Empowering Women to Remake Their Lives
Featured Guest: Linda Leathers
My guest today is Linda Leathers, CEO of The Next Door, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving women in crisis. Based in Nashville, The Next Door offers treatment, affordable housing and re-entry services for thousands of women affected by addiction, mental illness, trauma and incarceration. Linda shares how The Next Door walks with their patients through every step of the recovery journey and explains why the re-entry phase is such a critical part of this process.
David Condos: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Recovery Unscripted. I’m David Condos and this podcast is powered by Foundations Recovery Network. My guest today is Linda Leathers, CEO of The Next Door, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving women in crisis. Based in Nashville, The Next Door offers treatment, affordable housing and re-entry services for thousands of women affected by addiction, mental illness, trauma and incarceration. Linda shares how The Next Door walks with their patients through every step of the recovery journey and explains why the re-entry phase is such a critical part of this process. Now, here’s Linda.
David: All right. I’m here with Linda Leathers. Thank you for being with us today.
Linda Leathers: Honored to be here.
David: Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about your own personal story and how you got started serving women in crisis.
Linda: Well, thanks for the opportunity. I really feel like The Next Door which is where I serve is a gift and not that I would have thought that I would have been here, 20 years ago was clueless but we had an opportunity, a local church to have a building that needed a purpose. A building that has just been empty but it was designed for housing. We did a community needs assessment and really came up–There were gaps in the services in Middle Tennessee for women, women that really were going to have some unique niches and needs. We were a non-profit, we formed, we worked with women because that was really the niche in the community at the time and that’s just who we are. We’ve built a continuum of care around women.
David: Did you have like a history in serving in this field before that or how did you get started?
Linda: I had absolutely family history of addiction. I personally I do not have an addiction as far as substance abuse we all got our issues don’t get me wrong but I did have someone in my family who did and struggled with that, “What if they could just get sober and wouldn’t our life be so much different?” Ultimately I came from that standpoint, that’s why I had a lot to learn and I began to realize very early on with the help of a lot of tremendous clinical and medical support, this was not about just getting sober which is very important obviously but it was a disease. Addiction is a disease and it’s not about moral choice or both or I could just work hard enough. It’s so much more about the disease and how we can impact that woman for her future.
David: When you started how did you get it up and running, what did it look like the first few months that you were doing it?
Linda: Well, it’s come a long way, it was very grassroots when we renovated the facility. The building happened to be 22,000 square feet, we had a lot of capacity. We didn’t start with just one or two we had an opportunity to start with 18 and again at that point it was women coming out of incarceration. What happens when that woman came out of incarceration where she was going to go right back to the old playground sealed addiction, she would be incarcerated within three to six months.
We could be the next, we can pick them up at their gate of their crisis and we can bring them to The Next Door because we believe by God’s grace and mercy and also tremendous evidence based services in this culture of care lives could be changed. Since that time how we’ve adapted our model to not only serve women coming out but even more so let’s do some more prevention. Let’s open the doors wide it’s good to come a long way David, from the grassroots effort now we’ve moved out of that building, we built a building, we have a full array of services from medically monitored detox to affordable housing all in between.
David: Just for anyone who’s not familiar, could you say what–In today’s work with The Next Door what’s the mission and what do you offer the community here?
Linda: I’ll say it’s evidence-based continuum of care for women and their families that are impacted by addiction, mental illness, trauma and/or incarceration in this Christ-centered compassionate care. Now, no one is forced or has to sign a new statement as far as our Christian beliefs but our core values are based in this model of care, love, wholeness and hope. We just believe that God’s going to plan a purpose for life that’s good and it’s our role to provide her the tools in which she can live in that term. I would call it a life of recovery.
David: Yes, you mentioned the new building which I know is a big deal for you guys what is having that new location and the new spatial resources as it were, what has that allowed you to do that you couldn’t do before?
