This article originally ran Sunday, April 28, 2013
Avenues 12 offers ‘open door’ for addicts
By Eileen Zaffiro-Kean
Published: Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.
DAYTONA BEACH — One morning last summer, a 39-year-old Boston woman got in her car, drove past her turnoff for work and headed south — all the way south. “I just drove to Florida, thinking it was a good idea,” said Jessica, who has struggled with drug addictions since her teens but is now in recovery and prefers to stay anonymous. “I had heard Florida had pain clinics and it was more accessible. “Days later she found herself alone in a Tampa hotel room, feeling every painful stab of her misery and forced to look at how constant pill popping had shrunk her body down to 90 pounds. She called someone back home and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
After three months at a facility in Georgia where she went through detox, Jessica found Avenues 12 in Daytona Beach, a private, nonprofit transitional housing program for women who have stopped using drugs and alcohol but aren’t ready to go back to their homes and careers. Since Avenues 12 opened its doors in October 2009, the organization’s executive director said it has helped dozens of women who need a bridge between addictions run rampant and a new life of unwavering sobriety.
“My first question is, ‘what are you willing to do for yourself?’ ” said Kay Hayes, the nonprofit agency’s co-founder and executive director. “We try to teach independence and rebuild self-esteem.”
Since its inception, Avenues 12 has expanded from one housing facility to two, and now it’s about to add a third building for its residents. In addition to a house on Ridgewood Avenue and another on South Street, Avenues 12 plans to move women into a small apartment building south of Bellevue Avenue within a few weeks. Daytona Beach has banned the establishment of new social service agencies and the expansion of existing operations that help people with everything from clothing to job searches in its community redevelopment areas, but all Avenues 12 properties are outside the CRA boundaries.
With the third property now in its ownership, Avenues 12 is working to fix up the building and fill it with everything its residents will need. Hayes is hoping to get donations for everything from furniture to bedding to microwave ovens. The original house the organization bought has become the “beginners’ home,” where women newly sober take their first steps in addiction-free living. The beginners who do well in their recovery can move on to the second house, where they’re given more freedoms.
The new facility will be for those even more solid in their recovery who still prefer to be in a structured place with rules where they’re surrounded by other women committed to sobriety, Hayes said. The program, which often has a waiting list, will go from helping about 20 women at once to around 40.
Hayes built the program on the foundation of her personal struggle with drugs and alcohol. While working for 25 years as a certified nursing assistant and three years as a supervisor with the American Red Cross, Hayes was silently dealing with addictions until she decided a decade ago she couldn’t do it anymore and got help at a residential treatment program. “When I had lost every ounce of my soul, my prayers were answered,” she wrote in a posting on her website that tells her story.
She started her recovery in a residential facility in another state, and eventually worked for residential treatment centers. She and her husband moved to Palm Coast in 2008, and the next year the couple founded Avenues 12 along with a friend of Hayes, Janet White. Even after losing her husband to cancer in 2011, Hayes has stayed focused on her mission.
“I do this because somebody was there to help me. It works,” she said. “This is a passion. This is not my job. I get to watch women grow every day. I’m the most fortunate woman in the world.”
The program focuses on the simple but crucial basics, requiring residents to take care of the insides and outsides of the homes, get jobs or enroll in a school, do volunteer work, pay $580 per month to cover rent and food, take random drug and alcohol tests, obey a curfew and attend 12-step program meetings daily. The women are also strongly encouraged to stay at least six months. Even those who don’t make it through the program still gain something, Hayes believes. “For every woman who walks in the door, they get an education,” she said. “No matter what, they get an education.”
Ray Salazar, president of the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties, has worked with Avenues 12 and the local United Way has provided the nonprofit a few grants, he said. Avenues 12 has been getting it right for struggling addicts, he said. “I’m very impressed,” Salazar said.
Chet Bell, CEO of Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare in Daytona Beach, has also been impressed. “Avenues 12 is something that we have needed as part of our system of care for many, many years,” said Bell, whose organization provides substance abuse and mental health services. “It’s meeting a huge need for women working on their recovery and getting re-established. For a lot of them, their disease has taken them down a long way and they don’t have a place to support their recovery.”
Mariah Quinn, acting president of the Avenues 12 board, said the success rate has been many times higher than the average recovery rate for most addicts. “I think Kay is doing a great thing for the community,” Quinn said. Residents of the Avenues 12 homes can’t quote statistics, but they offer the highest praise for what it’s done for their lives.
“Kay always has the right thing to say,” said Erin, a 30-year-old woman who lives in the Avenues 12 beginners’ house. “You’ll leave with complete relief.”
About eight months ago Jessica, the Boston woman who wound up in Florida on a drug craving and a whim, said she had to force herself to come to Avenues 12. Now no one is forcing her to stay. “I was petrified of coming here not knowing anyone,” said Jessica, who was abusing attention deficit disorder pills and opiates she bought on the street. She also wasn’t crazy about leaving a fiance, good job and home. “But I knew I had to do it to save my life,” she said. “It was the best decision I ever made.” Determination to stop robbing herself of experiences, happiness and her own potential is pulling Jessica forward now.
Erin, who in 12-step tradition chose not to share her last name, said she feels like she has wasted her life, too. The Brevard County woman is hoping the program will help her stay sober for the first time since she was in junior high. “Drinking and drugging since the age of 11 was my life,” said Erin, who noted she almost overdosed a few times. She said she threw away college scholarships and has watched her parents raise her 6-year-old son. Now she has a driver’s license for the first time in five years, she’s working at a restaurant and she’s hoping to marry her boyfriend within the next year.
Erin and Jessica each offered words of advice for women still in the grip of their addictions. “If you don’t stop you’re going to end up dead, in jail or in an institution,” Jessica said. “There is no positive way out of it. There’s no way to use successfully. I know because I tried it.” Erin said it’s never too late for anyone to get sober. “Never give up and don’t be fearful of change,” she said. “There’s so much more to life. Definitely never give up the fight. God has plans for us.”
On the Avenues 12 website is an invitation from Hayes to women struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.
“In life a new door opens every day, and we can choose to either stand to one side and let life continue on, or we can make a choice and walk through the door and experience everything that life has to offer,” Hayes said in the posting. “When you’re ready, I invite you to come on in. The door is always open.”
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