By Mary Meehan Herald-Leader
After completing 18 months of substance abuse treatment, Timberly Fox was hoping the legal problems she’d worked to overcome wouldn’t keep her from finding a place to live. A unique arrangement between landlord Bruce Nichol and the Chrysalis House, a non-profit recovery program for women, allowed her to have more than she could have hoped for. “I was looking for an apartment, but I found a home,” she said.Nichol and his extended family have long been supporters of the Chrysalis House and also have an interest in providing quality, low-income housing. The two passions came together in a program that allows Chrysalis House graduates like Fox a chance to sublet an apartment through the recovery program until they can support themselves.Chrysalis House executive director Lisa Minton said even after women complete the extensive rehabilitation program they often have previous drug-related convictions, poor or non-existent rental histories and spotty job records that can make finding an affordable apartment difficult. But through a partnership with Nichol, who runs Northridge Apartments on Martha Court off Eastland Parkway, 17 graduates have found affordable, quality housing. The program started with a single graduate who rented a $550 a month, one-bedroom apartment at a discounted rate of $300 a month. When she became financially able to pay full market value, another Chrysalis House graduate was brought on board at the subsidized rate. Now 10 recent graduates rent through the Chrysalis House and seven others, like Fox, live in Northridge and pay their own way. Fox, who was recently promoted to manager at the restaurant where she works, said having a home for the holidays was the best gift she could have hoped for.Living near other graduates after leaving the intense, residential program “keeps us connected,” said Fox. “We are able to hold each other accountable.”Plus, she said, knowing that Nichol and the Chrysalis House staff had faith in her ability to do well on her own helped build her confidence to do other things, such as take a test to achieve her recent promotion. Nichol is glad to be able to help the women who are, after completing treatment, helping themselves, he said. And, this business model is something other Lexington landlords should consider, he said. The women who live in the subsidized housing are drug tested by Chrysalis House staffers who help them cope with other challenges, such as job changes or the stresses of being out on their own. And, since Chrysalis House is the official lease holder, they pay the rent on the subsidized units through a federal housing grant. There has also been an unexpected bonus, Nichol explained. The graduates, “have changed the dynamics of community,” at the apartment complex, he said. Not only do the graduates look out for one another, other tenants have responded positively to the changes they’ve brought. Nichol believes there’s a need for more affordable housing in Lexington and wants to extend his low-income housing offerings. He’s in the process of rezoning a small plot adjacent to the current Northridge property. He has commissioned Lexington architect Van Meter Pettit to create 15, 450 square-foot studio apartments to match his motto of “Safe, comfortable and affordable.”Since much of the city’s low-income housing stock is found in older buildings, Nichol said utility costs are often both high and unpredictable. The commissioned units will be built with insulated concrete forms to make them more energy efficient and will use energy-saving technology like energy recovering ventilators and tankless hot water heaters. If he can get city approval, Nichols is hoping to have the apartments built by next Christmas. His goal is to offer them for $450 a month.
By Mary Meehan Herald-Leader
During this season of giving, we are highlighting three families who volunteer, making helping others part of their holiday tradition.The O’Briens and companyWhile volunteering with Chrysalis House for more than 20 years, Eileen O’Brien has enticed not only her five brothers and their families to pitch in, she’s persuaded her work family at Lexington’s Stoll Keenon Ogden to lend a hand. In fact, over the years, helping out has become a valued family tradition. O’Brien’s brothers, their wives and children have volunteered at the Chrysalis House 5K for several years. “There is amazing energy,” said O’Brien. “It’s a wonderful time to be together. It really makes you feel more like a family when you give back together.”It’s fitting that the residential treatment program for women has a motto of “Building a community. One Family at a time” because O’Brien also counts on her work family to support the non-profit. Earlier this month, the firm’s mock courtroom was transformed into a mega-wrapping station, as it has been for many years. Members of the firm and their families go shopping, buy gifts and, in a final whirlwind, wrap gifts for the children of women recovering in the Chrysalis House program. This year, a dozen helpers and O’Brien, who is a partner at the firm, wrapped about 100 presents in about an hour. Next year, she said, she knows they’ll be doing the same. “It’s special,” she said of how the group comes together. