Mother Town Healing Program showing success rate

by Feb 14, 2019Front Page, NEWS ka-no-he-da





The Mother Town Healing Program (formerly Project) is helping members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in recovery find a new path in life.

“The program provides job skills and education,” said Billie Jo Rich, Mother Town Healing Program supervisor.  “The goal is to take folks who are in recovery that may not get chances for employment otherwise and provide those skills and education for them so that we can produce employable community members.”

Overall, around 30 people have gone through the program, under the auspices of the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO), since its inception in April 2017, and Rich reports a success rate of 75 percent – meaning they have gone on to full-time or part-time employment or sought further education by going back to school.  Currently, there are 15 participants in the program, five of which are interns in various tribal programs.

Participants work in the Mother Town Healing Program garden near the Kituwah Mound site. (Photos courtesy of Mother Town Healing Program)

“They can go into these programs and provide extra help and the programs don’t have to pay for them so they get extra help with work that they need done and the employees get that hands-on learning work experience,” said Rich.  “So, when the positions come open, ideally, our participants will have a better shot at getting those positions because they already have experience doing the work.”

One goal of the program is reducing the stigma surrounding participants and their past drug usage.  “We do a lot of volunteering in the community.  We do a lot of projects, and that lets the community see these people in a new light.  Even though they might have known what they were like in their using days, they see them working hard, participating, volunteering and doing things for the community.  That shows them that these people just want a chance.”

Tommy Bradley, Mother Town Healing Project coordinator, said they tackle those stigmas head on.  “When they get ready to do an internship somewhere, we tell the departments, ‘Hey, they’ve got records.  They’ve got felonies. Some of them have a bad past.’  But, most of the departments are willing to give it a try…everybody deserves a chance.”

To be in the program, participants must be in recovery, actively engaged in some form of recovery service, and work four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) from 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Part of the program allows time to participate in recovery classes, “We’re as supportive as we can be,” said Rich.  Slots are limited in the program and those interested are encouraged to submit an application, available at the program site.

Jerilyn Crowe, who currently works as an officer administrator intern with the TERO program, is shown with her certificate of completion from the Mother Town Healing Program.

Jerilyn Crowe, TERO Offfice administrator intern, went through the program and is delighted with the direction her life is headed as a result.  “It was awesome because I didn’t have to pick between getting a job and continuing to work on my recovery.  With this, you still get to come to work and you still get to go to your classes at Analenisgi so I didn’t have to pick.”

She said her intern job has helped with her confidence, “It’s nice that people don’t think of me like that anymore – using and doing bad stuff.  Now, I think people see me in a different way…they don’t think that I’m going to relapse like I used to before.  I would tell people that I was doing good but I wasn’t and I would go back to the same old thing.”

Crowe said having that community support helps a lot in her recovery.  “It makes you happier.  Before, I was really paranoid worrying, ‘I wonder what they think about me because I know the bad stuff that I’ve done before?’  It’s a small town and everybody talks and knows your business.  Now, a lot of people comment that I look good, I look better, and they’re really proud of me.  It just makes you happy.  It builds your confidence up.”

Bradley said the participants work on a variety of projects in the program ranging from cleaning brush to tearing down sheds to working in the program’s garden near the Kituwah Mound site.  Last year, the garden was one acre, and this year will expand to 1.5 acres.  “That’s a big garden and it really produces the vegetables.” Most of the vegetables are donated to Tsali Manor.

He said they also help many tribal entities.  “In November, we did some weed-eating at the golf course (Sequoyah National).  Since it’s a tribal entity, we saved them money.  We went to the greenhouse and did a lot of work for them in three days, and that saves them money and time.  It helps their budget.”

Rich added, “We try to help other tribal programs as much as possible.”

She said working in the community helps the participants give back.  “They’ve burned a lot of bridges in the past, but they want to make things right.”

Joshua Crowe, Mother Town Healing Program participant, and Tommy Bradley, Mother Town Healing Program coordinator, paint the bridge leading to the Oconaluftee Island Park.

Rich said the symbiotic relationship is good for the community.  “While these people may have lived a certain way in their active use and addiction, they’re in recovery now and they have something to offer of value to the community.  It’s good for our participants also because the more that they reconnect with the community, the more they become stakeholders in the community and the more they’re going to give back to the community.”

Program staff is very proud of their success rate, but Bradley said it would be a success even if that rate was lower.  “I came into the program thinking that we’re going to save 100 percent of those who come to us and then you think you’ll be happy with one, and when we got that first one out there with a full-time job I thought that if that’s the only one we save, it’s worth it.  If we only saved one out of the whole program, it was worth it.”

Rich, who has been in successful recovery herself for 21 years after seven unsuccessful attempts, said that addiction doesn’t just affect the person.  “It affects their family.  If it affects their family, it affects the community.  If it affects their community, it affects the whole Tribe.  But, what people don’t always look at is recovery is the same way, it doesn’t just affect that one individual.”

She noted, “Every time an individual gets into recovery and is able to sustain that recovery, you can see the difference.  You see them start to reconnect with their family members.  They’ve burned those bridges, but they’re starting to mend those relationships.”