By Jennifer Jacob Brown
2009 has already gone down in history as a hard year for businesses. What some may not realize is that the economy has been just as hard on non-profits. In Meridian, Best of Both Worlds, a non-profit addiction recovery center for women, is struggling to make ends meet. The center accepts patients whether or not they can pay, and over the past year they have had too many patients who can't.
Best of Both Worlds is not very well-known, making it difficult to solicit donations, which is part of what brought Executive Director Dr. Betsy Storms and House Manager Adele Williamson Graham to the Meridian Star to talk about what they do, how they are different, and why they need help:
The Meridian Star: Talk about the type of facility you have in Best of Both Worlds.
Adele Williamson Graham: When I sent out letters (asking for donations) one of the big questions I got was whether Best of Both Worlds is part of Betsy's practice. So one thing we really want to put out there is that it is a separate thing. People tend to think that it's a private facility owned by her, and it's not. It's a non-profit organization. It started as a private non-profit and now it's a public non-profit.
Betsy Storms: We started as a private non-profit in 2003, so it was always a non-profit... and we achieved the status of public non-profit around three years ago. The Riley Foundation has given us a grant each year since then. They've been very, very helpful to us.
Star: What made you want to start an addiction center?
Storms: This is something I love to do because I'm a recovering addict. I've been 28 years this month without having drugs or alcohol or anything like that. So, it's always just been my mission.
Star: So you saw a need because you had once had that same need yourself.
Storms: I saw a problem because we didn't really have a women's facility in Meridian, and this little house came up for sale, and I saw that I could maybe do that as well as work in my private practice.
Graham: I can tell you from a different aspect, I had been through many treatment centers — I'm also a recovering addict — and this treatment center is a little bit different in the fact that it's a house, it's where women live and do their group meetings. It's just very different in the way that it's structured because you're not sitting in an institution, you're living in a house, and this is how you learn to apply the things that we learn in recovery into your life, it is right there in this house.
The house can hold eight women, and what we do is we just have a really full day of schedules. We get up at six in the morning. They do their schedule all the way until 9 o'clock that night. We really keep them busy. We learn how to get along with others, which is a big thing for a house with eight women, to be able to get along and just learn about how to change. You learn about how to do things differently than you've done them in the past.
It's kind of like a little jewel out there, hidden away, that nobody really knows about. And that's what we want to do is let people know about it. It's a great thing, and very few people know about it.
Star: Do you have both inpatient and outpatient programs?
Storms: Sort of, yes. People live in the house, and we provide services to them all day that really could be called outpatient. And sometimes people come and really don't live in the house, they just go to the outpatient services — but that's rare. Most of the time when people come they live in the house.
Graham: It's a seven week program, give or take. But there's nothing carved in stone, she kind of individualizes the treatment for that particular person. Normally it's a seven week program, but we've had people stay up to a year. We've had a lot of people stay six months.
Storms: We also have pets. We do a lot of things other people don't do, and one of them is we have pets that live there. We also take in pets and adopt them out. We're kind of a little mini-humane society out there.
Star: Are clients allowed to bring their own pets?
Storms: No, we tried that, but it didn't work. But we have people drop off animals there in the middle of the night, and we've also worked with the humane society. Sometimes we wake up and find a litter of kittens that people have left there and we adopt them out.
The girls also do outreach. We go to the Meridian Convalescent Home and do services there. We try to teach them how to give back starting while they're in treatment.
Star: How common is that, and how helpful is that, to use pets in treatment?
Storms: Yes, it helps, because alcoholics and addicts are very selfish. That's part of the disease. Everything revolves around me and my drink or my drug. So when they come in there, we start trying to help them to get out of themselves and at least take care of an animal to start with. And then we help with the people at the nursing home. That's getting out of that selfishness.
Graham: And they bond with the animals. You'd be surprised how much the animals will know when a person is in crisis and come and comfort them. So these are examples, I think, of unconditional love that they've never seen. We love dogs.
Storms: And that's a criteria for coming there. If you can't be around animals then you have to go somewhere else.
Graham: Another part of it is, living in the house, there are chores involved in the house and things like that are different than in most treatment centers. Most treatment centers you may just go and sit in your group and then go hang out in your room. But this isn't. They're actively involved in their program throughout the day by participating in chores.
