Gemeinschaft Home has found a house in downtown Harrisonburg to launch a new residential program
for local women.
With enough money raised so far in the 2020 Vision for the Future Campaign, along with partnerships with local public agencies, Gemeinschaft Home settled this month on a location to establish a residential program for women in Harrisonburg. Until now, there have been no residential services available to women under community supervision or probation in the local area, such as the men’s re-entry program already offered at Gemeinschaft Home, and the new program provides a location to fill that critical need in the community.
The brick, two-story (with wrap-around porch) home, also known as “Dean House,” is located at 110 Old South High Street, on the corner of W. Water Street. The property is currently owned by Community Mennonite Church, who has come to an agreement with Gemeinschaft Home to establish the program in the house, located just across the road from the church. The large, early-twentieth century house features spacious rooms, two kitchens, and several bathrooms, offering both living and office spaces that include ample room for group meetings and activities.
The residential program will offer an alternative to incarceration for women in the local community who have been charged with and/or convicted of nonviolent offenses and are facing housing instability or are homeless. Program participants will be referred from the local Court Services Unit, Drug Treatment Court Program, and Joint Mental Health Collaboration, as well as from Gemeinschaft Home’s existing day reporting center program for women.
Up to four adult women will reside in the house for a minimum of 90 days and will receive full-time access to room and board, including meals and related resources. Participants will share household chores and cooking responsibilities. The minimum 90-days will require participants to complete a cognitive-behavioral life-recovery curriculum that covers a wide range of topics in a group setting, from parenting education, to living with addiction, interpersonal communication, and anger management.
All participants will also work one-on-one with a case manager to develop goals, determine a home plan, and address issues on an individual basis. They will make referrals for participants who need outside resources such as licensed counseling, health care providers, peer support specialists, and community groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Individuals will have access to employment advice, vocational training opportunities, and help with finding a nearby job. All participants will be subject to random drug and alcohol screens.
Gemeinschaft Home hopes to welcome the first residents by early February 2021, after some initial preparation takes place in the house through January, which includes hiring essential staff, painting walls, and procuring household furniture and other necessary items. We will share more updates about the progress of the new residential program for women in the new year!
Former residents of the program talk about life and work after Gemeinschaft Home in the Year of COVID-19.
he future is never entirely clear for anyone—no matter what direction we take or what choice we make in life—but the prospect is all the more uncertain for the majority of individuals coming out of incarceration. Finding a stable place to live and a job, reconnecting with estranged family members and loved ones, and maintaining sobriety (for those who struggle with addiction) are formidable obstacles but doing so in 2020 has presented an even greater challenge for those making a transition back into the community.
The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—leading to millions of job layoffs and eviction notices—is made all the worse by the staggering number of infections and deaths, that have overburdened the healthcare system and ravaged families with the loss of loved ones, in the wake of the most significant healthcare crisis in 100 years. This was the situation facing former residents Daniel Canterbury, 28, and Jeremy Hill, 36, when they finished the Gemeinschaft Home program last spring. Yet, their time spent in the program has helped to provide a solid foundation for a new start, and so far, they are still on stable ground.
While they both had been incarcerated for drug-related convictions, neither struggled with addiction, which is often the focus of many individuals who go through program. But both emphasize how the house structure and program curriculum provided a chance to gain some valuable tools for living, while also working to save money to live independently after they finished. Taking on leadership roles as senior house representatives, Canterbury and Hill actively participated in the community aspect of the program and helped to orient new residents, manage household chore schedules, and take on extra responsibilities, such as being the house cook on the weekends.
Both men have a background in the restaurant and food industries, and they worked in related jobs while they were living at Gemeinschaft Home. Plans after the program included establishing a food truck business for Hill, who finished in February, and assisting with the launch of a new local restaurant location for Canterbury, who exited the program in late March. However, the Covid-19 pandemic forced both to switch gears and find an alternative.
Luckily, both have found a place to thrive, despite the enormous impact on the food service industry resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic over the past nine months. Canterbury is a cook locally at the Thunderbird Diner in McGaheysville, nearby his home and family in Elkton. Hill now lives in Abingdon, Virginia, and is the sous chef at Commonwealth Senior Living.
