Walk into the rooms at the Homecoming Project, a halfway house for women overcoming addiction, and the décor is both relaxing and stylish. Gray sofas accented with brightly colored throw pillows complement dark wooden tables, and the bedrooms boast new linens, beds and roomy dressers.
That’s thanks in part to IKEA, which chose the Homecoming Project for a makeover that was completed last month, and in no small part to the dedication of Homecoming’s executive director, Robin Keener, who worked on New Year’s Day to make sure the application for the makeover was finished.
A halfway house is a critical step in recovery, especially since the addicts and alcoholics likely have lost their jobs and alienated friends and family.
“You can walk out of treatment centers and be homeless,” Keener says.
The Homecoming Project takes in women who are chronically homeless and suffer from substance abuse behavioral disorders. Eight women at a time, who are referred by treatment centers or the health department, stay anywhere from nine months to a year. Keener says she takes “the ones who have the most desire to be clean and sober.” The Homecoming Project achieves an 80 percent success rate by teaching life skills that change behavior.
The Homecoming Project was founded in 2006, and was first located in a smaller home in Abingdon. It moved into its current location –with room for offices; a computer room, where, under supervision, women can explore career options online; and food storage – in 2006. The house even has an in-ground pool and gardens to provide exercise for the women and recreation for their children when they visit. Friends and supporters provided comfortable patio furniture by the pool so that the women can relax and enjoy time off without alcohol or drugs.
The nonprofit 12-step program offers rigorous oversight to ensure that its clients don’t fall back into old patterns that lead to drug and alcohol use. The women surrender their cell phones when they enter, to avoid contact with their old lives. They must immediately get a job and pay $600 a month for all the services offered and rent. They participate in chores, eat dinner together Sunday through Thursday, and each client has an individual savings account; they receive financial education and are taught to budget.
“They are in a halfway house – they are not at the Hilton,” Keener says. “It’s a big transition to be here – you must get a job, you are required to do chores and you must attend counseling sessions.”Keener has created relationships with nearby employers, and shecredits them with increasing pay beyond the minimum wage, which just wasn’t enough for the women to meet their obligations.
“The employers stepped up and paid more – they know the Homecoming girls will show up,” she says.
Nichole Reikard is 22, and, after nearly a year, has achieved the highest level of responsibility at the Homecoming Project; she will soon transition to a place of her own. “We’re not used to budgeting our money,” she says with a laugh, “We’re alcoholics –we’ll just spend money like crazy.” She works as a waitress and, thanks to turning her money over to the program, “I’ve made a budget and I’ve saved about $10,000 in 11 months. I’m going to be financially stable – I won’t have to rely on someone else.”
Reikard sought treatment after she was hospitalized for a MRSA infection and nearly lost both arms. A highlight of the program for her was working with Leg Up Counseling at China Cat Stables, where the women participate in equine-assisted therapy. “I’ve been sober for a year now,” she says. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
The Homecoming Project is a drug-free facility; it does not use maintenance-drug programs. “Some consider someone on a maintenance drug a success; I do not,” Keener says. She notes that the trend toward ever-increasing prescriptions, especially for pain management, makes her job harder. Clients arrive with several prescriptions, and while addicts are stigmatized, their disease often starts in a doctor’s office with a legal prescription.
“It’s is a stigma – wake up America – you go to the doctor and it’s easy to get addicted,” she says.
The Bel Air facility is state certified and receives $77,000 annually from Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy, and area churches support it, as does the Dresher Foundation. Homecoming also stages the annual Stiletto Dinner and Fashion Show that nets about $30,000. The certification, Keener says, “helps me provide better quality of care, by being compliant with state regulations.”
A key part of the home is the Micki Thomas Counseling Center, a former patio room that has been turned into a comfortable, four-season space. Not only do the women receive counseling for addiction, but they also get help for issues such as eating disorders. They visit the dentist regularly, too, since their lifestyle has often damaged their teeth. “We spent $15,000 for dental work last year,”Keener says. Homecoming has a three-person staff plus a night manager and a counselor.
“Homecoming is a real asset to this community. It certainly has changed lives,” says Mary Chance, community liaison for Jones Junction. “Everybody is so dedicated – that’s what it takes.”
Some 260 women have come through the Homecoming Project and today they are nurses, college students and owners of their own businesses and children reunited with their mothers. Substance abuse is a family disease and because Homecoming addresses the entire family, many times the entire family is restored.
“I think of this as more of a vocation than a job,” says Keener, who is herself a recovering alcoholic and who took over the program after a successful career in retail management. “I’m serious about recovery.” I95
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