DURHAM — Hundreds of recovering addicts who at times in their lives have sought comfort in drugs or alcohol found it instead in the warmth of a loving embrace on Sunday as TROSA held its annual Family Day celebration.
TROSA Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers limits its residents contact with family members while theyre in the two-year program so they can concentrate on changing their habits. Depending on when they checked themselves in, residents had not seen their families in up to a year.
A cool mist and a sense of anticipation hung in the air on the 12.5-acre campus on James Street in southwest Durham throughout the morning. Families began arriving a little ahead of the scheduled 1 p.m. start, and residents gathered outside to look for familiar faces coming through the gates. TROSA has about 350 residents, and about 300 of them could invite up to four people to the event.
Angie Dennis, 36, spotted her three children first and captured each one in a ferocious hug. Then her mother, Mary Bradford, strode up, and Dennis clasped on, sobbing.
I miss you, Mommy, Dennis said in her mothers ear.
Dennis says she has been addicted to drugs since she was a teenager and landed in jail earlier this year after stealing from her employer, in part so shed have money to get high. Her mother has been raising Dennis son and two daughters.
When she got out of jail, the only place she could find to stay was the homeless shelter in Salisbury.
The shelter is not a good situation, and coming out of jail, she couldnt get a job. There was nothing for her in Salisbury, Bradford said.
What Dennis needed, her mother says, was a permanent change. A family friend had talked about TROSA. The organization was started by a former heroin addict 17 years ago and uses on a combination of vocational training, structure, individual and group counseling, peer-to-peer mentoring and leadership training. Dennis decided to go, arriving at TROSA in November 2011.
Michelle Kucerak, director of development for the program, said most of the men and women who come to TROSA have been addicted for 10 years or more and many also struggle with mental illness, including bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety. About 30 percent of those who enroll stick it out for the full two years, but Kucerak says everyone who graduates does so with a job, and about 85 percent of them are still sober a year later.
Brittany Mathis, 27, came to TROSA from Gastonia about five months ago, determined to stop the cycle of going into and out of prison, and to get her 8-year-old daughter back.
Before coming to TROSA, Mathis says, she never held a job. Here, shes learning the self-discipline it takes to work, she says, and she plans to take classes in parenting and in behavior and anger management.
Mathis, who was raised by her grandparents, had hoped her grandfather would be well enough to come visit her on Sunday and see how well shes doing. Late morning, she was allowed to call him. His car wasnt running, and he couldnt make the trip.
Dont think its because we dont love you or that we dont want to come, Mathis said her grandfather told her.
So she stood outside with her friend Nicole Shaw, who was expecting her mother, sister and other family to come but, at nearly 2 p.m., hadnt seen them. She had watched hundreds of other reunions, watched as one group after another went into the gym or the common room or the cafeteria or the coffee shop, wherever they could find space, to share a donated meal of turkey barbecue and potato chips. And still, Shaws mother, Donna Thompson, didnt come.
Finally, Shaw saw her. She tried to wait as her mother checked in patience and a respect for rules and protocol are important at TROSA but then her mother waved to her and Shaw bolted across the parking lot to meet her.
At first, many TROSA residents balk at all the rules, which govern everything. Keep your shoes lined up under your bed. Make your bed. Walk in pairs when youre on campus. Be on time, every time.
The longer they remain in the program and the more milestones they meet, the more privileges residents earn. They move from group dorms to more private spaces, from kitchen duty to vocational training in various jobs that keep TROSA running and help make it free to residents. The program has a used furniture business, a frame shop, a household moving operation and, getting ready to open next month, a half-dozen Christmas-tree sales lots in Durham and Chapel Hill.
Angie Dennis is crew chief on the TROSA switchboard.
Her time in the program so far, she says, has allowed her to be more open and honest about herself, and has given her more confidence. Shes learning what led her to rely on drugs instead of on her own strength, she says, and to let go of the crippling guilt over what shes done wrong.
Im not a bad person, Dennis says as her mother and children listen. Ive just made bad decisions.