There are still barriers that each man faces day-to-day, and both are still working—nearly a year later—to get their driver license reinstated. Hill points out that limited hours and appointments at the DMV make it nearly impossible to complete the road test, as Saturday is his only day off each week, even though he finished the written test some time ago. Canterbury supports several children, and his partner is currently expecting another child in the upcoming year. He is still repaying court fines, and he will come off probation when he does so, but he continues to make steady progress.
When asked to reflect on their time in the Gemeinschaft Home program, both pointed to the community structure and how the individuals in the house function as a unit. Both Hill and Canterbury benefitted from and contributed to the family-structure, whether they were helping another resident fill out paperwork or assisting a new resident to learn the rules and to find his way around the house. Canterbury points out, “Gemeinschaft Home provided a community in which I could apply myself and gave me a sense of acceptance that I would not have had coming out of jail with nothing.”
Hill referred to his experience as a stepping-stone between prison and life in the community, one that he urgently needed to soften what would otherwise be a very stressful moment. He says, “This is a good decompression, too, because we are coming out from being told when to eat, when to work, when to wake up, when to take a shower to…boom…life!” He adds, “You worry about how society is going to look at you, too, at first, when you first get out and you think about that like, ‘Man, is it going to be hard to get a job? What’s it going to be like now?’ I was stressed, but every day got less and less stressful.”
The two men became friends while in the program, and still keep in touch. They both also share the same goal—to live a normal life again. To the broader community, Hill says, “We’re just guys trying to start over and get some structure. We’re not all bad people; we just made a bad decision. I am here to succeed and to move on with my life, and that’s all I need to do.”
Even though our 2020 Vision for the Future fundraising campaign was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, donors like you have enabled us still to raise a significant amount of money towards our goal—more than we thought possible under such challenging circumstances. And while there is a lot of work ahead, we want to take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude. In a year when we all need something to celebrate, we want to celebrate all that your generosity makes possible here at Gemeinschaft Home.
We have already accomplished two of the fundraising goals—a therapy garden space on property behind the main house and a workout room for residents at Gemeinschaft Home. In addition, thanks to your support and great partnerships with area organizations and agencies, we have raised more than half of the projected start-up costs for our most ambitious goal—establishing a residential program for local women who need the services Gemeinschaft Home has to offer. In fact, just this month we have identified an available house in downtown Harrisonburg to establish the new program for women (starting with up to 4 individuals) in early 2021.
Because there is still more work to be done on our campaign, as we seek to gather more financial support for the women’s residential program, to hire a licensed counselor to work on property, serving all our programs, and to upgrade the HVAC system in the main house at Gemeinschaft Home, we are extending our 2020 Vision for the Future fundraising campaign for an additional year—the Gemeinschaft Home 2020 + 1 Fundraising Campaign—to continue our work building a better and healthier community. The campaign will now end on December 31, 2021.
On August 28 and 29, 2020, Gemeinschaft Home hosted a virtual fundraising event--Picnic with Gemeinschaft Home--in honor of our 35th Anniversary.
Attendees enjoyed a curbside-pickup barbecue dinner, while watching an online video presentation about the organization in the comfort of their own homes.
Miss out on the event? You can view the video, still available on the home page.
A Natural Space for Healing and Reflection
The Gemeinschaft Therapy Garden, one of the first fully funded projects for our 2020 Vision Campaign, will provide a permanent space for reflection and growth in the backyard space of the Gemeinschaft Home main house. The layout and design for the garden is already well underway, under the guidance of Keala Timko, of the Central Shenandoah Valley Master Gardener’s Association, and will make use of the rocky limestone terrain on the property.
Excavation and preparation will begin over the winter months, with full work on the garden to start in the early spring. The garden will feature environmentally-friendly materials, a mixture of shade and sun plants, wide walking paths, and a solar fountain. Gemeinschaft Home program participants and volunteers will provide labor and upkeep for the garden project in the future.