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without the help of everyone who participates.”The Svarlien familyFrom canvassing for the Democratic Party to packing boxes for God’s Pantry to tutoring children at the Carnegie Center, the Svarliens have long found a way to give back.Diane Arnson Svarlien said volunteering just seems like the right thing to do, and the family has worked together since her children, Corinna, 18, and Aaron, 22, were small. “It’s just something I really enjoy,” said Corinna Svarlien, who volunteered each week last year as a tutor at the Carnegie Center. “It’s just a normal part of life.”Both kids are now off at college — Corinna at Scripps College in California and Aaron at Beloit College in Wisconsin. The distance was one reason that Corinna Svarlien took the family giving a little further this year by asking her parents to donate to the Carnegie Center instead of buying her presents for Hanukkah. “It just made sense to spend the money doing that instead of mailing me a six-pack of Ale 8,” she said. The family is scheduled to deliver meals Christmas Day through Tzeason of Tzedakah, a volunteer matching program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass. Corinna said her parents’ examples led the way to her volunteer efforts, but she’s come to love it, some efforts more than others. For example, her work fostering kittens, “that’s pretty easy volunteering,” she said.The BenningtonsJane Bennington said volunteering with her husband and three kids is kind of a no-brainer. “I was so raised that way,” said Bennington, mom to Katie, 16; Bo, 13, and Maggie, 11. She said she was inspired by her parents, Mollie and Bill Heron. “My dad always said to us that for those who much is given, much is expected,” she said. Bennington tries to include her children in volunteer efforts, like shopping for the Salvation Army Angel Tree. She also tries to instill in them the idea that everyone has something they can contribute. For example, daughter Katie is doing stats for her brother’s Babe Ruth baseball team. It’s really about finding the best way to use your time, resources and energy, she said.The family also is active at Second Presbyterian Church, and Jane Bennington is on the board of Court Appointed Special Advocates.Setting a good example for your kids, Bennington said, “is a lesson you teach without telling them.” |
Chao was supposed to spend an hour touring the Hope Center for Women, 1524 Versailles Road, and its sister facility, the Chrysalis Community Center, 1589 Hill Rise-Drive, but her visit stretched out an additional half-hour.
Chao is in Kentucky for today’s gubernatorial inauguration. Her husband, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, was a leading backer of Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
Yesterday, the labor secretary toured the two centers to learn about their nationally respected job readiness program.
After meet-and-greet with the center’s staffs and board members, Chao spoke with women in the Chrysalis Community Center’s computer lab. She got some spontaneous endorsements for what was happening there.
“It’s the kind of program that will make you want to get involved,” Shanil Malone said.
Kimberly Dunaway said, “This showed me the way to recovery and a new way of life, a chance to prove I can be a productive member of society.”
At the Hope Center, where women go through their first phases of recovery, Chao heard even more enthusiastic comments.
Kelly East: “We learn to face ourselves. I’ve been in other treatment programs, and we never dealt with the real problem, which is facing yourself.”
Charlette Breathett: “I’ve got my dignity and self-respect back again.”
Eugenia Ramey: “When we came in here we felt so hopeless and so unworthy.”
“You are all very courageous,” Chao told the women. “I have a lot of admiration for you.”
She later added that she was impressed by the women’s taking a “very decisive first step” to transform their lives.
“I wanted to offer these women some encouragement and hope,” she said.
In an interview, Chao said the programs, which receive some public funding, are “a terrific example of public-private partnership.”
Chao said the “overall job situation is improving daily.”
Friday she announced that the U.S. unemployment rate had dropped to 5.9 percent; Kentucky’s rate was 5.4 percent.
Chao said she looked forward to working with Fletcher and thinks he will “pay more attention to economic development” for the state.
Each year, SHOW, or Supportive Housing Opportunities for Women, will help up to 125 residents or clients of Chrysalis House, Hope Center for Women or Virginia Place in Lexington with counseling, transitional housing, permanent rental housing or homeownership, Lisa Minton, the executive director of Chrysalis House, said yesterday.
These three centers serve a variety of women, including those who are recovering from alcohol and drug addiction or those who have children and are attending school.
“I think owning your own house is the American dream,” Minton said. “People everywhere look for the security of having a home to call their own.”
This program is the first of its kind in the United States, Minton said. She said other states have talked about the idea of such a partnership but haven’t acted on it.
Minton said a $100,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati and a $50,000 grant from the Kentucky Corporation and a $50,000 grant from Fannie Mae will allow the program to “hit the ground running.”
