DOWNEY -- From Monday through Thursday, women ranging in age from their late teens to mid-40's march up the steps of Downey's Southern California Alcohol and Drug Programs' (SCADP) corporate offices at 11500 Paramount Boulevard to attend Women's Council. To some, it may look like nothing more than a conference room with a small, adjoining daycare, but for Women's Council members, it's so much more. It's a place to vent and share and talk and learn; it's a place to laugh and cry and eat, but most importantly it's a safe space to heal and recover.
All of the women who attend Women's Council are recovering addicts, many of whom have open cases with Child Protective Services as a result of situations that occurred when they were in their addiction. Now, all of them are sober and working tirelessly to make the changes necessary to be reunited with their children - and many of the group's members say it wouldn't have been possible without Women's Council, but more specifically, not without counselors Rosalind Pelayo and Rose Nieves.
Pelayo and Nieves lead group meetings with the women, where they read Narcotics Anonymous daily meditations and discuss how the words on the page relate back to their often difficult lives. Besides fighting to maintain their sobriety and dealing with the added stigma of being mothers with substance abuse problems, some Women's Council members also struggle with unhealthy family situations, mental health issues, and poverty, yet still they persevere, hoping to break unhealthy cycles and create better lives for their children.
Given the tenuous grip some Women's Council members have on things many take for granted, such as reliable housing or transportation, it goes without saying that the holidays can be an incredibly difficult time for recovering addicts. The stress and pressure that surround purchasing gifts, accommodating large groups of family members, and cooking elaborate meals is enough to overwhelm the most unshakeable among us, but when you're also recovering from a substance abuse problem, the situation becomes all the more precarious. This year in particular may prove to be extra difficult for many Women's Council members, which is why Pelayo and Nieves are appealing to the community to lend a helping hand.
In the past, Women's Council was able to obtain holiday donations from the Salvation Army and other organizations to ensure that the women in the group and their children had a Thanksgiving meal and at least one Christmas gift, but because of fewer services and new regulations requiring individual families to apply for donations, the women and children who rely on Women's Council for these holiday donations may go without this year.
For many of the women, attending daily meetings at SCADP is difficult enough because of a lack of childcare, transportation, or conflicting work schedules, so having to take public transportation with their children to apply for holiday donations is an added complication.
As a result, Pelayo is reaching out to the community and asking for donations for the upcoming holiday season.
"All of us have fought so hard to get to this place in our lives and when the holidays come around, the struggle just increases because if we can't give our children the Christmas they deserve, we feel inadequate," Pelayo said. "I'm hoping that by reaching out for donations, we can give the kids a taste of what the holidays should really be like."
Currently, Women's Council is in need of food items for their yearly Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, which may be the only holiday dinner some of the group members and their children will have. Gift donations are also needed for the 40 women and 75 children, ranging in age from newborns to 17-year-olds. Pelayo and Nieves are hoping to collect items to help the women feel pampered: anything from perfume and clothing, to body scrubs and bubble bath is welcomed. The group is also hoping to collect new toys, school supplies, and clothing for the children of Women's Council, some of whom attend meetings with their mothers.
Nicole Moorefield, a Downey native and one of Women's Council's strongest voices and biggest success stories, has struggled with a meth addiction since she was a teenager. After using a majority of her life, she was able to maintain sobriety for five years before she used again and eventually, ended up at Women's Council, where she credits Pelayo and Nieves with saving her life and getting her sober.
Moorefield, who is now a sponsor and has been sober for over a year and a half, still comes to Women's Council meetings four times a week, always with her baby Sofia, who gets doted on by Pelayo, Nieves, and the other women in the group as Moorefield discusses the challenges she faces or leads the women through their Narcotics Anonymous steps. Her colorful past, confident voice, and heavily tattooed body often intimidates, though at her core she's a mother - a mother to her children and a motherly figure to some of the newly sober women in the group who are struggling to maintain.
"I know what people think when they see someone who looks like me walking down the street with my kids. My mom hates all of my tattoos and I know exactly what she'd say if she didn't know me: why should I donate to 'those people?'" Moorefield said. "People assume the worst of you when you look like me or when they hear about your past, and you know what? At one time, those people were right; what they thought of me and other women like me was right, but they're not right anymore. People change and we've changed for the better."
Moorefield now lives with her boyfriend and two children, but like the other women, she was once in transitional housing trying to get her son back from foster care, so she has a deep understanding of how overwhelming the holiday season can be for recovering addicts.
"A lot of us can't afford to buy gifts for our kids or cook a big meal for our families and when you're newly sober, that's the kind of thing that can make you relapse because you want to make things up to your kids and give them the Christmas you feel like they deserve, but you just can't," Moorefield said. "Getting these donations can make all the difference in the world to some of the girls here."
Those interested in donating Thanksgiving and Christmas food items or gifts to the women and children of SCADP's Women's Council can drop off items at SCADP in the Women's Council meeting room, located on the second floor of 11500 Paramount Boulevard.
To make a tax-deductible monetary donation to be used for food, clothing, and other holiday gifts, checks can be made out to Janet Burtt, program director of Women's Council.
For questions about volunteering or other information, Counselor Rosalind Pelayo can be reached at (562) 923-4545, extension 2230.
********** Published: November 1, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 29