For more detailed information: Garden Plans (PDF document).
There are already additional plans in early development to establish raised beds for planting and cultivating herbs and vegetables for use by Gemeinschaft Home residents. We look forward to welcoming visitors to our new green space this spring!
Regular exercise provides both physical and mental wellness, and the opportunity to work out is now part of residents’ experience while living at Gemeinschaft Home.
Program participants living at Gemeinschaft Home have few options for exercise, particularly among busy work schedules and the colder winter months that make going outside all the more difficult. However, generous donations have given residents an effective way to improve their physical and mental health at Gemeinschaft Home, though the creation of a workout room on property.
This project evolved in two phases: the first (construction that enclosed the back porch and added a walkway and gazebo) began in the summer/fall of 2019, and the second (addition of workout equipment) was completed by spring 2020. There are options for both weightlifting and cardio exercise. Residents use the workout room daily, as it provides a healthy and positive activity, and they are responsible for cleaning and maintaining all of the equipment.
Former Day Reporting Center Program Participant Discusses her Recovery and Helping Others
By Jazmin Otey
When Leah Wolfe attended her first Day Reporting Center (DRC) meeting, a 90-day diversion program intended to reduce the local jail population, she could not wait for it to end. All her mind could only focus on was Nevaeh, her newborn daughter. She had not seen her since she had given birth during incarceration three months prior, because after her release from the hospital, she had been ordered to leave little Nevaeh and return to jail to complete her sentence. “It was like ripping part of my soul out, the only thing that got me through was knowing I would have her back in a few months,” Wolfe said.
As the 90 days came to a close, her perspective of the DRC program had changed immensely. “I really fell in love with recovery here, because the case managers care, and some of them have been through it,” she said. “They have the experience you can’t get from a textbook.” She had become so involved with the program and its participants that she voluntarily stayed for additional time even after graduating. For Wolfe, helping others was part of her recovery. During this time, she attended meetings with her now two-year-old daughter sitting next to her. Now, Wolfe has been clean for more than two years, has become certified as an addiction recovery specialist, and runs her own weekly recovery group at Grace Covenant Church.
Michelle Roberts, the current DRC case manager, was an intern when Wolfe went through the program, but that was not the first time they had met. The pair first encountered each other in jail while serving sentences for drug-related charges. Roberts was shocked to see Wolfe again at Gemeinschaft Home but knew that it was somehow meant to be, and she is proud of how far Wolfe has come. “I use her as an example all the time because she was someone who came into the program determined and took direction,” Roberts said. “Now she’s doing all these amazing things. She’s not just living but she’s thriving. I got to walk the journey with her. And that was a beautiful thing. It reminded me of my own journey [to recovery].”
Looking back, Wolfe hardly recognizes herself. There was a time where she didn’t believe she would be able to escape getting high each day. Wolfe was 10 years old when she started smoking marijuana and drinking alcoholic beverages. By age 14, she began experimenting with heavier drugs, was in and out of toxic relationships, and self-harmed frequently. At 20 years old, she was arrested and ordered to serve a two-year prison sentence for a drug conviction. After the sentence, she found herself in the same circumstances she had been in prior to incarceration, and, in 2017, when she had been caught using drugs a month before the end of her probation period, she went on the run.
It was during this time that she discovered she was pregnant with Neveah. Wolfe knew instantly it was time for a change. She managed to stop her toxic addiction in July 2017, however, police enforcement caught up with her in September, and she was sentenced to jail for one year for violating her probation conditions. After her positive experience with DRC, Wolfe hopes to see Gemeinschaft Home’s Community Residential Program (CRP) expand to women in the future. The CRP program currently offers room and board to help men become more stable, but women face their own unique problems such as motherhood, pregnancy, abusive relationships and emotional trauma that could be addressed in a CRP program geared toward women.
“It’s sad, but most people have burned their bridges through their addiction, so they don’t have a support system,” Wolfe said. “You can’t grow in an environment that you wilted in, and we need an environment to help people thrive. It’s so hard for women.” In the meantime, Wolfe hopes to continue showing others it’s possible to overcome addiction: “I would definitely say there is hope moving forward. Looking at the people that have overcome it is hope in itself,” Wolfe said.