She said some of the money will be used to hire a full-time housing director to assist SHOW clients in finding housing that fits their needs and also to help with down payments or closing costs.
“Today we begin to offer hard-working, dedicated, recovering women a second chance to receive stability, independence and dignity that comes with permanent affordable housing,” Minton said.
Participating SHOW agencies include Bluegrass Regional Mental Health Mental Retardation Board, Inc., Community Ventures Corporation, Faith Community Housing Foundation, Lexington Habitat for Humanity, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Housing Authority and REACH, Inc., or Resources, Education and Assistance for Community Housing.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government also is supporting the program, Minton said.
“The city of Lexington is proud to be a partner in this next step for so many women toward family and personal stability and financial independence,” Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac said in a press release yesterday.
It’s the type of room that makes you feel better just by entering it. A room that says, you’re welcome here. This is a safe place to be.
And to the women who use Chrysalis House’s services — women who are recovering from substance addiction — it says something else. A message many of them have not heard often enough: “You’re a good person. You deserve treatment with dignity.”
For two decades, that message has been the motivating theme behind Cornelia “Neal” Vaughan’s volunteer work with Chrysalis House.
As president of the agency’s board of directors for 16 of the past 18 years, Vaughan has overseen Chrysalis House’s growth from a single, 12- person-capacity facility on Maxwell Street for women recovering from substance addiction into a multi-faceted agency with three transitional treatment facilities, 50 apartments, an 18,000-square-foot community center and programs to help place graduates in their own permanent housing. Currently, Chrysalis House’s six facilities are home to 114 women and 100 children, with 160 more women on waiting lists.
Vaughan, who will be honored at a ceremony Friday, can detail every step of Chrysalis House’s development.
She can detail them because she was there, say her fellow Chrysalis House board members, every step of the way. Raising money. Submitting grant proposals. Identifying facility sites. Recognizing the women’s needs and finding partners in the community to help meet them.
But not only that. Despite her penchant for wearing pearls and high heels, she was also there to clean out shower stalls, pull weeds from the grounds and serve food in the dinner line, said Lisa Minton, Chrysalis House’s executive director.
“She is the heart and soul of our organization,” Minton said.
“Neal has been very inspirational in her vision,” added Julie Hamilton, who assumed Vaughan’s position as president of the Chrysalis House board of directors in July. “She’s the first to say that this is all about the women and children. And her passion has been very contagious.”
To recognize Vaughan’s longstanding leadership and volunteer work on behalf of women and children in the community, the Chrysalis House board of directors is dedicating the Chrysalis Community Center, which opened in 2003 on the house’s new eight-acre campus on Hill Rise Drive off Versailles Road, in honor of Vaughan.
A plaque will be hung in Vaughan’s honor. Speakers will include Kentucky first lady Glenna Fletcher and Beverly Watts Davis, director of the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.
No good vs. bad
“With substance abuse, it is not a good or bad issue,” said Vaughan, 57. “It is a sick or well issue.”
That philosophy motivates the program’s holistic approach to treating the women who come to Chrysalis House. The women receive addiction treatment as well as help with reclaiming their lives, jobs and families.
When Chrysalis House first opened, “women were coming in and getting sober, but they had so many other issues,” Vaughan said.
“I realized that even though they were staying in our facility for 10 months or a year, they were leaving without parenting skills or a job,” she said. “If you’re going to rehabilitate someone, you have to really rehabilitate them. You need to find the gaps where they need help, and help them fill those in.”
Now, participants take part in required job skills classes and work one-on-one with tutors and counselors during their stay, so that when they leave Chrysalis House, they’re ready to “pick up their lives, and have a productive life they feel good about,” she said.
Studies of Chrysalis House participants show that 80 percent are still sober, still have custody of their children, and are still employed a year after they moved out of the apartments, Vaughan said.
Doesn’t take ‘no’
Much of the credit for Chrysalis House’s growth goes to Vaughan’s tenacity in raising support for its programs and educating the community to “break down the stigma surrounding substance addiction,” Hamilton said.
“She helped open community doors to a better understanding of the disease of addiction itself,” she said. “Plus, she’s the type of person you can’t say ‘no’ to. She never gives up.”
In addition to her work with Chrysalis House, Vaughan is a founding member of the Fayette County Drug Court. She serves on the board of the Governor’s School for the Arts and has fulfilled another of her passions — organizing big events — through work with the Governor’s Inauguration Committee and the Lexington Ball, which supports the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center. She was recently appointed to the national board of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.
