More terrifying than falling into the dark abyss is knowing you have also pulled your children in with you. That’s the helpless feeling mothers who have become trapped in addictive behavior experience.
But, there is always hope, Acres of Hope, and it is located in Applegate.
“Even though the women may have had a drug history, we are a drug free community. This is not a shelter. We think of it as a renewal center,” said Regina Sarmento, director of the two-year-old faith based program in Applegate.
“It is an apartment living situation where the first and foremost thing we try to do is model healthy family living,” she continued. “These are not just women who have gotten off the path and started a cycle of rebellious behavior. They are from very broken backgrounds. I’ve had a mom here who was sold at the age of 15 to pay for her mom’s drug habit and another who was prostituted at age 9 and shooting heroin by the time she was 12. They want to be good mothers, but have never been shown how.”
Sarmento can feel compassion for the women who enter into the program because she shares in their pain.
“I went to 12 different schools and lived with 17 family members before I graduated. My father was physically abusive. My mother was a prostitute,” she explained. “Even severe dysfunction can become normal and that is the mindset with which you live your life.”
The program is designed for women with children who are trying to break the cycle of addiction, financial disparity and destructive behavior, but it is much more than a series of classes and tests.
“The first woman to go through the program, which can last up to two years, just graduated last March and is now leading a drug free, productive life in the Auburn area,” Sarmento said.
“There are three things we have centered our program around. The first is to develop a healthy support system. Just because people graduate from a program doesn’t mean there is a lifestyle change. Without a healthy support system they go back into the same destructive behavior they worked so hard to leave.
“The second is that we want this to be the last program women go through,” Sarmento continued. “We get referrals from local churches, private and public agencies. Parenting certificates from court-mandated classes don’t provide anything but more information. What we want to see is long term life skills developed.
“The third is that if a person is not healthy, they are not going to pick classes that address the core issues they are dealing with,” she said.
One of the first things a new resident must do is take a 25-question evaluation and set goals.
“We cater the classes to the specific needs of each mom,” Sarmento said. “These women are brave. They realize have nothing left to lose.”
Even though the program has been running well, the administration is facing a shortage of funds.
“There was a lease to purchase agreement, but odds are that we will probably will have to move in October,” said Sarmento. “We would like to expand, but we cannot do that with our budget. We had a generous start-up donation from Bayside Church in Granite Bay, but now we are relying on small grants and private donations.”
Jennifer Baker and her two children have been in the program since Thanksgiving. She sees Acres of Hope as more than another program. It’s a way to change her behavior for long term success.
“I went through the Progress House in Camino and a short stay in Alta, then to another treatment center in Loomis, before there was room for us here,” Baker explained. “It has helped me to realize what it is about my life that lead to addictive behavior. It starts with a relationship with God and is based on Biblical principles.”
Sara Deras agrees that being able to focus on core issues has helped her develop better living skills not only for herself but also for her two young daughters.
“It’s a great program. I am so thankful to be here,” she said.
The board of directors selected the name “Acres of Hope” based on the Bible passage in Hosea that gives reference concerning God’s offering of turning what is dark into a valley of hope.
For the women and children who have found a place to call home, a little hope has gone a long way toward a better future.
For more info about Acres of Hope visit www.acresofhopeonline.org
4/16/08 – by Marci Seither, Colfax Record correspondent