How the Local Area Can Benefit from Women’s Residential Program and Support
Genesis Hernandez, Brianna Ramos, and Megan Klepper
Although the stigma of addiction has seemingly decreased over the past few years, why is it that we still know so little about it? Moreover, why do we know even less about women with addiction? In her 2015 article regarding Hollywood’s narrative on addiction, writer Biju Belinky describes how—regardless of the increased representation of the disease in the media—most of the stories being portrayed are those of men. Rarely are the stories of real women fighting addiction given an appropriate plot or platform.
The consequences resulting from this are amplified when comparing the ever-increasing rates of substance abuse amongst women with the near-stagnant number of recovery programs specifically designed for women. Lack of awareness regarding women with addiction is clearly correlated to lack of funding for recovery services for women.
This lack is most prominent in rural towns and counties that are faced with a serious rise in substance abuse among women yet have an unbalanced array of resources available to those seeking treatment. The Harrisonburg/Rockingham County area is no different. Although there are various co-ed recovery programs located in Harrisonburg, the residential programs (including Gemeinschaft Home) are often limited to male residents. There were no female recovery homes in the Harrisonburg area until the opening of Oxford House Trillium earlier in January of this year, which still holds far fewer residents than Gemeinschaft Home’s current men’s program.
Whenever any attempts to expand women’s services are made, financial shortcomings eventually impede agencies and organizations’ ability to keep the programs running, as was the case in 2008 with the closing of Gemeinschaft Home’s women’s residential program as a result of the Great Recession. Since then, local women seeking treatment had to either decide between temporary displacement to larger cities like Charlottesville or Richmond—if they preferred the tighter accountability of a self-sustaining recovery home—or enrollment in non-residential co-ed programs, such as Gemeinschaft Home’s Day Reporting Center (DRC), if they desired to stay closer to home. In the latter case, they irretrievably lost the experience of recovery with a strong, female support system.
However, robust female support systems have major positive impacts on women’s paths toward recovery and help them to overcome triggers such as heartbreak, motherhood, and societal chauvinism—issues that are not typically addressed in co-ed programs, because they are not considered relevant to the majority of (male) participants.
The gender-based disproportion of available recovery homes creates additional hardships for women during their reentry and recovery processes. As one woman put it: “Men get this chance to get on their feet and get their own place, save money, and do what they need to do and get the help that they need, while women have no chance to start over because they don’t get the same resources.”
The need for recovery homes for women is even more significant when looking at the populations of women with addiction who have also endured further trauma through issues like abusive relationships and/or single motherhood, which, again, are not addressed in co-ed programs and result in women leaving such programs without knowing how to approach or resolve troubling situations by themselves. However, women with addiction, especially at the start of their recovery, most need a support system that approaches their issues from a female perspective.
Community residential settings like those at Gemeinschaft Home provide a clearly structured environment that calls on each participant to contribute to the functioning of the community. Individual accountability for those contributions leads to stronger bonds between the residents and ultimately helps them keep one another in check in case of any slip ups with treatment. This further strengthens and reaffirms the structure and values within the home and enhances the sense of responsibility, trust, and support among the residents.
Many of these values are reflected in women’s programs such as the Pennsylvania-based Junction House and Thistle Farms in Nashville, Tennessee. As noted in Junction House’s website, some of the many benefits for women include the ability to “form solid sober support systems,” “transportation to outside meetings, help with case management, [facilitation of] medication, ... life or sober coaching to residents,” and even serve as a safe space for women with trauma resulting from childhood or their lifestyle of addiction “to heal, rebuild their self-esteem, and begin the work necessary to recover.” Likewise, Thistle Farms bases itself on providing female survivors of addiction, trafficking, and prostitution with a fresh start at life through their two-year program that guarantees their residents “a safe and supportive place to live, a meaningful job, and a lifelong sisterhood of support.”
