Six-bed transitional home tries to rebuild broken families on the front endPublished 8:18am Friday, March 19, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Though sobriety has been Patricia Whitcomb’s companion for 16 years, finding her voice to talk about addiction came much later.
“I understand the shame and guilt our ladies go through,” she says, “because I could not speak about it until I met a young lady at a rehab center in Grand Rapids.”
That would be Veronica Hetler, Hope’s Door home mother.
“She blew her home up cooking crystal meth,” Whitcomb said. “She was given the opportunity to go to rehab for one year or two consecutive 20-year prison terms. Her choice was obvious. She got one dropped and probation on the second.
“I felt comfortable and safe sharing my story with her because I knew she would understand. I found my voice and was able to carry it outside the rehab center. As I saw Veronica recovering and the confidence and progress she was making because I shared where I had been, that gave her hope that she could eventually achieve the same recovery. By sharing your story, you encourage others to recover.”
Whitcomb, a retired baby boomer, didn’t dabble in the California drug culture, “I inhaled – quite often,” she told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889. “I feel rather qualified to be involved.”
Drug problems such as meth will persist “as long as there’s money to be made and no jobs available,” Whitcomb said.
Eleven years ago she built the child care center at her brother David Helmuth’s, church, Apostolic Lighthouse on M-62 West.
It serves up to 60 families, of which 25 percent must fall below poverty guidelines.
Three years ago Whitcomb acquired the “vision and burden” for Hope’s Door.
The church’s thrift store downtown opened Jan. 13 to help fund the transitional home opened in December that can accommodate six women at a time as they rebuild shattered lives.
Hope’s Door, which takes its mission from the Bible’s Book of Hosea, carries clothing for men, women and children, toys and household goods.
“We are a church which believes in giving back to the community,” Whitcomb said. “Where there’s unity, there’s community.
“Our goal is to restore lives and to rebuild families. Jessica is an example of the population we’re trying to make a difference in. We believe there are mothers right now who are responsible for innocent minor children who have no choice in what their parents do. The rest of their lives are being decided right now.”
If these mothers fail at sobriety and wash out of their programs, custody of their children will be lost permanently.
“We want to offer them a safe, encouraging, learning environment,” Whitcomb said. “We believe Jesus Christ gave his life for all people. We believe there are no throwaways. There are no disposable people. We believe Jesus Christ can take the mess we’ve made out of our lives and turn it into joy. Our goal is to help ladies find the strength to love themselves, to find hope for the future, to rebuild their families and to find a safe environment to grow spiritually.
“We also believe that women are the foundation of the family unit. The family unit is the foundation of the community. And the community is the foundation of our society.
“By recovering a mother, we recover another generation. In our home right now we have five children under the age of 6 whose lives are being decided by their mothers,” Whitcomb said.
“If we don’t stop it on this end, they’ll marry, multiply, grow exponentially and add to the system and we’ll be supporting it on the other end to warehouse and to rehabilitate. We’re far further ahead if we make the effort now and reach the mothers, who can make a difference.”
Judge Susan Dobrich’s Family Treatment Court “is a wonderful program,” according to Whitcomb. “Partnering with them, Hope’s Door feels very privileged to have them on our side. We now have three residents. We’re getting another young lady (today) and we have another exiting incarceration at the county jail in April. We are the first program of this nature in Cass County. I feel a tremendous responsibility to prove ourselves. Our program is supported completely by donations.”
“Understand,” she said, “so many of our ladies come to us never having had basic life skills. The common denominator I see is child abuse, molestation and addictive, incarcerated parents – some second and third generation. To think they are going to make (good) choices is not logical. If they come to us from jail, they’re three or four months sober. We drug test on a daily basis, offer job training and introduce them into social situations,” such as inviting Father Rick Swanson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to dinner.
“They learn to cook and manage the house,” she said. “They really get hands-on participation with recovery. We get tired of Hamburger Helper, but that’s true at my own house. There’s some kind of group meeting going on every night,” such as Alcoholics Anonymous. “They don’t sit around watching soap operas. We keep them busy.”
Whitcomb recalled a $10,000 penny drive in May 2008 launched Hope’s Door before there was a thrift store.
“We paid cash. We were able to do that by the community donating change, although I admit there were some dollar bills in the barrel as well. We spent a year and a half with jars in merchant businesses.”
United Presbyterian Church in Cassopolis is hosting a $5 pancake breakfast featuring Mesko’s maple syrup next Sunday from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. to benefit Hope’s Door.
Barbara Groner introduced the program on behalf of Brad Yazel.