Linda: Well, David that new building has transformed our service delivery. We went from serving about 18 to serving around 120 a day. It literally is positioned right next to hospital alley. We want to be a resource for women and we also want to have great partnerships with hospitals. We probably came over with about 25 staff, today we have 150 staff members, we couldn’t do in any other facility the high level of services, we couldn’t have in our other building, a clinic on-site and right there next door to our permanent house or our affordable housing community. Really at The Next Door, the new building has really transformed our organization to serve many many, many more women and their families.
David: Awesome. Moving on to looking at the patients now what are some ways that patients get connected with The Next Door like how do they find you? How do they receive services?
Linda: Well, we have a presence online, thenextdoor.org and we’re going to local congregations, we’re going to corporations, we’re going to hospitals, we’re saying, “Hey listen, if you know of a woman who’s in need.” And again a unique part about the Next Door it’s really regardless of ability to pay or their socio-economic condition. We’re just saying, “Hey, if you’ve got an addiction come get help.” We’ll figure out how to pay for it. We’ll figure that out just come through the door.
David: What are some common challenges that you see your patients dealing with as they work to first start their life and recovery and then build upon that?
Linda: It’s really helping them understand that we’re a safe place. Getting them through the door is a tremendous accomplishment for the people who answer the phone, work on the chat online just to get them in the door because so many people feel like, “Well, I can’t afford it or I’ve been to treatment before, I’ve let down my family.” Just getting them through the door is a major challenge but once they ever come back what they’re going to see is something different. Then for a woman it’s always, “Well, if I come to treatment what’s going to happen to my children or I’m pregnant, will you accept me if I’m pregnant?” We’ll say to a woman, “Absolutely.”
We provide a full array of services for pregnant women or not pregnant women. A lot of challenges of, “Can I keep my job, I don’t have a job, how can I get a job?” Because we’re women we want so desperately to be superwomen and we’re trying to help her understand for this moment, for this season let’s invest in ourselves. That’s going to position us well to be the mother we so desperately want to be. Let’s make sure if you’re pregnant let’s care for not only you but for the baby and you give to everyone else but let’s start this recovery journey at The Next Door, just let’s just focus on you.
David: When you first started The Next Door a lot of the emphasis was on women who were coming out of incarceration, right? I know that’s something that you’re still very involved with and you even have Tennessee’s first Correctional Release Center now in Chattanooga which is part of the Next Door. Could you tell us a little bit about what that program looks like and how it’s different than what you’re doing in Nashville?
Linda: David, I certainly can. I’m so proud. I just wanted to explain The Next Door we’re really in three businesses I like to say. We’re in the re-entry, which is women in the criminal justice community. We’re in the treatment the full-fledged all-inclusive level of care treatment center and then we also have affordable housing. Three different models of how to do work with women. Our re-entry model is–You mentioned the Correctional Release Center in Chattanooga. It’s fantastic, it’s a partnership we have with the Department of Corrections here in Tennessee. We literally are an annex of the Tennessee Prison for Women in Chattanooga for women who are within normally about 18 months of being released.
When they come there, there’s no guns, there’s no shame and guilt. It’s a new way of doing corrections. We can serve up to 42 women at any given time and they come there and they prepare strategically for re-entry because we know the recidivism rates of men and women, but they just go right there as high as 60 and 70% after three and four years.
Once you come and you’re treated like, “Hey listen, you’re not a number anymore, you got a name and let’s help you get into some comfortable clothes and let’s come on over here, let me introduce you to your therapist. Let me introduce you to your case manager.” That whole mindset changes, helping them re-enter because when you treat a woman with respect, you help her with guidelines and boundaries, she will thrive.
We’ve served literally over 400 women over the years at the Correctional Release Center. Started as a pilot, it was so successful that they said we need to continue to do this. Our recidivism rate literally, and that’s a woman who has been out for at least up to 36 months. The recidivism rate is less than about 15%, again, that’s phenomenal. Again, it’s not being light on crime, it’s really being smart on crime because if we can really equip her to change her way of thinking, to understand her recovery efforts, to understand the trauma that she has in the past and not repeat that, her life truly can be different and she not only then is a drag on society, she becomes an asset too.
