MODESTO — Patricia Pinckney of Modesto has stayed clean for almost 90 days.
As a result, child welfare officials allowed her two children, Noah and Lila, to see her at the Redwood Family Center. After the four-hour visit, and hugs and kisses were exchanged, the children went home with foster parents. The kids will start living with their mother at Redwood if she stays clean.
"It was awesome seeing them," said Pinckney, 31, a methamphetamine and heroin user for most of her adult life. The family was living in a motel when a domestic squabble with her boyfriend landed her in jail and the children were placed in protective custody.
"This place puts families back together," Pinckney said. "This place saved my life."
Redwood, which provides clean and sober housing at two Modesto locations, is a rare program that allows women with drug or alcohol addiction to live with their children during treatment. The nonprofit, founded by Inter-Faith Ministries in 2003, needed to be rescued three years ago when the county no longer could afford a local match for vital federal funding.
Inter-Faith stepped aside for Valley Recovery Resources, which formed in 2011 and worked with faith groups and the private sector to raise $159,000 for the local match enabling the county to draw $3.3 million in federal funds.
The county entered a $900,000 contract for Valley Recovery to operate Redwood and rehired 14 child welfare social workers whose jobs had been axed. Valley Recovery runs a center on California Avenue in west Modesto and used $400,000 to open a second residence on Modesto's Corson Avenue in January. Each center has space for about 25 women and 40 children.
County officials say the public investment in Redwood is worth the expense. It not only helps women devastated by drug abuse but strives to prevent their children from being trapped in the drug culture.
"Many of these women come from families where the family was involved with drugs," said Derk Van Konynenburg, board chairman for Valley Recovery. "It's tough enough for an addicted single mom to function without being in a safe place for a period of time."
Valley Recovery has raised half of the $181,000 needed for the county fiscal year that begins in July and is on an annual fund-raising treadmill until the county is in better shape.
Advocates say the clean and sober housing gives the mothers a structured environment to be reunited with their children and rebuild their lives. In most cases, county authorities placed the children in foster care after the mothers were arrested or their addictions put the kids in jeopardy.
The Redwood clients have a strong motivation to break their addictions they want to keep raising their children and build a future for their families. As a condition, child welfare officials require them to complete drug and alcohol treatment and work on plans to become self-sufficient.
Some clients, such as Patricia Rashe, were pulled from seemingly hopeless circumstances. Rashe, who began using meth at 18, was living with other homeless people in a tent near the Tuolumne River. She went to jail on petty theft charges in 2010, while she was pregnant, prompting a judge to approve her for the program.
Rashe was given pregnancy care and gave birth to her daughter, Taylor, on Jan. 10, 2011. She brought the baby girl from the hospital to the Redwood center on California Avenue, where the staff and other moms helped her nurture the child.
"(Patricia) came from the streets and she had a lot of anger," said Holly Baucom, who was a fellow Redwood client. "You see these miracles where people go from being on the streets to becoming a family, going to school and having ambition to better the lives of themselves and their children."
Rashe, 31, graduated from Redwood more than a year ago and lives in a subsidized apartment with Taylor. Today, she mentors two women at Redwood, driving them to their 12-step meetings and encouraging them to stay with it.
She lives on $300 a month in welfare, recycling cans to buy gas when the money runs out.
"They helped me with my self-esteem, helped me get connected with God and helped me with accountability," Rashe said. "If not for Redwood, I would not have the foundation today where I am clean."
Detox is the first step for women entering the program, and then they settle into the daily routine at Redwood. It starts with a 6 a.m. house meeting before the women get their children ready and take them to school on public transportation.
The women spend the day in county-approved substance abuse programs or classes dealing with domestic violence or parenting. They return to the center to prepare dinner and then attend 12-step programs or religious services.
The mothers are responsible for managing the household, preparing shopping lists and caring for their children. Those who receive food stamps or public aid agree to turn it over and live communally.
Many of the clients dropped out of high school and never have been employed, or they lack basic household and child care skills because they spent so much of their previous lives getting high and staying high, and never learned adult behaviors.
"Before I came here, I could not boil water," Pinckney said. "Now, I can bake a turkey."
Steve Berkowitz, executive director of Valley Recovery, said one of the toughest challenges for clients is staying with the program for the first few months. The women need to gain a sense of belonging, he said, because they know they can have that by returning to their boyfriends.
"They tell you, 'Don't leave until the miracle happens,' " Rashe said. "I wanted to leave and be with my daughter's dad. All of the women go through that."
The mothers are given a choice of secular 12-step groups or faith-based recovery programs, such as God's Way Out at Crosspoint Community Church in Modesto. Pinckney, who has a court record spanning 11 years, has volunteered to work in the church's coffee cart and was amazed she was trusted with the cash drawer, she said.
Van Konynenburg said he believes there's a spiritual component to recovery. Although he has no personal issues with addiction, he said, his heart has been devoted for years to recovery ministries.
