This month, Alumni & Community Relations Coordinator Emily McFarland had the pleasure to sit down with Lee Street Program Manager and 2011 WW alum Wende Arnold, CAC-II, to discuss the two programs that have continued to grow under her leadership.
Wende began running the two female houses last July after having spent just short of three years as a clinician at the Women’s Residence. She was initially hired as a Ward Secretary on Unit I in 2012 and has worked in all levels of care, making her an ideal candidate to help navigate the women of Lee Street through their recovery.
EM: How would you describe Lee Street?
WA: Lee Street is a long-term treatment program that is approximately one year in length that was designed specifically for women with a basic desire to be sober but who are in need of additional structure and accountability in order to succeed. We offer a greater focus on the practical application of recovery and life skills and the goal of Lee Street is to guide women as they apply the principles of recovery in their daily lives. Lee Street’s current structure is very similar to the Lee Street of old, with which the majority of our alumni are familiar. The two main differences are the shortened length of stay and an increase in the clinical portion of the program. The girls now have group therapy twice a week and an individual session every other week, so the counseling component is a little more intensive. Additionally, the women receive privileges sooner since the length of the program has been shortened. After three-to-six months, our residents usually become what we like to call “Senior Dragons” (previously known as “Six Monthers”). Lee Street is not considered a working program and does not mirror Cornerstone, as it once did. Women are simply not ready to immediately go out into the world and work, so the goal for employment is around six months.
We have tried to keep many of the Lee Street traditions, which has been a little challenging for me coming in without much of a transition, coupled with the fact that I am not a Lee Street graduate, although I have sponsored a number of women who went through the house. I depend upon the graduates who have stayed in Statesboro after completing of the program to help me maintain their customs. The recovery community members have been wonderful in doing so.
EM: Who is the ideal Lee Street Client?
WA: Women that are appropriate for Lee Street generally do not have many medical issues and are somewhat motivated for sobriety; they must be willing to at least try to do extended treatment along with involvement in a 12-step recovery program. We see women that have legal issues, but still have some family support. Because I’ve had experience at The Women’s Residence as a counselor and have had DBT training, I can handle a wide variety of clients. Prior to admission at Lee Street, I do an interview with the potential resident, which really gives me the ability to get the patient to the level of care that is needed. We want the women that come through our programs to flourish and in order to do so, it is important that they are appropriately placed.
EM: How does Lee Street differ from other programs for women?
WA: Of course there’s the strong clinical portion, but what I find to be truly remarkable is that there is such a strong peer-run component. The census is larger—we have 15 beds—so the accountability really has to come from within. Lee Street is a tight knit community and they have to hold each other accountable because there is not a lot of staff. So the residents have to be pretty motivated to do the right thing, since the house is more or less run by them. The women who have been there longer teach the newer women how everything works, passing down what had been taught to them. The Program Manager is there for guidance and to provide clinical services.
Because the program and accountability is so peer-driven, it creates very strong relationships amongst the women. There’s an old saying that there is “magic in Lee Street” and I think that this “magic” comes from the love that the women have for each other and the feeling of authentic community that they experience within the house. I’m really looking forward to the Lee Street Reunion at Homecoming this year – it’s so helpful for the current residents to see those lasting bonds that the graduates have with one another.
EM: What do you love the most about your job?
WA: The relationships that I form with the women I counsel. My job brings me so much joy and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
EM: Which part is the most difficult?
WA: Watching the ones that suffer in early sobriety, knowing that if they would only give it a chance and really try this way of life, everything would change and they wouldn’t have to feel all that pain.
EM: In what ways did your time working at the Rez prepare you to run Lee Street?
WA: Working at The Women’s Residence gave me a lot of education on how to work with difficult situations and difficult clients. I gained experience with the types of things that you don’t necessarily see when working in inpatient treatment, such as ongoing parental and legal issues. Moreover, it taught me how to effectively counsel women with behavioral issues and dual diagnosis. Working at The Rez definitely gave me an edge!
EM: Please share with us about your journey in recovery. Do you ever wish that you had the benefit of going through a women’s long-term recovery program?
WA: I came to Willingway in 2011 and stayed in the Inpatient Program for nearly 8 weeks. I was actually recommended to continue my treatment at The Women’s Residence and at first I was pretty motivated to accept that recommendation. My family, however, was not on board because they were convinced that I could get sober on my own, which I had been able to do before, back when I had somewhere between six and seven years of sober time. So I did not take the recommendation. I went home and it was miserable. I wish that I went through extended treatment so that I could have had a built-in sober support network and I wouldn’t have had to be alone. I mean, I went home and lived in my ex-husband’s bonus room and slept on a couch – I didn’t even have a bed. I would drive to Statesboro every Tuesday and Saturday night just to go to the speaker meetings at The Fork and to see Willingway Counselor Aide Smith Jackson.
Eventually I got to the point where I was either going to kill myself or use again, so I made the decision to relocate to Statesboro and I moved, ironically enough, to Lee Street in Brooklet. So I also got sober on Lee Street, just in Brooklet! I began working at WW as a Ward Secretary and for the next 18 months I sort of did my own extended treatment. I was always either at work or in a meeting and on the days that I didn’t work I went to two meetings. I got a sponsor and I built an amazing network of sober women. My entire life changed in the most amazing way.