David: Do you see this becoming a bigger and bigger thing whether The Next Door is leading the charge with other cities in Tennessee or do you see that really growing?
Linda: This a state program. Other states are absolutely interested in the outcomes because when you go to a national conference and you talk about your outcomes in correctional settings and you say things like, “Our recidivism rate after 400 women is less than 15%.” Or it’s getting people’s attention and people are obviously realizing that we can’t put people in the system that need treatment. We believe that if we can equip a woman on the inside she will be different on the outside but if she will be different on the outside everybody wins. Public safety, public service, it’s a win-win-win, it’s very affordable. Our governor is very interested in solutions that make a difference and of course from a tax payer point of view this is one that does.
David: Right, yes, and you brought up trauma earlier. That’s something we talk about a lot dealing with addiction but that’s something like when someone is committing a crime usually there’s a reason behind that. Just like with addiction there’s underlying issues, slamming them into prison and not addressing that it seems like that’s a real missed opportunity.
Linda: It’s devastating and it makes no sense whatsoever. What we found in our earliest days of The Next Door 12 years ago, why are women going in the system in the first place? Addiction, mental illness and trauma. People say, “Well, listen if you’re talking about incarceration that’s not me, I would never.” Well, anybody’s a couple decisions away from being incarcerated, anyone. If a woman’s incarcerating let’s say she is, let’s invest there. In treatment or recovery services are helping her understand her trauma and then she will be different on the outside.
David: One of the things I noticed on your website is that The Next Door emphasizes the re-entry phase of the recovery journey. Could you tell us what are some ways that The Next Door helps to set patients up for success with that transition from treatment back into everyday life?
Linda: We have set it up to where our aftercare program is. It literally starts while they’re still there because we believe aftercare really starts the very day they are in treatment. We have groups that we welcome alumni back to, we have dinners, we have a lot of activities because women need–They need a chance to celebrate successes and have encouragement, give back. We’re doing several structured groups during the week not only in our location but around the community. We’re doing a lot of things online, we have an app that allows folks to connect. We believe that’s important but basically at any time if they need us we’re there, once they leave it’s not like they’re leaving forever they come back.
I got an email today from one of our team members, “Hey we’ve had four births just last month of our clients who have left our previously program, the babies are safe and the mothers are safe, they just wanted to say thank you.” It’s keeping that relationship on the outside. That does not really covered by insurance or covered by cost but we just believe it’s important to keep the door wide open for a woman to come back when she’s experiencing tremendous successes and when she’s struggling, come on back because we want to support.
David: That’s related – I was going to ask in your view why is that re-entry season so vital?
Linda: Well, it’s everything because we tried to teach, show and live out mentor that treatments a piece of the recovery process is not everything. It’s a lifelong journey. It’s a lifelong opportunity to continue to grow a possibility since we want a model that–Yes our aftercare program is truly crucial to everything we’re about through investing heavily in our aftercare program. Because we want the women to know they’ve got someone to call who will be there and in a way which is appropriate and can support her, that’s important. We know those first few days out of treatment are so crucial and we feel like if the woman can just know she’s got someone that’s got her back, we want to be there for her.
David: You mentioned earlier the affordable housing that you’re able to offer as well and it seems like that probably plays into this whole re-entry discussion as well. Could you tell us a little bit more about that and what roles that plays in the full process?
Linda: It’s women who are ready to reunify with their kids and we have 21 apartments, I wish it were 121, but 21 apartments.
David: Are those on-site with the new building?
Linda: Right, right across the street, and 21 apartments for women and their families who are struggling with– We shouldn’t say struggling. They’re living in recovery but they’re impacted by addiction and mental illness. Many times their rental record is not spectacular in the past, but what we say is, “Hey listen, we believe in you come on in, if you have a criminal history, well, that’s okay, we just want you.” It’s a sober living environment.
