Stories of Hope & Healing
Guadalupe PerezGuadalupe “Lupe” Perez wakes excited, knowing he is going to meet new people and, often, set them on a better path. Lupe welcomes newcomers at the Northwest Integrated Care Clinic. When people come to the clinic for the first time, Lupe explains the process and helps them get oriented.
“I give them handouts of services and I tell them about the groups. I tell them about our Recovery Zone and peer services. Sometimes I tell a little bit of my own story to help them drop their guard and share their story. I tell them about resources in the community and how they helped me when I was homeless,” Lupe said.
Telling his own story helps keep him focused on recovery, but it also inspires others. He became addicted to methamphetamines and was eventually incarcerated. When he got out of jail, his wife of 18 years asked him to leave. He found a doctor in Guadalupe County, and, working with Bluebonnet Trails Recovery, he stopped using substances.
Lupe came to San Antonio and was homeless for two years until a man came up to him with a sandwich and an invitation to visit Corazon Ministries at Travis Park United Methodist Church. When Haven for Hope opened in 2006, Lupe’s pastor recommended that he apply for a job at the then-new facility. He started as a janitor in The Courtyard before becoming a peer support specialist, and eventually moved to his current job with The Center.
“Being part of The Center reinforces my coping skills and provides an opportunity to give back something that was given to me: what I’ve done, how I survived and the resources that I used to get better,” said Lupe. “It can give them hope, and hope is everything. Hope gives you a chance to live your dreams. Hope is open to the world — you can achieve anything you set your mind to. There is no limitation.”
Cynthia Gomez DandridgeWhen a person wakes up addicted, the plan for the day is always the same: get money, buy drugs. They don’t hope for an alternative— substances seem to be the only alternative. They feel stuck in the lifestyle.
Cindy Gomez Dandridge was born into the lifestyle. Her mother kept a drug-infested home, and Cindy and her brother were subject to abuse and neglect. Somehow, she got good grades in elementary school, but she was struggling. By her middle school years, Cindy started running away from home and staying with friends or a boyfriend. She started drug use at 14 and had her first baby when she was 18.
It wasn’t until Cindy helped an 80-year old man inject heroin that she made the decision to do something different. “Life was beginning to stand still and I asked, ‘Who am I?’ I came to the Restoration Center for detox— the four scariest days of my life. The substances had been removed and I had to face life with all the stuff that I had piled on over the years,” said Cindy.
Detox staff introduced her to The Center’s In-House Recovery Program (IHRP), which requires a commitment to stay sober. “I was really scared, because my comfort zone had become the way I had lived for so long, but I was willing to make that leap of faith to transition to IHRP,” she said. “The wonderful thing about The Center is that it touches every aspect of a person’s broken life. You have enough time away from the chaos to sit still and think about the changes that need to be made in your life. They give you hope.”
Cindy stayed at the Haven for Hope campus for four months. She found a job, enrolled in college to become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) and began working with Judge Ernie Glenn and the Ministry of the Third Cross.
Today, Cindy is happily married, interning with The Center and raising her two grandchildren. Cindy tells the women she works with that there is a way out— there is life after drugs. “Recovery taught me how to love again. Without love, you have nothing.”
Jason GerstnerThe first thing a person addicted to substances will perceive is whether you are being straight with them, and you won’t get a second chance. The next threshold is whether you have walked in their shoes— people who haven’t “been there” have no chance of really understanding.
At The Courtyard at Haven for Hope, they encounter Jason Gerstner, lead guest specialist, and he immediately passes the test. “I spend two hours a day talking to people in the Courtyard. I get to know them if they are new. If they have been here before, I get updated on their issues. When we see a spark of motivation, we can jump on that. If someone wants to get out of the cycle, I can help with their immediate needs—a job, an ID, a health assessment, the next step toward stability, I can help them find it. I am a friendly face and one of the first people they meet at the Courtyard”, said Jason.
Jason has his own Haven for Hope story. His caseworker found him in a house littered with paraphernalia and liquor bottles with people passed out under pool tables and on countertops. Jason had been off methamphetamines for months, but he was still drinking and stuck in an addictive lifestyle. She told him, “I know you are better than this. Let me take you to this place.” The place was Haven for Hope.
