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From dream to reality: House of Refuge is open to make a difference in young women's lives

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Angela Sanford's dream and vision for a home to rebuild the lives of young women who have been addicted to drugs is now a reality.

The House of Refuge of Rutherford County officially opened for business earlier this summer, and has already begun to see the change the house is making in the lives of those who go through its program.

That program is similar to others and includes counseling for the individual, but it also includes spiritual and physical fitness, family counseling and basic life skills.

"We are dealing with a whole woman, and we have to work with the whole family," Sanford said. "We work on every area of her life with a goal that in 190 days she will be able to stand on her own feet."

House of Refuge became Sanford's purpose after watching her daughter, Ayla, struggle with addiction to methamphetamine. Ayla, who just hit her two year sobriety mark, serves as a peer support for residents of the House, as do Stephanie Turner, Candee Stevens and Sherry Streets. House Directors are Trish Barnes and Deana Lail. Chelsea Burch serves as Celebrate Recovery liaison, and Melissa Ingle is an intern who is pursuing a degree in human services technician.

"This couldn't happen without this team," Sanford said, gesturing around the house.

The house itself is a physical manifestation of the hope in the future that Sanford wants residents to feel.

"This was the house where I was at my lowest point during Ayla's addiction," she said. "I hit my knees in this floor, and I heard the Lord's voice tell me 'I want you to be a voice for those who don't have a voice.'

"Our worst nightmare was the biggest blessing," she said.

For Jennifer Craig, House of Refuge has been a life saver.

"I'd be right back out there," she explained. "I got scared and went to the hospital, and from the hospital came here. It's a really good place."

Craig and the others in the house have to be willing to undergo a transformation, Sanford said, or they will not be able to hear and learn what is needed to face their addiction.

"I get calls from family who want their loved ones here, and I talk to the loved one .... a person has to be willing to come... I've also had to tell loved ones that the person with addiction is not ready," she said.

Some, while ready to change, come in more defensive, Turner said.

"You have to be ready to surrender," Turner said. "Until you change your thinking and perception on life, you won't change."

Turner, who is also recovered from addiction, continued by saying that while many people can do "clean" it takes more than that to be successful.

"Drugs is a just a symptom of addiction," she said. "You have to be OK with you and find value you in yourself. It's work to get to that place where you're OK in your own mind."

Melissa Bautista agreed.

"It's tough," she said. "What's really been hard about being here is really looking at my actions. It really pulls you out of your comfort zone."

Residents are encouraged to keep a journal when they enter the house, which serves as a place for them to write their frustrations and fears but to also record coping skills they have learned.

"Fear of success is often more scary than running from the police," Turner said. "But anything worth having is hard."

Addiction isn't pretty, and it's easy to turn a blind eye to it and think it won't happen to you. But, as Sanford said, no one wakes up one day and decides to use drugs.

"It could be your kid," she said. "It was my kid."

House of Refuge is just one step toward Sanford's overall vision of a health, whole community in Rutherford County.

"We need acres and homes, because we know this formula works," she explained. "We need a home now for men, whether House of Refuge opens a men's home or helps another group open one.

"One voice can make a difference. It just takes one daughter at a time."

House of Refuge is a 501(3). For more information on services or how you can get involved, visit @houseofrefugeforrc on Facebook.

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