Finding freedom: Local group works to open home for women in recovery

During Jennifer Waller’s third stint in rehab for drug addiction, she didn’t have any indications that it would stick. Seven years later, she is working to help other women in recovery on the central Kenai Peninsula through faith-based transitional living.

Waller had been to rehab before — once in Arizona and once through Serenity House in Soldotna. When she returned to Serenity House in 2009, Waller said she couldn’t see how things would be any different. Upon entering Serenity House for the second time, she chased a handful of “skittles” — a mixture of pills — with Crown Royal whiskey, she said.

“At that point, I didn’t want to wake up because of the life that I created,” Waller recalled.

But she did wake up — she remembers coming “out of a fog” two days later, and it was at that point Waller said she surrendered herself to God and has been sober ever since. It was last February that Waller said she felt called to open a transitional living home for women recovering from addictions called Freedom House. After getting advice from area pastors, she began making calls in June to start making the project a reality.

Waller spoke to the Soldotna City Council at its Wednesday meeting and to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly at its Tuesday meeting.

Waller and the members of a board she has put together are in the process of forming a nonprofit, she said. They have not asked for donations yet but have already received $1,250 from donors who heard about the board’s housing project, which Waller said is being put toward the paperwork filing and process of becoming a nonprofit.

Waller’s sister, Nichole Streiff, is assistant director on the board. It was Streiff who brought Waller to Serenity House in 2009 when, after relapsing on her 25th birthday, Waller showed up at her door.

“Really, what I did is I woke up what we call the tiger,” Waller recalled of that three-month relapse, her last one.

Waller said she and the board “don’t want to reinvent the wheel” and are taking their cues from some existing transitional living facilities, like New Horizons Safe Living Home for men in Anchorage and Haven House in Juneau. Waller said she will fly to Juneau soon to learn more about Haven House and coordinate with those who run it, she said.

“Seeing the success, you know, with Jenny and a couple of my other siblings definitely has been through programs and organizations that have been pretty structured,” Streiff said.

When she and Waller visited New Horizons in Anchorage, she said they asked residents there what it is that keeps them out of trouble and from returning to prison. The men cited things like boundaries and accountability as factors when it comes to staying on the straight and narrow, Streiff said.

The details of the transitional living facility are still being hammered out, but Waller said she would ideally like to have a four-plex building in Soldotna. Women will stay in the house for around eight or nine months until they have secured a job and stable living arrangements. However, Waller said it will be best to evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis and allow women to stay for longer or shorter amounts of time if appropriate.

She plans to coordinate with Serenity House, where she leads a monthly workshop and shares her story, so women graduating its treatment programs can be sent to Freedom House when there is room. In order to devote more time to the housing project, Waller has left her position at Wildwood Correctional Complex where she has volunteered and worked in prison ministry.

Another local nonprofit, Nuk’it’un, opened a transitional sober living home for men earlier this summer. Located in the Kalifornsky Beach Road area, the house is open to men in recovery who can get help accessing resources while living in a structured environment with a house manager.

The rise of sober living homes on the peninsula can help fill a gap in the recovery process. While Serenity House offers in and outpatient treatment programs, recovering addicts cannot remain there long term.

Though plans for Freedom House have been in the works since last February, Streiff said the two heroin town halls held this year in Kenai were encouraging because they showed that the community is supportive of treatment and recovery efforts like the transitional living homes.

“Everybody we’ve reached out to has been so excited and really helping and wanting to get us information,” she said.

For more information about Freedom House, contact Waller at freedomhouse907@outlook.com.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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