We want to protect our families as much as we can but ultimately it’s independent living, it’s just a unique environment, it’s special in that we provide childcare for the women. They’re not required to come in the groups, they want to come to the groups but the childcare helps, the women also sign one year leases. We want them to stay, we’ve had kids that we’ve seen go from a toddler to third grade over the years, that’s exciting for us to see that life. This is their home.
David: Absolutely, and that’s awesome like you brought up with their history, like it may be hard to get another apartment and just to be able to show them that, “You put in this work to change your life and we’re really going to let you start a new life.” It’s just really powerful.
Linda: It’s so powerful and you know that with women, they want to get sober, shall we say, clean, they want to live in recovery as a result of they want to be the mother they so desperately want to be for their kids. We hear that a lot, “I’ve got to get clean, I got to get my life right because I want to raise my kids well.” We also find that many times that children can be a trigger for relapse and the stress of it all. So what we’re trying to do there is present a safe environment in which a woman can reunify with her kids. Independent supportive environment is very helpful to help a woman understand that yes, she can live in recovery and she can raise. She can be the mom she so desperately wants to be.
David: You mentioned earlier job training, is that life skills and job training, is that something that you guys still offer?
Linda: We do, we have a computer lab on site and we have a workforce development specialist, it’s on site. When you’re that level of care, when you’re at the residential and you’re thinking about what’s next, that’s what we’re there for and of course our affordable housing it’s a requirement that the women work. It’s not an enabling or we’re equipping them to live life because to be independent but help them know that they can build a resume.
Then we’re building relationships with employers to say, “Hey this woman she’s done to really some rough and difficult work, she’s courageous, she’s got tenacity, we think she’ll be a great employee and we’ll be the go-between.” Sometimes we’ll drug test if need be to help that employer have great confidence that the woman if she’s ready to be an employee and an outstanding employee and be a real asset. We’re just trying to help a woman again to gain confidence again that she too can be successful not only at the home place but also in the workplace.
David: I wanted to talk a little bit about the Heroes 6K that’s coming up, the Heroes in Recovery team here is very excited about that and The Next Door has been partnering with this local Heroes 6K race really since the beginning. What inspired you guys to become involved with these races and what are some positive things that you’ve seen come out of these events?
Linda: Well, I got to tell you we are fired up about the Heroes in Recovery race. I’m out there training and when I say training, don’t take that too literally, I’m not hurting myself too badly but I’m out there because I want to be prepared to show my support for men and women who are in recovery. It’s such a courageous–Courageous the women that we serve and I’m going to be walking beside and sometimes jogging beside women who are in our program. Who are benefiting and are living and striving to live in recovery, and to put that Heroes in Recovery race out there across the nation specifically in Middle Tennessee for us to say, “Hey listen, let’s take down the stigma.”
That’s everything we’re about more. It’s races yes, but the races it’s just helping you expand the movement and we are benefiting from the race The Next Door, that’s a beneficiary. Obviously we love it for that reason too but much, much more is the opportunity to celebrate recovery with the community and with our clients.
David: Yes, I guess being a nonprofit I’m sure that Next Door depends a lot on help from people in the community just to keep everything running. If someone is interested in finding more about volunteer opportunities or even donating financially. What’s the best way for them to do that?
Linda: We wouldn’t exist without the community providing the level of care we are, we need the community and so when we got this website thenextdoor.org that’s available 24/7 and then, absolutely, I wouldn’t be worth any salt to myself, my role, if I didn’t say, “Listen, we know that there’s people out there that believe in recovery and have capacity to give and we want to say, why not The Next Door? because we are seeing the transformation happen in the lives of women.” With the opioid crisis, it’s out there in the community, people are realizing it could be anyone and I want to support that, so call The Next Door and say, “I want to be a part of what’s happening there.” We believe that it’s the best investment in town.
