Rachel’s path to addiction began when she was 13 years old and her doctor prescribed Percocet for menstrual cramps. In the years that followed, the suburban Philadelphia teenager’s life spiraled into addiction to Xanax, PCP, and then heroin.
“At the beginning, I was functional,” says Rachel, her voice shaking. “Then I lost my house and my kids. I become homeless. For three years I lived under the bridge in Kensington, tricking and using heroin.” One terrible day, during a “job” with a man in a car, Rachel was stabbed and her only option for escape was to jump out of a moving car.
After receiving medical treatment for her injuries, she found herself in jail because of a parole violation where she went through a difficult withdrawal experience. Things changed for the better when in August a judge reassured her that “I have a good head on my shoulders.” He told Rachel that he wanted the best placement for her where she could recover from her substance use and get back on her feet.
That’s how Rachel arrived at Interim House, a 2017 Impact100 Philadelphia core mission grant recipient, where she now receives intensive treatment and support. “I feel alive and amazing and thankful, like I have a life again,” says Rachel during her first week at Interim House. “I feel safe, like there are wings around me. It’s been so long since I’ve felt that way. I want to get my GED through Interim House. Then I’d like to become a nurse and help someone. My goal is to work in a recovery house.”
“You’re not alone,” says Kathy Wellbank, Interim House director, who reassures her. “We’re here to help.” Interim House serves more than 150 women age 18 and older each year through its 60 licensed outpatient openings and a 25-bed residential and halfway house program. The nonprofit has been a national leader and model in innovative addiction treatment over the past 45 years, helping clients like Rachel recover from a difficult past and surmount hurdles such as a criminal record that can make it difficult to find a job.
Interim House addresses critical gaps in holistic substance abuse recovery by providing workforce education and experience in a trauma informed, evidence-based learning environment. Funding from Impact100 Philadelphia has helped Interim House expand four components of its Life Skills and Work Readiness Program: life and employment skills training; academic education and computer skills training; job training programs and internships; and employment placement, retention, and ongoing support.
More specifically, the Impact100 Philadelphia grant allowed Interim House to expand a vocational counselor’s hours from part-time to full-time, which means that now every participant can benefit from a job readiness and counseling program. Each woman prepares a resume, which can be a huge source of pride, and then develops a two-year plan for recovery, work, family and educational goals. In addition, participants receive individualized counseling and support. The funding also enabled the agency to pay women a stipend for serving as peer mentors as well as helping at a local community center and food kitchen. These opportunities are an important source of income as women build resumes and prepare for the workforce. Impact100 Philadelphia funds also help to pay for specific job training and certifications, so women can become a certified nurse aide, yoga instructor, food server, and a recovery specialist.
The imprimatur of Impact100 Philadelphia grant support has transformed Interim House in ways as well. “When other potential funders see we have an Impact100 Philadelphia grant, they’re impressed,” says Wellbank. “We have since received funding from the Forrest Family Foundation and the Green Family Foundation.” Interim House appreciates our organization’s person-to-person approach to grant monitoring so that it’s not all just “on paper.”
One sunny fall day, Rachel, now 28, talked about her planned move from inpatient treatment to a South Philadelphia apartment and an outpatient program. Wellbank asked her, “If you had a magic wand, Rachel, what other support might help you?” In response, Rachel described how helpful the music and dance therapy at Interim House had been for her as she wrestled with the aftermath of her lost years: her dance teacher asked her to write about how she was feeling and her spiritual life during the years when she earned money as a stripper. Yet she was eager for more intensive art therapy, another treatment modality that has proven effective for individuals with a history of trauma or abuse. Wellbank’s response: Interim House currently has an art instructor and will consider seeking resources to add an art therapist who is trained to help women deal with complex feelings and issues that arise.
As for Wellbank’s own wish list, as the leader of Interim House for 25 years, she seeks leads to jobs, training and community service opportunities. “Recovery is about being out in the community,” and Interim House actively seeks partnerships with organizations where participants can gain experience, confidence and a sense of being in the mainstream of life. As one example, Interim House participants will lead craft activities at the Barnes Foundation on December 2 as part of the museum’s First Sunday events. The experience will be fun, rewarding and will help Interim House women build their resumes. Interim House hopes to foster a reciprocal relationship with Imapact100 Philadelphia, and extends a warm invitation to our members to join the organization’s therapeutic knitting group which meets on Fridays from 1 to 2:30 pm: “Learn to knit or share your skills and build relationships with our participants.”
As women work to reestablish their lives, Interim House seeks donations to help them establish new households. Donations of bedding are a particular need at Interim House. As participants like Rachel move into transitional and independent housing, sleeping in a safe place after so many years on the streets is a huge relief. Shelter and protection makes so much else possible in the new lives the women are working to establish for themselves. Click HERE to visit Impact100 Philadelphia’s Community Wishlist for additional information. To learn more about Interim House and their programs, click HERE.
Special thanks to Impact100 Philadelphia member Abby Spector for her editorial contribution.