FLORENCE, Ky. (AP) — Until she checked into the Brighton Recovery Center for Women last July, Debra Harbour thought she would die a junkie.
Nearly a year later, Harbour says the home-like, residential center in Florence saved her life. These days, the 31-year-old Ashland woman is paying it forward by serving as a peer mentor to women like herself who struggle on a daily basis to recover from drug and alcohol addictions.
"This program gave me my life back," Harbour said. "It gave me a sense of self-worth and a sense of self-esteem. I got my family back. Today, I just enjoy waking up in the morning and being able to participate in life."
Five years after the Brighton Recovery Center for Women opened, supporters say it's helped more than 700 women with a substance abuse problem transform their lives. Low-income women 18 and older are learning how to cope with everyday challenges without resorting to drugs or alcohol as a crutch.
Common hallways of the sprawling facility are decorated with handmade quilts from local artist Linda Whittenburg. A black lab mix who answers to Wilson (after the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) has the run of the property, serving as an unofficial sentry for visiting strangers.
"It's one thing to talk about recovery and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and the 12 steps," said Anita Prater, director of the Brighton Recovery Center for Women. "But here women can practice recovery. When they're faced with a difficult situation, they can practice what they've been taught."
According to a study released in January by the University of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, the program is working. That study found 39 percent of clients were homeless when they entered the program, a percentage that dropped to 8 percent in a follow-up interview six months after they were discharged.
The study also showed more than two-thirds of clients, or 68.9 percent, reported prescription opiate misuse during the 12 months before entering the Brighton Recovery program, a percentage that dropped to 4.1 percent - a decrease of 94.1 percent. Other illicit drug use also dropped 94 percent during the same period, and alcohol use dropped 83 percent.
Using national cost estimates for substance abuse, the study estimated that for every dollar spent on recovery services, there was a cost savings of $3.73 for taxpayers.
Modeled after The Healing Place in Louisville, the Brighton Recovery Center for Women is one of nearly a dozen such centers throughout Kentucky. It offers a peer-driven recovery program that includes celebrating milestones with mentors who've completed the program. The women finish four phases: Safe Off the Streets, Motivational Track, the Recovery Phase, and the Transitional Program.
"As (clients) move into (the Transitional Program), they can either look for a job out in the community, or they can work in the peer mentor office," Prater said.
In that office, the $50-a-week employees teach life-skills classes, take calls from potential clients and their families, and generally provide support that someone who's struggled with an addiction is in the best position to offer.
Clients start their stay at the center living in a dormitory under strict supervision. As they complete the various phases and show more responsibility and leadership, they can move up to efficiency apartments. All clients are assigned tasks ranging from kitchen duty to groundskeeping to laundry and housekeeping.
"After they've done all four steps, they start working on a move-out plan," Prater said. Typical clients spend anywhere from seven to 10 months at the center, she said, but some have stayed as long as 18 to 24 months if that's what it takes to enable them to live on their own.
Because the recovery center is part of the Newport-based Brighton Center social service agency, clients also can get support from some 35 other programs offering everything from financial education to job training, said Bear Clifton, Brighton Center's development director.
Within the center itself, the women can take part in Center Table Catering With a Purpose, a program started last August that caters everything from breakfast business meetings to company picnics and special events such as graduations and weddings.
"It was a no-brainer," Clifton said of the decision to operate a catering business from the recovery center. "We already had ladies fixing food every day in a commercial kitchen."
Peer mentor Lindsey Collinsworth turned to the Brighton Recovery Center for Women last October after battling a five-year heroin addiction.
"I was an IV heroin user who'd been in and out of treatment for five years," Collinsworth said. "All those other times it was me being forced into treatment ...But this program gave me a brand new life."
With the help of the recovery center, Collinsworth, 26, of Edgewood, learned to rebuild her relationship with her family and her 2 1/2 year-old daughter, who's now living with her parents.
"This program has helped me to be a daughter and a mother," Collinsworth said.
"It's given me a life that I never imagined I would have."
Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com