"You need to have some transformational experience in your life, and for me that is a personal relationship with God and Christ," he said. "If there is not a transformational experience, it's so easy to go back because there are always people waiting for you there."
It's the third time in a recovery program for Michelle Mendoza. She was clean for almost four years, taking her kids to school activities and pushing them to get good grades, but she stopped going to group meetings and relapsed, she said.
She was arrested after stealing merchandise from the CVS Pharmacy on McHenry Avenue in December 2011; her fiancé shot pepper spray at employees who tried to stop them from getting away.
Mendoza, 42, said she was molested as a child and left home when she was 14. She started seeing a boyfriend whose dad was a meth cook. She said the support she gets from women at Redwood gives her courage to break her long-term addiction.
"If you can't make it here, you are not going to make it out there," she said.
As they progress through recovery, the women are expected to do volunteer work. They also work on getting their general education degrees and developing college plans. Berkowitz said 70 percent graduate from the program and most regain custody of their children. Others move out before completing their recovery.
Paula McDowell, one of the first Redwood clients in 2003, said immersing herself in volunteer work and education goals pushed her to develop her potential. She and her brother were raised by an often-homeless single mother, and McDowell sought help out of fear her children would inherit addictive behavior.
She earned a University of Phoenix degree and works as a program manager at Redwood, making a better life for her four children.
"My oldest son will graduate high school in June he is the first one in our family to walk the stage," she said. "I tell my kids that no matter what we have been through, we can persevere."
Some graduates qualify for Section 8 subsidized housing, and all are encouraged to come back to mentor women at the centers and continue going to recovery groups.
Valley Recovery wants to further develop housing and on-the-job training for its graduates. Criminal convictions and a lack of job skills are barriers to finding employment.
Baucom said she graduated from Turlock High School and took classes at Modesto Junior College before she began using drugs in her early 20s. Because of a conviction for theft, the Redwood graduate was sentenced to house arrest until later this year and is trying to regain custody of her 5-year-old daughter, Mayci.
Baucom lives with another program graduate as she tries "to clean up the wreckage of the past," she said.
Van Konynenburg said there are plenty of success stories, including Redwood graduates who serve on the board or work for local recovery services. He mentioned former clients who gained stability through good marriages, another who helps manage a dry-cleaning business and one who's starting an accounting career with a degree from California State University, Stanislaus.
Rashe said she wants to get into a medical assistant program but has a felony probation violation on her record. She said she's determined to show a healthy lifestyle to her baby Taylor and a 10-year-old daughter who lives with the girl's father.
"When I was in addiction, I had no self-confidence and no self-esteem. Now, I don't settle for less than I deserve," Rashe said.
For more information about Redwood Family Center or opportunities to contribute, go to www.valleyrecoveryresources.com or call (209) 521-1805.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.
PHYSIOLOGY OF ADDICTION
Drugs such as cocaine and meth turn on a circuit of the brain called the reward system, which creates a sense of bliss after eating, sex or personal success. But drugs create more intense pleasure.
Drugs hijack the circuit and direct a person's resources to drug-seeking behavior rather than healthy living. The focus on drug-related behavior consumes a great deal of the addict's time.
Addicts who start young never learn behaviors needed to function as adults, such as work or parenting. "Underlying all of this, drug abuse changes the brain," says David Friedman, professor of physiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina. "It changes the part of the brain underlying our behavior and motivation. It's the reason a lot of the therapy for addiction takes so long. The brain needs to learn ways of doing things differently."
For a recovering addict, the changes in the brain for a long time blunt their ability to feel pleasure.
A large percentage of women who use drugs have suffered abuse or neglect, so their recovery therapy needs to deal with those issues.
Recovery programs such as Redwood Family Center teach addicts to get over drug-related behavior and give them the skills they never learned.
The notion that an addict has to hit rock bottom before seeking help is a fallacy. Many people seek help to stay in high-paying professions or save their marriages. "There is nothing like motivation," Friedman says. "At some point, anybody who recovers from addiction makes a decision to do it, and it's hard work."
Source: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center of Winston-Salem, N.C. The center supports a national addiction studies program for legislators.
Under a contract with Stanislaus County, Valley Recovery Resources operates clean and sober housing centers for mothers at 1030 California Ave. and 416 Corson Ave. in Modesto.
TOTAL CAPACITY: 50 women, 80 children
INFO: Most of the women are referred by the county or the court and are meeting legal obligations for being reunited with their children. Some clients receive services through scholarships. Valley Recovery does not provide treatment for addiction, but partners with certified programs so residents can get the care they need.
PARTNERS: Stanislaus County government agencies; Sierra Vista Child & Family Services; Crosspoint Community Church; Big Valley Grace Community Church; City Ministry Network
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: www.valleyrecoveryresources.org or (209) 521-1805