just a tool to reach out to others in the community who need the Lord and want to try a healthy, exciting chance to create some spiritual bonds while having fun,” Olsen said.
Bunting’s essay states: “Shawn feels inspired to provide these types of recreation to individuals who are just starting their recovery journey, or who have just been released from jail and find it difficult to find sober social activities. Shawn is living proof that a life of sobriety is rewarding and exciting.”
The essay concludes by pointing out that Olsen is available to those he mentors 24 hours a day and that, as of February, Olsen has been sober for 9 years.
“He reaches out to others to demonstrate to them that if he can do it, anyone can. His heart’s desire is to demonstrate the love of Christ to others by reaching out to them and walking alongside them, so they can have the life they deserve,” the essay states. “He is a beacon of light to others who are surrounded by the darkness of addiction.”
At the KAMP meeting Friday, Bunting presented Olsen with his award in front of a room full of mentors and others in recovery — many of whom Olsen helped in their efforts toward sobriety.
“This is a statewide thing,” Bunting said, before presenting Olsen with the award. “I was so very proud that he was chosen to win this award.”
Following a hug with Bunting, a visibly emotional Olsen said a few words to the room.
“I am truly humbled and I do struggle today accepting compliments. It might sound funny to some people, but I still struggle with feeling worthy of praise like that. I struggle with people telling me I’m doing well. It’s just one of my issues,” he said. “This award means so much to me.”
Olsen proceeded to talk about how those he’s helped in their own sobriety efforts inspire him to continue his work. He said that nothing makes him happier than seeing friends of his in recovery succeeding with jobs, starting families and re-entering society.
“The majority of the people in this room: you guys are my heroes,” Olsen said. “You guys don’t know how much you’ve had an impact on me.”