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Addiction program at Women’s Outreach Center works to treat a lifelong disease

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Graduates of the Women’s Outreach Center program hold a special place in the heart of Ansley Silvers, director of addictive disease at Highland Rivers Health.

“If I’m ever on a desert island I want somebody who’s in recovery with me, because they’re going to figure out a way,” she said.

The Center, a residential treatment facility that also offers intensive outpatient support, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Rome. It was a model for the state when it opened and continues to earn recognition as one of the best Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs in the state.

Silvers made it clear during a tour last week that a key to their success is understanding the challenges faced by the women who find their way to the Center.

“These are very unique, very smart, very creative people. They’ve just been gearing it the wrong way,” she said.

Ensnared by addiction — which Silvers maintains is a disease, not a choice — that creativity is channeled into ways to get drugs or alcohol and survive. The Women’s Center provides a space where they can rid themselves of the physical addiction and focus on redirecting their lives.

“Routine and structure, that’s what I learned,” said Nikki Kemp, who entered the residential program with a young daughter in tow and her now-5-year-old son on the way.

Now certified as a peer-counselor and finishing up a college degree, Kemp will open and direct a Highland Rivers’ outreach facility called Mosaic Place in Cedartown on Oct. 1. And she’s just one of the many success stories that have emerged from the center over the past two decades.

Some stay involved. An early graduate is now a district director for the state. Another works in a drug court. A third, the daughter of one of the Center’s first peer-counselors, started as a cook and is now a counselor herself.

“It’s a family thing, and there is a lot of longevity,” said Silvers. “Everybody’s invested in it.”

The program, which is free, is aimed primarily at women who are pregnant or have children they’re in danger of losing to the state. The goal is to give them parenting and nurturing skills to reunify their families, hold down a job, maintain a home and live healthy lives.

“They’re IV users, pregnant, homeless…Women with no safe housing, no family support,” Silvers said. “But all the pregnant women we’ve served here gave birth to drug-free babies. One hundred percent.”

The first three months are devoted to getting the woman clean of drugs and starting her development of healthy supports. Their days are filled with meditation, classes, group sessions, exercise and, of course, chores.

They gradually work up to going to outside meetings and events together, getting their sponsor, growing relationships and discovering new interests. The intensive oversight starts to taper off, but the supports remain strong.

“If they do well, we start helping them with a job search, transitional housing and getting a deeper footing in the community,” Silvers said.

Even after they graduate, they continue with outpatient classes and there are home counselors who go out to work with them, to make sure they are comfortable in their new lives. Relapses do occur, Silvers said, but she’s never sorry to see a graduate turn up years later to try again.

“Addictive disease is a lifelong disease, and recovery is a lifelong thing,” Highland Rivers spokesman Michael Mullet says.

The Center has 48 beds, including space for young children or babies the women may bring. There’s a therapeutic daycare for the kids during the day and a large community room where the families can interact.

Silvers said they average about 150 women at a time in both the inpatient and outpatient programs, but they’ve never turned away anyone who was committed to the program.

“I didn’t have a safe place,” Kemp said. “I would have done anything to get a fresh start, to find out who I was. They empowered me.”