Recognizing the abundance of benefits of community-based residential programs, it is evident that these resources must be made accessible to women with addiction in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. Gemeinschaft Home’s existing men’s program provides a well-tested model for women’s services. Used in tandem with the essential values of female support systems, this model can aid women on the path to recovery and, in the process, strengthen families and communities.
Gemeinschaft Home partners with the Rockingham Harrisonburg Drug Treatment Court Program, to provide housing for males who need residential support.
Contributors: Paige Sinno, Hannah Kaufman, Joseph McCarthy
Before December of 2017, the only option for offenders with chronic drug and alcohol addictions was jail time. Since then, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Drug Treatment Court, or Drug Court, for short, has been providing a new approach with an addiction and life recovery program which allows nonviolent, repeat offenders, who plead guilty, to have their sentencing delayed in order to complete a rigorous two-year process focused on addiction education, treatment, and supervision.
The push for a local drug court started about two years ago as several community leaders raised concerns about the growing inmate population at the Rockingham County Jail. The initiative had the backing of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Criminal Justice Board, which was looking to ease overcrowding at the jail. Outside of Harrisonburg, the state of Virginia offers 36 drug treatment facilities ranging from all points of the state.
Drug courts are a nationwide initiative, existing in all 50 states, as well as an international movement in the Americas and the Caribbean, Australasia, and Northern Europe. However, drug courts operate on a local level and are specific to each community.
Drug court cases are on a separate court docket with dedicated judges who take a somewhat unusual route to pursue three primary goals: to reduce substance use, to lower recidivism rates, and to rehabilitate participants.
Drug court is a community effort; it involves the daily communication and teamwork of judges, court personnel, treatment providers, case managers, and other social service workers, as each participant requires a specialized program based on their personal needs.
The program is aimed toward recovery by holding participants to honesty and demonstrated effort above all else; mistakes, including relapse or violation of procedure, are sanctioned but not disqualifying until their accumulation makes recovery appear untenable. Participants do not have their charges removed upon completion but rather avoid incarceration and continue on a path to sobriety, while those who opt out or have their program terminated must return to court to face sentencing.
The Harrisonburg/Rockingham Drug Court program began with only 20 participants and has grown to offer services for hundreds of city and county residents. Participants, who are classified as nonviolent but likely to reoffend, go through five program phases lasting almost two years. With each phase the intensity of supervision and treatment is progressively reduced. Throughout the entire program, participants will follow their own individualized treatment plan and be administered drug tests to ensure their adherence and recovery. Every participant is held accountable to rigorous standards throughout the course of the program.
One of the issues the drug court and its community partners are facing is the shortage of stable housing for those involved in the program. Currently, there are few housing options for men in Harrisonburg, including Oxford House and Gemeinschaft Home. There are almost no housing options for women going through the program in Harrisonburg. For more housing accommodations to be made available for participants—women in particular—the Harrisonburg community will need to be on board with the process and fully recognize the value of the program.
One way to get more community buy-in is to point out that the drug court is beneficial for the Harrisonburg community in terms of both costs and community development. Providing nonviolent drug reoffenders with an alternative to jail helps to actually treat them so that they can one day contribute to society in a meaningful way.
A study funded by the Department of Labor found on a national level that 84% of drug court graduates have not been rearrested after the first year, and 74% of participants have no arrests after two years of graduation. And, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s drug court evaluations, the likelihood of offenders being incarcerated after completing the program and being diverted to drug court is reduced, between 50 percent and 60 percent. Studies also have shown that, even with treatment costs included, drug courts saved localities an overall average of $5,600 to $6,200 per offender compared to incarceration.
While new to the Harrisonburg area, the drug court program is truly valuable to the community. Within the last year the community has seen 2 successful graduates, and currently there are around twenty participants awaiting graduation and new beginnings.
Gemeinschaft Home furnishes support for participants in a number of county and court services programs, including the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Drug Treatment Court. Dr. Amanda Teye, a JMU professor who helped establish the local drug court program, points out that “Gemeinschaft Home serves a dual function in helping the program maintain its effectiveness by allocating residential space and assistance in relapse and recovery care” via randomized and weekend drug testing of participants.