Storms: And gardening. We have a beautiful place out there with flowers and we do gardening every day.
Star: How many women have gone through your doors since you opened? Do you have a rough estimate?
Storms: Let's see. We get about 40 people a year. So about 250 since we've opened.
Star: Do you use a 12-step type of program?
Storms: We're 12-step oriented, but we're also oriented toward really teaching them how to change their thinking and their actions. Changing the way they think and changing the way they act is what sobriety's all about. Sobriety is not about just not drinking and not taking drugs, it's about change, the willingness to change.
We're very involved in 12-step programs. We go to a 12-step meeting every day, sometimes two. And I think that's one reason our program is so successful is because by the time they leave there, they've become a part of the 12-step community here, and they're comfortable there.
Star: Have you been able to gauge what your success rate has been?
Storms: We think we have about a 40 percent success rate, which is about a 20 percent higher rate than most.
Graham: And I think we have that because it's so personal. It's a small group. It's concentrated. It's just such a small intimate setting that's different from an average treatment center, where you may go through a class of 40 or 50. At Best of Both Worlds, you bond with these four or five women that you go through treatment with, and it just makes a difference.
Storms: One thing about Best of Both Worlds, too, is that when they leave, they don't really leave. We keep up with them. It's like a family. We have a really good support system... Another thing we do that's different from what others do is we don't give up on people. We believe in perseverance because sometimes you don't get it the first time.
Star: Adele, can you talk about your personal experience as a patient at Best of Both Worlds?
Storms: Really, she a miracle, because she's been through a lot.
Graham: It really has been a miracle. One of the things that Best of Both Worlds did for me, I had real fear of returning to Meridian. That's where my active addiction started and took place. So, it's been able to help me face my past and reconcile there, be a part of my family, a part of my community, a part of my children's lives, which is all very different...
Basically I battled addiction for 30 years with no success until now. And for me to be back now, a part of my children and a part of my family, is a miracle. I had been to many different institutions under court orders, I think it's around 20 that I went to in those 30 years — and this one is really different. I can tell you because I've been to those other ones. I've lived it and I've been there. The whole thing is so different in the way we do things out there, and that's, I think, what makes it more successful.
Storms: Adele didn't want to come back to Meridian, she was so ashamed of all the things she'd done, and she felt like she couldn't face Meridian. But that's been the biggest part of her recovery is coming back here, holding her head up, being a part of the community, and helping.
Graham: Just doing good things, and living a good life. I never thought that I could ever live just a normal life, and that's what it's given me, is the ability to do that.
Star: Do you feel that you are continuing your recovery by working at Best of Both Worlds?
Graham: Oh yes. It's beneficial for me and hopefully for the ones that come through there. That's part of your recovery program is giving back for what was given to you. That's the way that we continue to grow.
Star: Are most of your clients locals or from out of town?
Storms: Both. The majority is probably local, but we get people from other states that have somehow heard of us.
Star: What types of employees do you have?
Storms: We have the interns from Mississippi State, they're Master's level. Myself, I have a Ph.D. in Counseling with a minor in educational psychology. If people need medical services we just use the doctors in Meridian — we're not a medical facility. We have volunteers that come in. Sarah Mutziger, a storyteller, comes in once a week. We had a group from Jackson come and do parenting classes.
Star: Was it because of the economy that you've seen tough times over the past year?
Storms: Yes. Even though the Riley Foundation gave us a wonderful grant, still the people that showed up that needed help that just absolutely had no money were a lot more. The need was just greater this year.
Star: You accept patients who can't pay?
Storms: Yes. If someone can pay they do, but if someone can't pay, there's grant money available, hopefully.
Star: Is there any kind of a campaign that you're intending to start? Is there a way that you're trying to get people to know about you and to get money and help?
Storms: Adele and (local family counselor) Charlie Geer have been very instrumental in fundraising. It's something we've never done before and I never even thought about doing it. But this year with the economy the way it was, we had so many patients that were in need.
Graham: Right now all we've done is send out a few letters, and we're planning a fundraising dinner in the future. It's kind of a work in progress.