Media

New program offers recovering addicts affordable housing

 January 4, 2013
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.

“Chrysalis, The House That Neal Built Up”

By Robin Roenker Herald-Leader ”

A mural of brightly colored butterflies accentuates the sky-blue walls of the entry to Lexington’s Chrysalis Community Center.

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.

‘From girl to woman: “I couldn’t count on myself. I couldn’t count on my emotions”‘

By SARA SOLOVITCH Public Access Journalism
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.

HOLLY’S STORY

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.