Late last year, a group of women concerned about the lack of affordable, safe and sober housing for local women who are recovering from addictions launched a grassroots campaign to meet the need.
On Saturday, their efforts came to fruition with the opening of Oxford House Appalachia, a self-run and self-supported nonprofit home for women making a fresh start.
Part of the international Oxford House organization that includes more than 1,400 recovery homes for men and women operating across the United States and in several foreign countries, it is the only Oxford House in Tennessee located east of Nashville and the only one in the state for women.
At its opening, four women were settling in at the spacious, two-story brownstone located on a tree-lined street in one of the city’s older neighborhoods. There are others are in the application process for residency and the home’s volunteer advisory board is inviting any woman in need of a sober environment to apply.
By design, Oxford House homes are self sustaining, with residents sharing the rent, utilities and household expenses. The homes’ success is measured by the residents’ ability to avoid relapse, which collectively stands at 65 to 80 percent.
The success rate and the self-sustaining aspect of the program were key selling points for the founding group of local women who researched several other program models before partnering with the Oxford House organization.
Oxford House homes are always rented and their mission is always the same, to offer “a safe environment to lay the foundation for a sober life.”
Jean Feola, the volunteer in charge of technical assistance for the local house, called it a “recipe for success” with an “elegantly simple, cost-effective formula for start-up and operation.”
The group began work in December and quickly organized and conducted two successful fundraisers while gathering individual and corporate support that allowed them to rent and open the house in short order.
Project Leader Layla Wright, a founding organizer who is now serving as the home’s first director, gives special credit to the Blue Moon Dinner Theatre and to Red Legacy Recovery, a sister organization that helps facilitate a variety of recovery programs for women for their rapid success.
“We did well getting it open. Now we just need to sustain,” Wright said. “It will take time, but a lot of people want to help and we feel like this community will come in to do what they can. Being the only one (for women) in the state, we’re making history here. We’re doing something that has never been done before, and paying it forward for other women who need help.
“There is a quote by Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman physician, that basically says, ‘What is (done and) learned by one class of women becomes, by virtue of (their common womanhood), the property of all women.’ We kind of feel like that is what we’re doing. And we definitely give our thanks to the community and to everyone who has helped support our vision and our mission.”
In addition to ongoing work at the new recovery house, the group hopes to duplicate the Oxford House model at other recovery homes in East Tennessee for women and for men.
As they begin that work, they’re seeking donations of furniture and furnishings for the new house — twin beds and mattresses, dressers, bureaus, living room and dining room furniture, lamps, curtains and bedding and a lawn mower. They’re preparing for another fundraiser to build a fund for emergency expenses.
On Sept. 15, Oxford House Appalachia and Red Legacy Recovery will host a swap meet/yard sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Smith Brothers Harley Davidson, 3518 Bristol Highway. Vendor slots are $10 and local artisans and crafters are encouraged to come out.
For more information about the sale or about how to donate furniture or furnishing for the house, call Wright at 773-5519 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations to Oxford House Appalachia may be made by mail to P.O. Box 924, Johnson City, TN 37604. The house operates under the nonprofit 501(c)3 status of the international Oxford House organization and donations are tax deductible.
More information about the local house is available at the Oxford House Appalachia Facebook page. For more information about the international Oxford House organization, visit OxfordHouse.org