Vaughan attributes her passion for community service to the example set by her parents, Richard and Cornelia Cooper of Somerset, who remain active volunteers. She credits her longevity as board president to the support and understanding of her sons Cooper and Stoll, and her husband, Derek, chairman of G.F. Vaughan Tobacco company.
Two years ago when Derek asked her what she wanted for their 30th wedding anniversary, he wasn’t surprised by her answer: All new furniture for the First Step House on Chrysalis Court.
That’s what she got — along with a new strand of pearls. making a difference,
At 28, Holly is a cute blond who most people would never guess was once a serious drug addict. But until last year, when it came to drugs and alcohol, Holly was an omnivore. She did everything that came her way; as a result of her drug use, she has hepatitis C.
For the first time in her life, Holly is on track. Last September, she graduated from Fayette County Drug Court in Lexington, Ky., as well as from a women’s aftercare program. Holly was willing to tell her story in her own words, but requested that her full name not be used, citing the stigma of substance abuse.
I was raised in an alcoholic home. My dad was very abusive to my mother growing up. I remember him one time pulling her hair out and me, being waist-high to him, hitting him as hard as I could. I was full of anxiety as a child. I didn’t like to have friends come over because I couldn’t count on myself. I couldn’t count on my own emotions.
After my dad left the house, I was molested, sexually abused and raped – all by a friend of the family. I ran away from home with an older guy when I was 14, and he had his way me with for a week.
I started smoking marijuana when I was 12 years old. I’m 28 now. It escalated to drinking, tripping on acid and taking speed by the time I was 14. I had my first job when I was 16, and that’s when I started doing painkillers. Then cocaine – I went from snorting to smoking to shooting; heroin; ecstasy. I did whatever was available.
I was a blackout drinker, anything to numb out. It helped temporarily. But when I came back off the high, the pain would be there and it would be even more intense. It got to the point where I was crying even when I was getting high, because I knew it would barely numb me.
I overdosed several times. I had seizures, my lungs collapsed, my kidneys failed. But I kept doing it. I was 16 when my first child was born. I was in an abusive relationship with her father. I smoked marijuana the whole time I was pregnant with her. I quit drinking when I was pregnant with her – not that smoking marijuana is OK. But she wasn’t born addicted.
My second child was born a week after I turned 18. I had started doing pills and my drinking really picked up after I had him. The kids lived with me for a short period of time, until my mother suggested that she take them ’til I got “on my feet.” Which was her way of saying I had a problem. But I wanted my freedom, I really did. I was young, I didn’t have a husband anymore.
My mother had the kids for three or four years, and then, when I was 21, I had another child. By that last pregnancy, I couldn’t stop using for anything: cocaine, heroin, Dilaudid, OxyContin, you name it.
Here I was doing all these drugs, but afraid that if I drank my baby would be born with alcohol fetal syndrome. So I didn’t drink. I never had any prenatal care, but my daughter was OK. I think she had withdrawal symptoms but they didn’t detect it in the hospital – maybe because I’d managed to straighten up that last month.
In 2003, I went into treatment at the Women’s Health Center in Lexington and relapsed eight months later. Then in June 2004, the police came to arrest me (for a probation violation). Any other time, I would have given them a false name. That day, I told them, “I’m Holly, I’ve got warrants, please take me.” I was miserable.
Jail was a better option than what I was doing. At least there I would sleep, I would eat, I would know I was safe. I started going to AA meetings while I was there (for two months), and then I asked to go to drug court. I had made up my mind. I knew that if I didn’t make it work, I was going to die out there.
The judge ordered me to another women’s residential facility – Chrysalis House. I completed the residential part in June 2005, and I’m finishing the aftercare part on the 22nd (of March). I will definitely stay grounded in AA. I’ve got a sponsor, I work the (12) steps with the community I’m in, and I love the 12-Step program. It’s changed me.
I think the reason it worked this time, the main difference, was because Chrysalis House gave me parenting skills and job skills. I had never worked a full-time job. I had never been accountable like that. Some of the people in treatment with me were nurses or women who had gone to college. They hated those classes. But it was the best thing that happened to me.
When they told me I would have to work a 40-hour-a-week job, I broke down crying. I said I didn’t know how to do that. They showed me that it took skills to survive out there. That it was a full-time job being an addict. And I could turn around those skills – like creativity, the constant hustle and energy we needed to come up with drugs – to help society. We’re salesmen, basically.
