Erin was a student and a part-time lifeguard when she became addicted to alcohol, and then heroin. Last year, the Wayne native made a decision which she says changed her life. She came to Crawford House, the 34-year-old residential treatment center in Skillman for women in the early stages of recovery.
“I felt really safe while I was there,” says Erin, 23, who declined to provide her last name. “I felt like I could open up and just work on my issues, without the influence of the drug world. I could get honest about everything that went on in my life and get it all out in the open. And I could get a job, which taught me a lot of responsibility.”
A year later, Erin still holds the position that has been key to her successful recovery. She is a cashier and floor-worker at Smith’s Ace Hardware in Princeton Shopping Center, one of several local businesses that have hired Crawford House residents who are in the process of recovering. The organization will honor the hardware store along with McCaffrey’s Market, Jordan’s Stationery and Gifts, and Chez Alice of Princeton; Chartwell’s Dining Services and the Red Oak Diner of Montgomery; and Wendy’s, Shop-Rite, and Nelson’s Corner Pizza of Hillsborough; at its annual benefit on October 18, to be held at the Marriott at Forrestal.
“We try to honor someone from the community every year who is a good partner of ours,” says Crawford House Executive Director Linda M. Leyhane. “This year we decided on small businesses in the community, which have been so helpful to us. There are a lot more businesses that choose not to be recognized, for whatever reason.”
The women who come to Crawford House are unemployed, uninsured, homeless, or indigent. They go through a 12-step recovery program based on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous. They have individual and group counseling sessions, and get training in independent living skills. They don’t pay for Crawford House’s services. Funding comes from a variety of sources including the United Way of Northern New Jersey, the Mercer, Somerset, and Middlesex boards of chosen freeholders, foundations, corporations, and individual donors.
“These are women who might have started using drugs at age eight or nine,” says Ms. Leyhane. “They come from families in which drug use is part of their background, their culture. They have usually had multiple treatment failures in the past. It’s not rehabilitation, it’s habilitation. They don’t have the skills that you and I take for granted, like doing laundry, changing sheets, boiling water. We start will all kinds of life skill training.”
With addiction often comes a social aspect. “It’s a very isolating disease,” Ms. Leyhane continues. “You don’t know how to interact socially. If you started using young, you’ve missed out.”
There are about 180 halfway house beds in New Jersey, 22 of which are at Crawford House. Women are referred to the program from rehabilitation and detox centers, physicians, the Intensive Supervisory Program, the New Jersey Substance Abuse Initiative, and the Drug Court Initiative. Crawford House is the only program in the state that also admits clients who refer themselves.
Residents sign up for six months of treatment, but many stay longer. They must be residents of New Jersey, aged 18 or older, free of substance abuse for at least two weeks, and free from communicable diseases like tuberculosis. They must also be employable, because a major part of the Crawford House program is geared to getting and keeping a job. After 30 days of orientation, the women obtain 30 hours a week part-time employment, and contribute a portion of their salary to room and board. The idea is to foster self-worth, economic independence, and self-sufficiency.
“After orientation and two educational groups a day, meetings with a counselor, and attendance at 12-step program meetings in the community, [a resident] develops a good network that will take her out to meetings on her own,” says Ms. Leyhane. “Then she gets a job in the community.”
Lewis Wildman, who owns Jordan’s in Princeton Shopping Center, has been employing Crawford House residents for several years. “Generally speaking, it’s worked out pretty well,” he says. “It’s a great source of employees to be found here, because in general, who is looking for an entry level job in a retail store in Princeton? Nobody. So it’s good for us. Mostly, these are people who are anxious to work. It’s been successful for us and them. I think it’s a terrific program.”
McCaffrey’s Market is another frequent employer of women from Crawford House. “We’re the kind of organization that likes to help out people and give them a second chance, so we do our best,” says Ken Toth, the store’s lead meat merchandiser. “We’ve had quite a few good people from Crawford House. We still have one excellent person who started with us when she was there, and she’s been with us for several years.”
Crawford House teaches residents to fill out job applications and handle themselves in an interview. “It’s how to present yourself, how to dress,” says Ms. Leyhane. “We talk a lot about what takes place in the workplace. Then they go out and get their own positions. That means when they transition out, they have a job, a place to live, and after-care.”
The goal is for clients in treatment to maintain a substance-free lifestyle, learn how to avoid communicable diseases or manage them if already infected, stay employed, have healthy relationships, and transition to independent living.
Success stories vary. “We measure success in a lot of different ways,” Ms. Leyhane says. “If a woman has never worked, has no social security number, and we can get that, then that’s success. If she is reunited with her family, or gets her medical issues attended to, that’s success, too.”
For information about the 2012 Harvest Dinner on October 18, email firstname.lastname@example.org.