Kayla Samuels knows what it’s like to be desperate, pregnant and addicted.
A short while ago, Samuels, 22, said, “I was eight months pregnant, sleeping in a tent on the side of the road and I was starving, not being able to shower, not being able to eat.”
There seemed no way out from her addiction to heroin — until a doctor referred her to Freedom House, a residential addiction recovery facility in Louisville that caters to pregnant and parenting moms.
“It’s like a big sisterhood,” said Samuels, a Bullitt County woman who joined the program in November. “We hold each other up, and we hold each other accountable. We’re there when somebody needs us and we’re a family. We’re not alone in this anymore and that makes the biggest difference.”
State and local dignitaries came together Thursday in Old Louisville to salute the “sisterhood” as Volunteers of America held a ribbon cutting for a nearly $5 million expansion of Freedom House.
Now, Volunteers of America has a multimillion-dollar building to pair with the original Freedom House campus in Germantown, which will continue to operate at full capacity. The new building at 1025 S. 2nd St. in Old Louisville has 16 rooms for pregnant and parenting moms and also will offer some outpatient services for the general public.
“Jefferson County had 700 infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome last year,” said Jennifer Hancock, president and chief executive of Volunteers of America. “We think that is unacceptable. We know that by getting women into treatment. We can get them clean and healthy in order to deliver a clean and healthy baby.”
The renovated, formerly vacant building, which will house up to 23 women at a time, is the result of a more than $4 million capital campaign by VOA, which attracted more than 100 contributors. Kosair Charities kicked in $1 million.
“We have a beautiful building now to call home,” Hancock said. “This home for women and children is the most therapeutic, art-filled program I have literally ever seen. … It could easily be featured in Southern Living magazine. It is phenomenal.”
Clients receive group and individual therapy and are educated about relapse prevention, how to cope with stress and how to be a mom, Samuels said. They also have access to medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol.
The new extension to Freedom House will provide medical services through a nurse practitioner, psychiatrist and medical director, Hancock said. It also will offer health and wellness exams and HIV and hepatitis C testing, and kids will be able to get back-to-school exams.
At Thursday’s event, Hancock applauded the project’s many contributors and supporters for recognizing that “addiction is not a criminal justice problem; it’s a public health problem.”
“Our community has answered the call by investing in our lifesaving programs,” she said. “ … We have our boots on the ground and we’re working to deliver these services now because we know we cannot wait. Louisville cannot wait.”
Directing her comments to the moms in the audience, Hancock said, “you are why we have worked so hard.”
“We want to be remembered for babies who are born healthy and drug free, for moms who start new lives and for families that are kept together,” she said.
The success stories include Freedom House alumnae Megan Coldiron, who overcame abuse of alcohol and opioids because VOA saw “me as an opportunity, not a liability.” She’s now associate director of residential services for Addiction Recovery Care.
“Honestly, I knew that God had called me to a higher purpose,” she said. “I literally found my purpose at Volunteers of America.”
Samuels is determined to be another success story. She said it’s “beyond important” for services like VOA’s to be expanded to help people who are in desperate straits because of drugs.
“People feel like they are stuck and that they deserve to be living in the way that they live, and that’s not the case,” she said. “They may have not been given any type of opportunity. … But opportunity is there. You just have to search for it.”
Samuels, who expects to graduate from Freedom House soon, works in a paint shop and is looking forward to being reunited with her six-month-old daughter, who’s in a relative’s care.
“My plans are just to go back to school and build a stable home life for my daughter,” Samuels said.
The baby was born three days before her mom arrived at Freedom House. Samuels said of moving there, “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”