But when I had to go on an interview – oh, my God! I had to dress up in a suit. And I was trying not to fidget because I had learned not to fidget.
Chrysalis House got me a temporary position that turned into a full-time job. I’ve been there a year now. I never worked anywhere for a year! It shows I’m capable of doing anything I turn my mind to. God has truly blessed me.
I’m a staff support administrator and I love what I do. I love the people I work with. Being accountable to society, getting up and going to work – I love it. The past month, I’ve even been getting up before the alarm clock goes off. And I’m not a morning person.
Another thing: I was diagnosed with depression when I was 12 years old. Chrysalis House made sure that that I saw a psychiatrist and got medicated. It turns out I was self-medicating for many years.
I have a conscience today, I’m aware of who I am. I have self-respect. I have all three of the kids occasionally. My youngest daughter – her aunt was awarded temporary custody, and at this point she’s not comfortable spending the night with me, so I have to respect that. If it’s meant for them to be in my life full time, it will happen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sara Solovitch is a freelance journalist and former Knight Ridder Newspapers reporter.
Leading Women in Central Kentucky
Lisa Minton, Executive Director, Chrysalis House
By Saraya Brewer
Lexington, KY – Though she spent much of her upbringing moving around – including a considerable amount of time in small towns, with a graduating high school class of 64 students – Lisa Minton admits she was a bit antsy about what small-town living would have to offer her when she moved from Illinois to Hodgenville, Ky., where her husband had been offered a middle school teaching position.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do?'” she remembered with a laugh. “I got my mom to give me her sewing machine.”
Much to her surprise, Minton found herself engaged with the community almost immediately, encountering people and opportunities that would forever impact her life and career. After working her way through a business management degree and various work study and retail employment positions, Minton got her first full-time professional job with the Larue County Literacy Council, a position that gave her experience in grant writing, volunteer coordinating and working one-on-one with adults to help them cultivate and improve fundamental skills. Later, working at the Lincoln National Bank, a regular customer and devoted Rotarian brought Minton an application for a Rotary Exchange program in the first year that women were invited to apply. That gesture led to a five-week trip to England, Minton’s first experience out of the country.
“There are things like that that happen because of who you meet and who helps you along the way,” said Minton, who credits former state representative Kaye Bondurant, a former neighbor, for taking Minton under her wing and teaching her everything from how to make mashed potatoes to how to network in the community. It was Bondurant who helped land Minton a position as a pretrial officer with the Administrative Office of the Courts, where she ended up working for 14 years. Minton was eventually promoted to statewide field supervisor, which led to her move to Lexington.
Working in the Fayette County court system gave Minton firsthand experience with the effects of substance abuse on the criminal justice system, and she became part of the team that first implemented drug court in that system, an initiative that soon expanded into a statewide effort. The Fayette County court system was also the place where Minton first encountered the effectiveness of the Chrysalis House.
“Women who came to Chrysalis House from across the state, they just excelled,” Minton said of the organization, which is the state’s largest and oldest licensed substance treatment program for women and their children. When the position of executive director for Chrysalis House opened up in 1993, Minton was selected. Making a difference in the lives of so many women and children is the best part of Minton’s job.
“Women are staying clean and sober, working in jobs that support their families, earning their GEDs, living in their own homes and giving back to their community as their lives come full circle due to Chrysalis House’s helping hand,” she said.
Chrysalis House Receives Donation
Domestic violence survivors and their children in Lexington received a $7,000 donation made by Verizon Wireless to Chrysalis House, Kentucky’s oldest and largest licensed substance-abuse treatment program for women and their children. The grant will aid survivors of domestic violence who also struggle with substance-abuse.
The grant will help fund medical and psychiatric care, dental and health exams, educational materials and wellness supplies, including everything from personal hygiene items to laundry detergent, for women who are survivors of domestic violence and are also recovering from alcohol or other drug abuse.
Chrysalis House is a comprehensive program that has grown over the past 30 years from a six-bed halfway house to a holistic agency providing a continuum of services in multiple Lexington locations.
The nonprofit agency serves more than 200 low-income women and their children annually—many of whom have suffered from domestic violence—and has more than doubled the national average rate of success for substance abuse recovery.
