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WVU Extension Service joins Marie’s House in the battle against the opioid epidemic

Women working in community garden.

Strength, courage, resilience, determination—these are not often words you hear used to describe an area in rural West Virginia that is crippled by the opioid epidemic. But, in Wayne, West Virginia, just 20 minutes south of what is considered West Virginia’s opioid capital, Marie’s House Women’s Recovery Center is battling this epidemic built on a foundation of these very ideals.

“You either become part of the problem or part of the solution,” Misty Martin, director of Marie’s House, said. “Thanks to a grant obtained by the Honorable Darrell Pratt, Wayne County circuit court judge, and Christopher Dean, director of Western Regional Day Report Center, we became part of the solution with the establishment of Marie’s House.”

Marie’s House is a safe haven for non-violent female felons. Coming from the drug-court system, these women need a place to gain the solace and respite needed to begin their journey to recovery. During their stay in the house, which can range from 8 to 18 months, residents learn how to stay sober, avoid relapses and work on redefining their futures.

Because of the negative stigma surrounding drug addiction, Marie’s House was not well received at first. But, as time passed, the community began to rally around the women. Community members became invested in the success of Marie’s House. And, in turn, the women started to feel valued—something that a lot of them had never experienced before.

“The community members realized that these individuals are not hardened criminals. They are just individuals that need help,” Pratt explained. “Having partnerships and relationships with other organizations and individuals within the community is vital to the success of these programs.”

When West Virginia University Extension Service Family Nutrition Program Health Educator Lisa Bell first heard about Marie’s House, she immediately saw an opportunity for WVU Extension Service to be a part of that solution. Each person in the community has something to bring to the table, and for Bell, that was her passion and expertise on health and nutrition.

After three and a half years of persistence and rugged determination, Bell finally made it through the doors of Marie’s House. Martin could sense that Bell was sincere, genuine, passionate, and had a willingness to learn. And, that was just the case. Bell has essentially become part of the Marie’s House family, just as much as they have become part of hers.

An essential component of Marie’s House in-house education program is recreating self-image. Empowerment is an emotion that is foreign to nearly all those that enter Marie’s House. These women have never known self-love or compassion, or even what it means to be loved and valued by someone else.

As part of their self-care education, Bell teaches Eating Smart, Being Active lessons, where residents learn how to properly prepare healthy meals for themselves and for their families—which will be a valuable skill when they transition back into society. Bell has even started a community garden with the women, which satisfies the physical and therapeutic aspects of self-care.

The focus at Marie’s House is to meet the women where they are at that point in their lives. Through an individualized, evidence-based treatment plan, Marie’s House addresses all facets of the woman—biological, psychological and social. Armed with research, data and statistics, the residents self-assess to determine where they currently stand, where they want to be and what they need to get there. The programming is centered around each individual’s journey, with Marie’s House there to help facilitate growth.

“No one is just an addict. It is so multilayered, and at Marie’s House, we peel back each layer until we get to the core of the problem. Once the women understand the underlying reason for their addiction—whether it be trauma, depression, anxiety, or even an eating disorder—they are able to gain control over their lives again,” Martin explained.

The women learn how to change their thinking patterns and develop coping mechanisms. Honing educational skills, working on emotion regulation, handling codependency and learning parenting and relationship skills are just a few topics that are addressed while at Marie’s House.

An additional piece of the recovery journey is community service. The community garden produce, which is planted, maintained and harvested by Marie’s House residents, goes back to the kids in the community that are in need. Due to Bell’s efforts, the partnership between Marie’s House and WVU Extension Service has grown. As part of another community service project, Marie’s House residents worked with members of the Wayne County Community Educational Outreach Service group to learn how to knit and crochet.

So, what is the latest buzz word among the women at Marie’s House? Purpose.  

“Yes, I have a story. Yes, I’m an addict. But, it’s about more than just me,” Marie’s House graduate Vanessa stated. By sharing her story, she hopes to take the power away from the negative stigma of addiction. The hope for all the women at Marie’s House is that education can be brought to the forefront in an effort to change society’s negative perception of drug addiction.

Bell echoed that sentiment, “Every graduate from the Marie’s House program acts as a little pebble that is rippling throughout our state, working together to make that change.”  

The partnership with Marie’s House is just one example of WVU Extension Service’s efforts to fight the opioid epidemic. Currently, WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program instructors are working with drug courts and recovery programs in 13 counties—including the Seeds of Recovery program in Rainelle and the drug courts in Cabell County

Partnering with local drug courts and addiction recovery programs is one example of moving West Virginia forward. By providing drug-court participants with the resources needed to battle and recover from addiction, the more prepared the individuals will be to become productive, valuable members of our communities and state.

West Virginia Forward is a statewide collaboration led by West Virginia University, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education and improving health and wellness to create the most prosperous West Virginia possible.

WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program’s work is supported by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.