David: Yes, all right. Last question, you’ve devoted a lot of your time and effort over the years building The Next Door to be an advocate for women in our community. Could you wrap up by just telling us a little bit about why helping people build new lives in recovery is so important to you?
Linda: It’s the greatest calling, to be a part of seeing a woman transformed. It’s a calling that I believe is for me was from God and I have this privilege, this gift of The Next Door to be a good steward of and so it’s a gift, if not somebody else what a sac– no, it’s not a sacrifice at all, it’s just living out my calling and I’m just so grateful to God for the calling, to be involved in what he’s doing in our community in this recovery effort.
David: Yes, awesome. All right, thank you for being with us today.
Linda: Thank you so much, it has been a privilege.
David: Thanks again to Linda for sharing that with us. Now, I’m happy to welcome Sarah Shearer, Senior National Race Director for the 6K run/walk series, put on by Heroes in Recovery, so welcome Sarah.
Sarah: Thank you.
David: How you doing today?
Sarah: Good, I’m happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
David: Thanks for being here, so yes, to start off for anyone who’s not familiar, could you tell us just a little bit about the mission of the Heroes 6K series?
Sarah: Heroes in Recovery, the movement started as an effort to encourage people to share stories of recovery to break the stigma surrounding it and just have it be a more open thing in the community. The 6Ks are an event series that we do to gather people around that and they’re just very positive celebratory occasions.
David: Now, I know there are three races coming right up over the next month starting with the race in Portland this weekend. Could you tell us more about that particular race?
Sarah: Portland has been exciting getting to tap into, we have a great partner there, Oregon Trail Recovery Center. It’s going to be in a lovely park called Fern Hill Park in North Portland cross country style course, family-friendly, dog-friendly so we’re expecting a good crowd.
David: Cool, so then the next one is our hometown race Leiper’s Fork is right here near Nashville and that’s coming up early next month and I was actually able to be at this race last year and it was huge already but it’s looking like it’s going to be even bigger this year, right?
Sarah: Yes, we are ahead of where we were last year so we expect an even bigger crowd. We’re thinking maybe over a thousand people which would be our biggest in Heroes’ event ever so it’s really exciting to see it grow that way.
David: Awesome, awesome. Yes, and for this race, the charity beneficiary is The Next Door who we just heard from Linda Leathers in the interview so that’s an awesome partnership, right?
Sarah: Yes. We are thrilled to have them as our nonprofit partner every year since the very beginning. They’re very engaged, they do great work and every year have gotten more and more involved.
David: Then later in September you’ll have the Malibu, California, race. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Sarah: That one, I’m personally really excited about because the charity beneficiary there is called New Directions for Youth and a lot of our nonprofit partners are focused on adults in recovery which is awesome but this is a unique one where it’s more supporting the children who are affected by their parents. It’s for at-risk kids nine to 15 years old and their parents are often incarcerated or just absent because of addiction issues.
They get to come to this nonprofit and have after-school tutoring, summer camps, all kinds of things and they have been training all summer for this race. They’re going to come out and they’re going to run it together and there should be–There’s about 30 of them signed up so far. It’s really cool to see these kids learning positive habits and building themselves up in a way that will benefit them later on in life.
David: Yes. Real quick before we wrap up, could you just run down what are the dates for these three races that we’ve talked about?
Sarah: Portland is going to be August 26th and then September 9th is going to be Leipers Fork and then Malibu will be at September 23rd.
David: Where can listeners go to find out more info about these races and all the other events that Heroes put on?
David: Awesome. Thank you, Sarah.
Sarah: Yes, thank you for having me.
David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Linda Leathers, CEO of nonprofit organization, The Next Door. To find out more about what they do visit thenextdoor.org and thank you for listening today. Please take a few seconds to leave us a review on Apple podcast or your favorite podcast app. We’d love to hear what you think. See you next time.