At Haven, Jason was referred to the High Utilizer program, where he was offered an opportunity to stay sober and change his life. He took advantage of programs within The Center’s Restoration and Community & Transformational Services. His caseworker helped him obtain a housing voucher and get a secure, independent place to live. He was hired, first by Haven, then by The Center, to help manage The Courtyard at Haven for Hope.
Today, Jason is married with children, and continues helping incoming guests at The Courtyard. In addition to guest relations, Jason performs administrative duties and manages staff. The Courtyard team excels at no-strings-attached assistance— visitors are free to come and go as they please. And if they’re ready to turn, Jason shows them the PATH— The Center’s Project for Assistance in the Transition from Homelessness.
Zachary BullardOn a cold winter night in 2009, Zachary Bullard found himself in a familiar place — the back seat of a police car — hearing some very unfamiliar words.
The officers told Zachary that SAPD, the Sherriff’s office and The Center for Health Care Services had started a new program and they could take him to 601 N. Frio — the Restoration Center, or they could take him to jail.
“For almost two years, I was in and out of detox and I ran the gamut of recovery programs —Salvation Army, Lifetime, all of them. I would sleep at The Courtyard in Haven for Hope sometimes. I went through Detox at The Restoration Center five or six times, and although I always completed successfully, I always just left, and didn’t go anywhere for treatment. I started IHRP (In-House Recovery Program), but I didn’t complete it. I heard their suggestions, and I would start feeling better, but then I would leave,” Zachary remembers.
Finally, I stayed in IHRP for six weeks and they showed me a different perspective of the steps (the AA 12-step program) at a different level. At first, to completely just give up and follow a program was really hard. I always want to do things my way and I didn’t know that I needed to try someone else’s direction. Since then, it’s been everything they always told me it would be. In May, I will have been sober for four years,” he said.
A combination of experienced counseling, an open welcome and Zachary’s will made the difference.
“I made it because people kept telling me that I could be the one in 100. The counselors never judged me, they never gave up on me. Whenever I came back, they were always welcoming. They didn’t talk down to me because I was coming back over and over, they just kept telling me what to do,” he said.
Today, Zachary is working as a Recovery Support Specialist in the IHRP program. He helps new clients navigate the program, taking them to group sessions and meetings, and supports them as they get started in their own recovery.
Jessica AlcalaAt 20 years old, addicted and five months pregnant, Jessica Alcala felt broken and lost. Heroin aggravated her life-long struggle with asthma to the point that she couldn’t walk, and she landed in the hospital. “The doctor didn’t judge me – he suggested that I try a methadone recovery so I wouldn’t affect the baby,” Jessica said.
Jessica called the Center’s Opioid Addiction Treatment (OATS) program, and within a week or two, she was receiving treatment and enrolled in the Mommies Program, a special unit specifically designed for parents and expectant mothers who struggle with substance use.
“I was scared out of my mind and didn’t know what to do. I had two counselors — one in Mommies and the other in OATS. Both counselors were very positive, very supportive, just trying to help me out the best they could.”
Through long, honest conversations with the experienced counselors at The Center, Jessica learned that she had developed an insatiable need to put everyone else’s needs before hers. With a child on the way, she needed to reset her priorities.”
The Center is very comprehensive in their support. When I was worried about my case with Child Protective Services (CPS), my Mommies counselor called a special staff meeting. After that meeting, she told me that it would take a couple of months, but my CPS case could get dropped. I realized that if I stayed in the program and continued to improve, everything would work out.”
Six years later, Jessica is a Licensed Chemical Dependency intern, working in the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). She is in college, pursuing a degree. As an artist, she plans to establish an art therapy practice. And her baby?”
Today, my son is six years old and I wake up every morning feeling happy. There is a happiness you can have without relying on a substance, and I feel blessed to be alive. The Center taught me how to be a better parent, and encouraged me in so many ways as I got free of heroin,” Jessica says.
“I want people to know that the people here really care. They are so positive; they have seen it work. People are living the rest of their lives happy and sober. It changed my life, it really did.”