Cincinnati Family Magazine

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December 6, 2022

Bringing Back Mommies

Renewal House Provides a New Direction for Addicted Mothers


Full893.jpgPhysically, spiritually and emotionally depleted, many substance-addicted women – whether they realize it or not – are fortunate to arrive one day at Renewal House. In this unique place, through its life-affirming program, women are given the chance to put broken lives back together again … often with their children beside them.

Angela sits comfortably in a small conference room, hands folded in her lap. The Renewal House logo embroidered on her denim shirt represents more than just her job as the center’s facilities assistant and van driver. It’s proof that second chances really are possible.

“Before coming to Renewal House, I had my days and nights mixed up.” She pauses, reflecting on the 15 years spent on and off the streets as a crack addict. “I just couldn’t get it together.” The severity of Angela’s addiction hit home when DCS (Department of Children’s Services) took her 13-year-old daughter from her.

“They told me, ‘You get yourself together, and you can have her back.'”

Four years have passed since the mother of five arrived at Renewal House, Nashville’s only residential drug treatment facility for women and their children. Angela’s story reflects the heart-breaking reality of addiction in the United States, where, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 8.3 million children live with at least one parent who is alcohol or drug addicted.

These growing numbers hit close to home in 1994, when the Davidson County Juvenile Court revealed a startling statistic. Drug addiction was resulting in 120 children a week – 50 percent under the age of 6 – suffering because of a mother’s substance abuse.

Tired of seeing these families torn apart, a Nashville judge and a local attorney spearheaded the effort to find answers to the city’s growing drug problem. The result was a community-wide, grassroots initiative, and the birth of a recovery program responsible for bringing more than 150 families back together since opening its doors in 1996.

“I was inspired and impressed by these women who have really hit rock bottom, where addiction has destroyed their lives,” says Jude White, who joined Renewal House as director in March. “They’re rebuilding from the ground up.” A former Renewal House board member and DCS attorney, White understands all too well what it means for a family to be torn apart from addiction.

Renewal House’s dual mission of treating the addict as well as her children is what sets it apart from other treatment facilities, making it the only program of its kind in Middle Tennessee. The center utilizes a holistic approach for healing in both its residential and intensive outpatient programs.

One Day at a Time

“The most important thing I learned was how to be a better parent,” Angela says, of her early days at Renewal House. “I never knew how to do that when I was using.” Like all women at Renewal House, Angela takes parenting classes, in addition to learning budgeting, life skills, job training and spirituality.

The five-phase residential program lasts six to 15 months, depending on the individual need. Families in active recovery and after care live in one of the 33 two-bedroom apartments on site. The homes are furnished, but the absence of TVs and telephones is essential to the success of a woman’s recovery, allowing her to focus her time on treatment and her children.

Women in the intensive outpatient program meet for six hours a day, Monday through Thursday, and are provided with lunch and transportation to and from the center. Unlike women in residential recovery, they are not required to have children.

While some women, including Angela, are court ordered to treatment at Renewal House, others come on their own, or through the encouragement of family and friends. Any agency, institution, or individual can make a referral. “I was angry at first, since I couldn’t get high no more,” Angela says. “Then I had to accept that, ‘look, you’re just going to have to do it.'”

What it’s Like

When they first check in, a typical mom is physically, spiritually and emotionally depleted, says the Rev. Mary “Kaki” Friskics-Warren, founding director of Renewal House. Health problems, particularly dental (a frequent effect of long term drug use), are not uncommon. Often, they feel a sense of detachment from their children. “They look at their children, and know what they put them through in active addiction,” she says. “There’s a lot of shame and guilt there.”

But immediately help is at-hand. In the main building, a brightly colored rug and jungle-themed mural welcome youngsters into the childcare room housing hundreds of books, chests full of toys and child-size computers. Down the hall, a family computer lab is available for adults and older children, and the only television on premises can be found in the group room, a relaxing atmosphere for families to visit. A quilted message on the wall reads, “God, grant me the serenity.” Pillows covered in colorful fabrics rest on the floor in the meditation room, where residents congregate each morning to focus on spirituality.

The framed photos lining the hallway walls reflect the mothers who have called Renewal House “home”. The women are black and white, teenagers and 30-somethings. They are mothers of one and mothers of five. Many are survivors of abuse. Each arrived at Renewal House with a similar desire: to provide a better life for herself and her children.

The children at Renewal House range in age from infancy to 10 years old, and remain in public schools or local day cares, frequently transferring closer to the center. Like their mothers, many arrive with health problems, particularly breathing difficulties caused by premature birth. Severe emotional disturbance (SED) is not uncommon.

In addition to having their health needs addressed, children are offered something at Renewal House that many have never experienced: security. “We have children who have walked into their apartment and wept because it’s the first time they’ve had a bed, or because they know the electricity will be on when they wake up,” says Friskics-Warren.

Despite facing overwhelming obstacles, children improve at resiliency rates 60 – 75 percent higher than when initially tested. “When we arrived, my 2-year-old was traumatized,” Angela says. “No one thought he could talk.” Franklin, now 5, is a playful kindergartner who makes the honor roll, and recently earned his school’s public achievement award. Angela was also able to regain custody of her daughter while in treatment.

Making it Happen

Providing a safe haven for families in recovery isn’t cheap: Annual living expenses for one family totals $38,000. Currently, the center receives 60 percent of its funding from the state, the remaining 40 percent a result of individual donations. Organizations such as the United Way provide financial assistance, and charitable donations are gladly received from area businesses. Families First, a program of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, assists in funding medical care, and provides child-care certificates and other resources.

Fundraisers are essential to Renewal House, and are generously supported by the community. “A Women’s Thanksgiving” is a dinner event celebrating women, and provides an opportunity for graduates to tell their courageous stories. For Mother’s Day, custom-made cards can be purchased and given in honor of the recovering mothers.

And every dollar helps. According to Stephanie Ferrell, director of development, taxpayers have been saved at least $2.5 million by the center’s ability to keep families together and children out of foster care.

Now in it’s eighth year, Renewal House continues to grow. According to Ferrell, the facility has purchased nearby property and is in the planning stages of creating a program that allows women to utilize their job training skills. The residential program remains in full swing with a steady waiting list, while the outpatient program continues to welcome new clients.

Jude White’s outlook is undeniably optimistic. “When you get these great results, that these women can be good parents, and children can have their mommies back, that’s what it’s all about.”

Melanie Hill is a local freelance writer.


Reach Out to Renewal House

Renewal House relies on volunteers for training in parenting skills and GED tutoring, providing transportation, job skills training and assisting the child-care staff. Groups can adopt an apartment, sponsor family outings or assist in grounds maintenance. In addition to monetary donations, in-kind gifts such as furniture and children’s clothing are always appreciated. For more information, call 255-5222 ext. 111 or visit renewalhouse.org.

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