This article appeared in the March 10 issue of the Page News and Courier. I like it. I think it's a nice piece about something that's important. I moved here in November. I heard about this group in December. I brought it up as an idea for the "Local Life" section, which is basically just a feature section. Nothing came of it then, but at the beginning of March we were scrambling to find a feature idea and I brought it up again. And, here we are.
Grace House, helping women live sober lives
By Chris Slater
Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the Grace House residents, at their request.
SHENANDOAH — Amy is certain that had she not been drinking, the incident with her boyfriend would not have escalated to the point where she wound up being incarcerated for more than four years.
"We said some things back and forth to one another," Amy said. "It got to the point where he started beating up on me. It ended up with him being shot in the hand by me."
Amy, now in her early 60s, went to prison in 2010. She refers to her story as "rags to riches."
"I've been self employed since I was 26 years old; very successful, professionally, personal, spiritually,” Amy said. "I've always been active in my church, active in my community. I'm college educated."
She has never had anger issues in her life and knows that alcohol fueled the fight that led her to prison.
"Every bit of this, everything is my fault — I take full responsibility, 100 percent," Amy said. "I am extremely remorseful. It breaks my heart to think that I hurt him. It doesn't bother me about going to prison; I deserved that. But the fact that I hurt somebody, that bothers me."
After getting released with only $25 to her name and the clothes on her back, Amy needed help getting her life together. The first place she tried did not work out and she ultimately spent four days living on the street before she found the Grace House.
* * *
Grace House is a transitional living house for women coming out of incarceration and rehabilitation facilities. The idea for Grace House was in Kerry Scott's head after the death of her sister, Bonnie, in 2002.
"She moved to Shenandoah from Massachusetts; she moved for a change,” Scott said. "Bonnie thought she might stay for a couple years, but she fell in love with the area. She bought this old house that had been condemned. She wanted to fix it up and make it into a sober house."
Addiction is something that Scott knows about firsthand, as her sister struggled throughout her life.
"My sister was an alcoholic," Scott said. "She was in recovery for most of the time that she was in Virginia. She had been in recovery for long periods at different times of her life."
Bonnie also struggled with mental illness, something her sister thinks would have been handled differently today.
"She took her own life," Scott said. "Things have shifted, and I don’t think she would be that way today. She died 14 years ago and since then there is much more understood of the links between depression and the disease of addiction."
Looking to honor her sister's memory, Scott decided to make Grace House a reality.
"There was some resistance from the town, which I wasn’t surprised by or disappointed by," Scott said. "We're directly across from the school play yard, so there was some fear that the children would be exposed to something that people wouldn’t like."
Noting that it took over five years from conception to opening the doors, Scott said that that time allowed her to talk to Shenandoah residents and government leaders about Grace House and understand their concerns. She said that she now has the full support of the town.
"In 2010, the first woman came to live at Grace House," Scott said. "There have been women in recovery here ever since then."
* * *
Amy has lived at Grace House since April 26, 2015.
"I thank God for this house," Amy said. "Kerry Scott is wonderful, having turned this house into a home for women."
Since 2010, there have been 37 women who have called Grace House their home. To live at Grace House, an applicant must be interviewed by the group's board of directors, with the seven members ultimately deciding if that person can move in.
Sue Kite has been the president of Grace House since August. She noted that the house has strict requirements for somebody wanting to live there.
"We don't want someone coming in who has been just off of drugs — they have to go through rehab," Kite said. "We do not take anyone who hasn’t had some kind of rehabilitation. We can't take someone just coming off of the street, trying to ween themselves off of drugs."
There have been a few instances of relapse and residents being kicked out of the house. But Kite and Scott both emphasize that the positives outweigh any negatives that have happened at Grace House.
"Right now, we have two girls there now," Scott said. "We did have three, but one left in November. She was done with her time and has gone home. She’s doing very well."
Amy lives with her roommate, Mary, and their cat, Pumpkin. Mary, 50, has been at Grace House for more than two years, after spending two years in prison. She said that her addictions were "alcohol, pills and money."
"I don’t like talking about my crimes, because the crimes I did hurt other people — mostly my family," Mary said. "I have three children who are all adults and it hurt them, tore them apart. I have one child who still does not speak to me to this day."
Mary sees the Grace House as an important part of the community, albeit one that little is known about.
"There’s been love and care, and people want to help," Mary said. "I’ve loved it ever since I've been here. I have a strong feeling about Grace House and where it can go. I feel very fortunate."
Scott said that she is happy about what her creation has done, in regards to opening up eyes about the issues of addiction.
"We are changing the conversation in Shenandoah about alcoholism, about drug addiction," Scott said. "Ladies who come to stay at Grace House become ambassadors in the community. People see how hard they’re working, how good their efforts are, what it takes to put their lives together again, and also recognizing what they’ve lost.
"I think there should be one of these in every single town everywhere."