This is the second consecutive year that Chrysalis House received a grant from Verizon Wireless. Last year, the nonprofit organization was awarded $7,000 for similar purposes.
This year’s gift was made possible by the Verizon Wireless HopeLine® program, which converts no-longer-used wireless phones for survivors of domestic violence.
In Kentucky last year, Verizon Wireless and the Verizon Foundation donated more than $18,500 in cash grants as well as phones and airtime to local domestic violence agencies and shelters.
For more information on the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program, visit www.verizonwireless.com/hopeline.
Accountants wrapped up in giving
By Janet Patton
Normally, the partners and staff at Dulworth, Breeding, Karns & Pleasants are mild-mannered certified public accountants. But once a year, they become Santa’s helpers.
Since 1996, the Lexington firm has used the office-party fund to buy Christmas presents for the children of women at Chrysalis House, a non-profit program for women dealing with alcohol or substance abuse.
“Every year, we have a vote: Do you want to have a formal party, which nobody wants to do, or take the money and go buy gifts for a child? Everybody really likes to do that,” said Lindy Karns, a partner in the firm.
Karns is vice president of Chrysalis House’s board. Other board members and employees of the law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden also buy gifts, including some for the kids to give their mothers.
“We’re just so fun,” Karns said, a bit tongue-in-cheek. “We have a really good group of people who feel very strongly about helping the community.”
Chrysalis House, which focuses on helping women and their families going through recovery, appealed because of the family aspect.
“When we started doing this … everyone had young kids, and we were attracted to people who were trying to keep families intact,” she said. “The holidays can be stressful to people who don’t have enough money.”
Many of the women, who are on a two-year road to sober independence, might have very little to put toward presents. And in any given year, there are dozens and dozens of children — some living at Chrysalis House, some just visiting their mothers — who need gifts. This year, there are 130 children, including 28 babies born to pregnant mothers admitted this year.
“The mothers that come to us, many times their situation is heart-breaking,” said Lisa Minton, executive director of Chrysalis House.
So the accountants race in. Literally, Karns said. Just before Thanksgiving, when the “wish lists” from individual children are posted on the office refrigerator in the break room, “everybody runs to get them. I like that everybody’s so into it.”
Minton said most people want to buy cute little things for the babies. Karns, she said, looks out for the teenagers.
“The teenagers always have her heart,” Minton said. “People want to give stuff that people need. She understands they’re in school, they have peers, they want the cool stuff, too.”
So the CPAs make sure they get “the fun stuff,” she said.
The firm puts in an average of about $75 a child, but people often buy more than that, especially if the child wants a big-ticket item such as a bike or electronic games.
Most requests are modest. A little girl might ask for boots; Karns made sure they were Uggs; boys want “anything sports,” so she gets them University of Kentucky Wildcats gear.
“I think they make them say ‘clothes,’ ” Karns said. “What kid really wants socks?”
Then, once the purchases are made, all the presents are brought to the office for one big wrapping/pizza party.
For people used to dealing with tax forms and IRS audits and financial planning, it’s a welcome break.
Sometimes for the IRS, as well. Karns said that one year, an auditor saw the piles of gifts, the wrapping paper, the pizza … and asked what was going on.
“When I told her, she came in the next day with lots of toys that her children had to give away. They were used, and we took them to the Community Christmas store, but it was great! … People do like to give, and sometimes they just need an outlet,” Karns said.
Minton said the mothers are grateful that, for 14 years now, Santa has had some help.
“Chrysalis House is just really blessed that they chose to do this, and they do it year after year,” said Minton.
Mothers write to say thanks for the opportunity to give their kids a nice Christmas.
“To all those who made it possible for my child to have an amazing first Christmas, I just want to say I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” one mother wrote last year.
“I feel all warm and fuzzy when I think about all the children that will spend Christmas with moms who are clean and sober. We could not do it without you all,” said a thank-you from the “caterpillars and butterflies.”
Breast cancer survivor commits herself to others
By Merlene Davis
Sheila Taluskie doesn’t sit still for long.
Her energy, that drive to help others, stems from how grateful she is for having survived breast cancer 21 years ago.
“I look at the breast cancer as a positive,” Taluskie said. “I had to prioritize my life. Some things that seemed important before weren’t important any more.”
Taluskie is the no- nonsense job-readiness coordinator for Chrysalis House Inc., a non-profit substance-abuse treatment program for women. She also is executive director of God’s Closet, a non-profit Chrysalis House partner that collects gently used career clothing and accessories, and redistributes those items to women entering the job market.
