Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Tomi Cardin, right, executive director of Redemption House, and Marisa Hanlon, left, director of operations, sit with recent graduates, from left, Kiely Stephenson, 29, Stephanie Bekkum, 32, and Sasha Arens, 23.
October 30, 2016 1:03 AM
Women find addiction redemption
Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette
Nestled back from the road on Fairfield Avenue and inside a quiet red-brick house, a group of women are changing their lives.
The house is a transitional home with space for 16 women recovering from various addictions and destructive behavior. Every resident at Redemption House is referred there by the Allen County court system.
The home was founded in September 2012 and, except for a few full-time staff members, operates with charitable donations and volunteers. The house’s annual operating budget is $150,000 and is privately funded through individual and corporate contributions.
Immaculately decorated, the house makes visitors and residents alike feel at home. Depending on the time of day, fragrances of a meal cooking may waft through the home as residents’ voices fill the halls of this century-old house.
For many of the residents and graduates, Redemption House is a second home and farewells are bittersweet. But farewells at Redemption House aren’t always permanent.
Even after they graduate, many continue to refer to the house at 2720 Fairfield Ave. as home. Many return as volunteers, helping at events and talking to the women currently working the program. They’re grateful for the opportunities for success they’ve had because of Redemption House.
“My whole life, no matter what happened, I always fought everybody. I fought my parents, I fought my mom, and I fought my dad for the longest. I got tired of just existing and not living, I just got tired of fighting everybody,” said Sasha Arens, a Redemption House graduate. “I couldn’t be any more thankful for this place. This place has built me, and I’m just so grateful for everybody who has been part of my journey.”
Arens, 23, graduated Oct. 16 with Kiely Stephenson, 29, and Stephanie Bekkum, 32.
“Everything this house stands for is truly a miracle,” Stephenson said during her graduation. “I have never had this much peace in my entire life. Because of God and this house, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have relationships with my family that I’m building and I see things in myself that I’ve never seen before.”
Once accepted – the house has an extensive waiting list – the women are provided much-needed structure. Each has a household task they must complete and every resident must find a job and adhere to a curfew. When they’re not at work, residents participate in group sessions and classes. Those include a cognitive skills class, life-skills classes in money, cooking, time management and more, as well as a group session called “Celebrate Recovery,” which works like a traditional 12-step Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous program.
Redemption House boasts a 68 percent graduation rate, Cardin said. About 32 percent don’t make it. Because it’s a court-ordered program, many of those women who fail to complete the program end up in jail or prison. But some do come back, ready for a second chance. Much of that is because Redemption House’s program is unusual, Cardin said.
“Being truly faith-based, we operate on a lot of grace, a lot of forgiveness,” Cardin said. “We’re not a rules-based organization, we have guidelines and parameters and then every woman’s journey is different. The rules apply to every person, the correction system and the discipline for each resident is consistent, but every woman’s journey is different.”
Cardin said getting to know each woman, including their triggers, strengths, weaknesses and how they cope with stress, allows staff to work with residents to achieve success. The program takes about six months to complete, and each graduate has the option to stay at Redemption House for another six months to solidify her transition plan.
Some women who end up at Redemption House are sent by Allen Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis, who said she chooses to send addicts there because of the integrity and accountability. Redemption House staff is in constant communication with Davis’ HOPE probation officers, providing updates and notifying them of any violations. Staff at the house always follow court orders, Davis said.
A lot of it also has to do with the community within Redemption House.
“One of the best days is if there’s a girl graduating from HOPE probation, they all come to the graduation and sit and support each other,” Davis said. “That’s the kind of camaraderie they have in the house.”
That support is necessary for anyone going through recovery, Davis said.
Many of the classes offered at Redemption House serve to help residents learn or re-learn how to handle life. Skills like critical thinking, money management and coping are extremely important to success, Cardin said.
Jeanne Zehr’s MindCap class helps residents build those cognitive skills. Zehr has been volunteering at Redemption House since it opened in 2012.
The MindCap Cognitive Advantage Program, Zehr said, helps people expand cognitive functions by creating connections in the brain known as dendrites. There are a variety of exercises that help dendrites grow, Zehr said. The one used most commonly at Redemption House sessions consists of a series of dots, which residents connect by drawing lines to create a predetermined set of shapes.
Zehr said before volunteering with Redemption House, she’d never done the MindCap program with people with addictions.
“I was clueless, but I knew it was a very powerful program and that it worked across a lot of ages and a lot of populations, so why not try it,” Zehr said. “So I started going every night.”
Several Redemption House residents said Zehr’s MindCap class is their favorite class.
“I think they like it because we set them up for success and we help them understand neuroplasticity and that your brain is capable of growing,” Zehr said. “These dendrites that we can pop at any time in our life only grow if you take on a new challenge.”
The theory, Zehr said, is the new dendritic endings are clean; no addictions. That theory has yet to be proved, however.
“The synaptic endings is where that addiction is wired,” Zehr said. “So if you can get some new ones that are clean, that can help.”
While drug use can damage a person’s brain, Zehr said some people don’t realize that damage can be corrected in the right environment.
“You get clean, then you eat and sleep and drink good water and challenge your brain,” Zehr said. “The brain has an amazing ability to heal.”
When a woman graduates from Redemption House, there’s always a ceremony with food and music. The graduates – sometimes there’s more than one – are surrounded by friends and family, as well as Redemption House residents, staff and volunteers. Every chair and sofa in the house – and there are at least 20 chairs – is filled and there are always happy tears.
“It’s so inspiring and encouraging. It gives us the strength to continue on to watch and celebrate a day like today,” Cardin said. “It’s just this great feeling to get from one graduation to the next.”
The ceremonies help current residents visualize their own graduation, Cardin said.
“When they first get here, they feel like it’s impossible,” said Marisa Halon, Redemption House’s director of operations. “Sometimes that’s all they need, to see that it is possible.”
One recent graduate, 23-year-old Veronica Grear, had her ceremony Sept. 11. She came to the house after six years of addiction to heroin and methamphetamine. Now she has a job, her own apartment and 10 months clean.
“The love that they showed me and their actions that showed they genuinely care about me was amazing,” Grear said. “I recommend this to anybody that really wants to change. But you really have to want it.”
Because she wanted it, Grear said now everything has changed.
“I’m no longer afraid of myself – that’s a big thing to shake, the self-hate,” Grear said. “They just helped me pick myself back up, and now I love myself.”