Drug court is essential for those who have not responded well to traditional supervision, such as probation after incarceration. Because the program serves the local community, participants must be local residents, demonstrate a high risk of recidivism based on their continued addiction, and have never been charged with or convicted of violent or gang-related crimes.
Depending on individual needs, male drug court participants receive residential services at Gemeinschaft Home, particularly during the first two phases of their treatment plan. That means they receive room and board and are held to the same standards and duties of organized community living as residents in the other programs. Thus, Gemeinschaft Home is not just a place for these men to sleep, but an ever-acting classroom for lessons of responsibility, sobriety, and purpose in life.
Overall, the Gemeinschaft Home and Drug Court partnership helps the community provide formerly incarcerated and chronically addicted individuals enhanced services to help straighten out their lives.
Addiction, Relapse, and Recidivism
Contributors: Catie Lewis, Leah Coffey, and Dylan Seagrave
For many of the individuals who participate in Gemeinschaft Home’s programs, forward progress is often hindered by one venomous vice—addiction—a disease of the brain and fundamental human condition that exists across every race, culture, nationality, gender, age, and socio-economic background.
It is important to recognize addiction as a disease, despite the pervasive cultural narrative that addiction is a personal choice. Both the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine define addiction as a disease: “Choice does not determine whether something is a disease. Heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer involve personal choices like diet, exercise, sun exposure, etc. A disease is what happens in the body as a result of those choices.”
Addiction to illegal substances creates an even more complex situation, because society generally condemns the possession and use of drugs as a moral failing—a crime to be punished, rather than a disease to be treated. It is probably safe to say that most people would not blame cancer patients for bringing the disease upon themselves via poor eating habits but are quick to pass judgement on individuals who struggle with substance abuse, because their addiction is based on illegal behavior.
While this punitive perspective may deter some individuals from ever engaging in illicit drugs, it offers an ineffective solution for those individuals who have already fallen victim to an illegal substance addiction. Substance abusers often get snared in a cycle of incarceration, release, and re-incarceration, which only exacerbates the disease of addiction, rather than treating it.
Recidivism is likely among addicts whose behavior is characterized as a crime, not a disease, and relapse is inevitable, without proper support and treatment, leading to re-incarceration. Because addiction is still considered a staple of criminality and degeneracy, relapse most often provides the basis for law enforcement rather than medical intervention, particularly for individuals who are on probation and subject to a zero-tolerance drug use condition.
Yet, the American Addiction Centers offers some helpful information to combat the negative stigma surrounding relapse, stating that, “Relapse is considered a normal part of addiction recovery and should be understood to be a stepping-stone on that path and not as the end of the road.
Relapse often indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted. Relapse can vary in its intensity and duration as well, and there are several ways for a person to decrease episodes and severity of relapse through treatment programs, therapeutic methods, and a strong support system.”
Thus, relapse is a physiological response to and result of addiction that is virtually impossible to address with punitive measures like incarceration. Yet, without intervention, substance abuse addiction dramatically increases motivation for criminal activity—such as drug sales and purchases, theft, robbery, fraud, or other crimes that provide access to or pay for illicit substances—which leads to (re)incarceration and keeps the cycle of recidivism spinning.
Individuals who struggle with addiction benefit tremendously from a structured program upon release from (or as an alternative to) incarceration; when faced suddenly with life on their own, the imbalances created by addiction in their brains dramatically increase their chances of relapsing or reverting entirely back to drug abuse. Gemeinschaft Home’s programming maintains a primary mission of self-recovery and redirection away from negative tendencies and habits that lead to incarceration.
Approaching addiction as a disease—not a crime—is a philosophy that informs the services provided by Gemeinschaft Home, and while we cannot prevent individuals from being incarcerated as a result of their addictions, we can work to address underlying problems associated with substance abuse that lead to criminal behavior and, ultimately, incarceration.
In other words, if we engage in empathy instead of punishment, we make our communities healthier and safer.