When the economy sank, Taluskie formed The Purple Lunchbox, a non-profit catering arm of God’s Closet that gives employment opportunities to the women she trains.
“We just want to make enough money to produce good quality food and pay the women,” she said. “It’s catering with a cause.”
Lisa Minton, executive director of Chrysalis House, appreciates Taluskie’s commitment.
“Sheila Taluskie always goes the extra mile,” said Minton. “She truly cares about the women and families we work with.”
Taluskie’s mission isn’t too far from what she was doing before the cancer was diagnosed, when she was a personal shopper for a local department store. Matching appropriate outfits for employment or court appearances is something she has experience with.
She also has worked as director of volunteers for Hospice of the Bluegrass, which she said helped her make an informed decision when cancer was more feared.
“I had a little more open mind and a little more information,” she said. “The radiologist found it in the very early stages, and I knew to meet with an oncologist as soon as I could.”
Her diagnosis was confirmed shortly after Thanksgiving, but she chose to wait until after her birthday in January to undergo surgery. She chose a mastectomy with reconstruction in the form of a “free flap,” she said
“That’s when they take a piece of skin from the stomach and some fat and rebuild the breast,” Taluskie said. “It was the best for me, and I have not had any problems.”
She was in surgery for 16 hours and in the hospital for eight days.
As clinical as her approach to the cancer might sound, there were struggles. It was difficult to tell her four children and her husband and to come to grips with it herself.
What helped her, she said, was joining a support group soon being diagnosed. “You can get information confirmed by someone who knows what they are talking about,” she said.
Now on the other side of her emotional journey, Taluskie has learned to concentrate on what really is important. In her job-readiness classes she teaches her “Five Wastes of Time,” which she swears by since her diagnosis and survival:
1. Feeling sorry for yourself.
2. Blaming others for your problems.
3. Being angry at situations you cannot change.
4. Being angry at someone who has something you have, or don’t have.
She simply will not entertain any of those. And that leaves time for her to focus on the women who need her the most. With those women, she tries to impart what she has learned from her bout with cancer: zero in on what is important and discard the rest.
That means any reason the women she works with might have to stay home and not go to work has to go through her.
“They have to be dead, dying or going to court,” she said.
“Anybody who meets Sheila knows her compassion for these women,” Minton said. “Personally, I find her a true inspiration.”
The feeling is mutual.
“These women are so special to me, and the staff here is excellent,” Taluskie said. “I see this as my mission.”
‘An old drunk’ turns into godsend for addicts
By Merlene Davis
The first time I noticed Ann Roach was a little more than a decade ago when she stood up in Quinn Chapel AME Church and gave her testimony.
“I am an old drunk,” she said as a means of introduction and then added, “but I don’t drink anymore.”
Last week, when I visited her home, she said it again. This time, though, she added that she’d been sober for almost 31 years.
From the time she was 12 and drinking regularly until she was 43 years old, Roach was a functioning alcoholic who finally became a serious drunk, bringing suffering to her children, and embarrassment and fear to her mother.
“My mother constantly denied it,” Roach said. “My brothers told her when I was 15 or 16 years old that I was drunk. But my mother made excuses for me.”
Maybe that is why she no longer makes excuses for herself and is determined for everyone to know that she bears little resemblance to the kind of alcoholic she once was.
Roach took her last drink on March 24, 1981. Since then, she has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Kentucky and has become certified as a substance-abuse counselor.
She is an International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor and has been for several years. She has worked as a counselor at Chrysalis House, a substance-abuse treatment center for women where she twice was admitted into recovery, and at Eastern State Hospital and at a Veterans Affairs hospital from which she retired.
“I never tell stuff I’ve really done,” she said. “I like to say I’m a drunk and I don’t drink anymore.”
While that statement encompasses a great deal, the devil is in the details. Roach was born in Chicago 75 years ago. Her parents, Louis and Naomi Roach, owned a restaurant there before moving to Cincinnati and later to Lexington, where they also opened restaurants.
In Lexington, her parents’ restaurant, the L&N Restaurant, was where Roach loved to hang out.
It was there that she learned to drink and to smoke. She starting smoking at age 8 when she picked up discarded cigarette butts and finished them off. Her father drank, she said, so she could get alcohol from home or others. Her mother never drank.
