Chicagoland

Recovery home fights opioid epidemic by helping moms

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
April 25, 2018

Recovery home fights opioid epidemic by helping moms

Maryville’s St. Monica Recovery Home is making strides helping mothers grapple with the effects of the opioid crisis on them and their children. The home, which opened in October 2016 in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, provides residential substance abuse treatment to women between 18 and 35 and their children up to 10. The women can keep their children with them and they also receive vocational training.
Residents Rosa Soto and Dominique Ashford make dinner for the residents of Maryville’s St. Monica Program on April 20. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Brother Jonathan Wheat, Cedric Williams Jr. and mother Zahra McGee make sugar cookies in a common area at St. Monica Recovery Home on April 20. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Maryville’s St. Monica Recovery Home is making strides helping mothers grapple with the effects of the opioid crisis on them and their children. 

The home, which opened in October 2016 in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, provides residential substance abuse treatment to women between 18 and 35 and their children up to 10. The women can keep their children with them and they also receive vocational training. 

The idea for the recovery home came out of discussions School Sister of St. Francis Cathy Ryan, Maryville’s director, and her team had with the director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Maryville had a space in West Town that used to be a shelter for children, with two adjoining buildings containing 22 dorm-like rooms. They asked if DCFS had any needs Maryville could meet in that space. 

“One of the things that came up was the opioid crisis and all of these kids that are coming into foster care because their parents are having to go either into jail or into substance abuse treatment,” said Nina Aliprandi, director of program services for Maryville. 

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 2,351 people in the state died from drug overdoses in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s up from 1,579 people in 2013. Nationally, overdoses are also rising.

St. Monica helps to keep families intact while the women continue their recovery. In the two buildings, mothers sleep in rooms with a twin bed next to a child’s bed or crib. Only two people can stay in each room, so if there is more than one child, they sleep in rooms next to their moms. 

An on-site clinic includes space for mothers to meet with addiction counselors and receive medication depending on their treatment needs. They have several groups that meet during the day for 12-step work or domestic violence protection. Most of the women have experienced some type of abuse. 

“For many of them, they haven’t been sober that long. They don’t want to go back to their neighborhoods because they’re in a really good place and they want to be safe. They want to keep their families together,” Aliprandi said.

While at St. Monica’s, the mothers also receive job training with vocational coordinator Brother Jonathan Wheat of the Community of the Mother of Jesus, an Episcopalian religious order. 

When the women enter the program, Brother Jonathan starts a work history. 

“A lot of moms say, ‘Well, I’ve never been employed.’ I say, ‘But we’ve all worked. Taking care of your kids is work. You’re working here now with your chores,’” Brother Jonathan said. “Many of the moms have never had a resume. I also ask them if they have an email address. If they don’t, I help them get one.”

One of the first things he helps them do is get their Illinois Food Handler’s certificate. That is required to handle food in any restaurant in the state. It’s also required for them to cook meals at St. Monica’s, since all mothers rotate preparing dinner for the residents for a week at a time. 

“A lot of the moms have never accomplished anything like that. So, right off the bat they have a resume, an email address and a food handler’s certificate. It really provides some momentum, some positive changes,” Brother Jonathan said.  

If a mother needs a job right away, he helps them find one and practices interview questions with them. He also helps them respond to questions about a criminal record if they have one. 

“They get a lot more skills under their belt, a lot more confidence, to attain a job,” Brother Jonathan said. 

Brother Jonathan also works with the children. 

“What we really didn’t think about was all the interaction Jonathan would have with the kids,” said Aliprandi. “A lot of these women didn’t have positive interactions with good males in their lives. So just the fact that we have men in this building that we employ as recovery coaches and all the interaction they have with Jonathan just shows that you can have a respectful relationship with a man who’s going to treat you with dignity and respect.”

For the kids, Brother Jonathan does fun cooking projects like making their own pizzas. He made the dough from scratch and the kids got to toss it in the air and later add their own toppings. Then they baked and ate them. They also recently colored Easter eggs.

It’s all about positive influences and helping the mothers get back on their feet. That’s been a blessing for Ebony Grant. 

“I was using drugs and alcohol. I knew it was a problem because I would wake up and just drink without eating. It was very hectic,” Grant said.

Before entering St. Monica’s in January, she spent 32 days in rehabilitation. 

The 32-year-old has five children but only her 1-year-old, Knowledge, lives with her at St. Monica’s.

Throughout the program, the women can earn certificates in various areas after taking 8-week classes. Grant is proud of the accomplishments she’s earned so far. 

“We do domestic. I have my certificate in that. We do poison prevention for children. I’m about to get my certificate in that. We do parenting. I have my certificate in that,” Grant said. “I also have my certificate in food safety here. They wanted to give me a week to finish mine. I finished in two days.”

She’s also proud of being clean and sober. 

“I came a long way here,” Grant said of her time at St. Monica’s. “They’re very supportive here.” 

Her plans for life after St. Monica’s include applying to mortuary school. She’s dreamed of being a mortician since she was 7.

Where would she be today if not at St. Monica’s?

“I’d probably still be out drinking, using drugs. I probably would have given up on myself,” she said. “So I’m glad I found treatment and got my son back. I’m going to continue and complete the program.” 

For information on St. Monica’s, visit www.maryvilleacademy.org.

Topics:

  • maryville
  • opioid crisis

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