Despite that shaky start, Roach became a licensed practical nurse and an operating-room technician, and never had a problem keeping a job for many years.
Her personal life, however, was a bit different. Her first husband, whom she married when she was 20, drank as much as she did. She divorced him after more than two years of marriage and two children. Her second husband was a master sergeant in the Air Force and also a heavy drinker. They were married two years before divorcing. They remarried and divorced again after three years.
“My kids suffered,” Roach said, looking back. “Neither one graduated from high school, but they both got their GED.”
She signed for her son, Michael Coomer, to go into the Army when he was 16. Years later, he would be her first step toward recovery.
By 1978, her drinking had become a serious problem. She was arrested for public intoxication, which embarrassed her family and became too much for her mother to excuse.
“People used to say I was an amicable drunk,” Roach recalled. “But by then, I used to call people dirty names.”
Roach’s mother called her grandson, who had been in the service for a while, and told him to come and get his mother.
“I stopped drinking,” Roach said, “and I got a job at Fort Lee (Va.). But after a couple of paychecks, I drank a beer, and it was all over with.”
Her work ethic declined, and she was fired. By then, Roach’s daughter, Billie Carol Rodriguez, had moved to Virginia and married. Roach convinced her daughter to allow her to baby-sit Rodriguez’s son.
“I came home, and the baby said he was hungry,” Rodriguez said. “My mother was passed out on the couch.”
Rodriguez called her grandmother and said she was sending Roach back to Lexington on the next bus. Her drinking and behavior worsened. By 1980, Roach’s mother, who was growing fearful of her daughter, called Roach’s brother in Philadelphia, who came and put Roach out of their aging parents’ house.
“I was walking up the street drinking and stopped at a friend’s house so I wouldn’t get arrested again,” Roach said.
The friend called Pat Million, a licensed clinical social worker who had helped the friend’s alcoholic boyfriend.
“Pat Million is my savior,” Roach said. “God sent her in my life. She is the reason I went into the field of being an alcohol- and substance-abuse counselor.”
Roach entered a program at Eastern State Hospital and the Chrysalis House when it was on Third Street. She was doing well until she caught a cold and tried to treat it with alcohol, lemon and honey.
In early 1981, she entered the Volunteers of America Detoxification and Referral Center on East Third Street, and then the Chrysalis House to give recovery another go. It worked that time.
Million, who said she can’t talk specifically about Roach’s case because of their professional relationship, said it’s not unusual for addicts to make more than one attempt at sobriety.
“They can slip any time,” she said. “They have to be on guard and surrounded by people, places and things that keep them in good stead.”
Slowly, Roach’s family grew to accept that she had changed.
“It was a struggle,” Rodriguez said. “I was so angry. That was the only parent I had.”
But, later, as she typed her mother’s essays and term papers, Rodriguez came to understand more about the disease and about her mother’s determination to remain sober. Plus, her mother had driven an old Chevy Vega from Lexington to Fort Lee when Rodriguez, being treated for cervical cancer, called for her.
“I never stopped loving her,” Rodriguez said.
Loved ones must learn to accept that there is a problem, Million said. Getting angry doesn’t change the course of the addiction.
“Family members have to learn to disengage, to let go,” she said. “Sometimes, tough love is the only response that gets them anywhere. We try to make the problem ours by jumping in there and trying to figure out what they need to do. But it is a disease and something they will have to do themselves.”
“There is nothing a human being could have done for me,” she said. “It is divine intervention. Every morning when I crawl out of bed, I’m on my knees first thing, thanking God.”
Last fall the Midway SIFE team received a $1,000 grant from Sam’s Club.
David Vancleeck, general manager for the Sam’s Club store in Lexington, said the the project dovetails nicely with his company’s mission. “It goes well with our concept at Wal-Mart in trying to be green in our goal of zero waste. Sustainability is still a growing thing amongst us.”
In addition to the $1,000 grant provided by Sam’s Club, a staff manager will act as project mentor.
The team plans to use donations from Sam’s Club, Kentucky American Water and others to replace outdated facility hardware with new, efficient hardware; provide seed funding for Chrysalis House residents to make empowered decisions related to environmental and economic sustainability; and provide the women of Chrysalis House and the Lexington community with comprehensive education about environmental sustainability topics.
The project partners will be at an event, open to the public, from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at Chrysalis House, 1589 Hillrise Drive.