Lessons Learned

Magdalene Serenity House accepted its first resident two years ago. She works full-time, has her own apartment, and has custody of her son. Our next graduate is scheduled to leave in February. She will return to her home and regain custody of her two children. Both of these ladies were dedicated to meeting the program requirements and maintaining their sobriety regardless of challenges during their time at MSH.

Road to Healing

MSH welcomed the first residents with open arms in September 2017. After the first year, 4 of the first 8 women left the program. Losing residents is difficult for the other residents, volunteers, and staff. When a resident leaves, we look back to determine why they left before intended. The relapse rate among people with substance use disorder is high (estimated at 85%); however, that was not what prompted many of the women to leave before completing the program. Early in the program residents develop a relapse prevention plan, attend AA meetings at least three times a week, meet weekly with staff, and a sponsor from AA. We are aware that emotional relapse often precedes physical relapse and are cognizant of warning signs: loss of enthusiasm regarding recovery, negative feelings, anger, anxiety, and disturbances in sleep. We have a self-inventory for women that helps identify warning signs. Regardless, relapse is a risk factor for residents.

While some women did not relapse to substance use, they relapsed to an unhealthy lifestyle. Women discuss missing the lifestyle associated with their addiction: drama and excitement. Sobriety can seem boring when you are normalizing your life. Some women did not want to delay romantic relationships as suggested for those in recovery. Having a relationship can take the focus off recovery. Women who have had previous unhealthy relationships need time to learn about what constitutes a healthy partnership. Women who have relied on others in a relationship to meet their needs may be fearful of being on their own, particularly if the relationship was one where their partners were controlling everything they did.

MSH is voluntary but rules exist to maintain safety and order. We made a conscious effort not to impose an overabundance of rules and regulations as doing so is not empowering, particularly for women who have suffered abuse. When a pattern of unsafe or unhealthy behavior is evident, it has to be addressed. We implement progressive discipline in order to identify and confront these behaviors in a timely manner. Residents are given the opportunity and assistance in making changes in behavior. When a resident fails to adhere to the terms of a behavior contract, the resident will be asked to leave.

Another lesson learned was who we should and could serve at MSH. It has sometimes been easier to describe our program in terms of who we are not. We are not a substance use recovery program, although we serve those who have substance use disorder. We have amended our admission criteria to require completion of a substance use treatment program. We are not a shelter or even transitional living. We are permanent housing. We are not a family shelter but our residents’ children can visit and spend the night. We are not a behavioral health treatment program nor counselors who are trained to work with survivors of trauma, but we facilitate treatment through community resources.

Our mission statement has been revised to reflect the population we serve:

Magdalene Serenity House is a healing sanctuary serving
women who have experienced trauma, sexual exploitation,
addiction, and incarceration by providing opportunities
for community, and paths to flourish.
Heal one woman, Heal a community.

With few exceptions, the women who left the program before completion chose to leave. They were not discharged from the program. None of those who have left have requested to return although that is an option. We measure success by what our residents accomplish while they are with us, not how long they were in the program.

Program Achievements

  • Our newest resident moved into Phase Two AND obtained meaningful employment.
  • Sophia (our first graduate) started college this fall and is doing well.
  • Our most senior resident is preparing for graduation in February.
  • Since we opened in September 2017 our residents have received:
    1,574 groups
    434 case management sessions
    2,771 AA/NA meetings
    425 physical and mental health services

Resident Success Story
Thank you to all the staff and volunteers for their support, positive attitudes, encouragement and patience. Without all of these things my recovery would seem next to impossible. Anything I’m interested in or have a question about it is promptly supported and answered. I appreciate the enthusiasm to help. I love my life here and I am excited about the direction I am going. – Magdalene Resident (Phase Two)

Intern Spotlight
Kaitlyn is a social work student at the U of A and I’m excited to be apart of the Magdalene family for this year! I’m originally from Austin Texas and went to undergrad in Conway, AR where I studied sociology and anthropology. I have 4 pet plants and I love all things outdoors. Marianna is a graduate student in the MSW program at the U of A. She is originally from Minnesota, but now lives in Fayetteville with her husband Drew. She has worked as an educator and with Beautiful Lives Boutique, and she is excited to be working with the amazing staff and clients at Magdalene Serenity House this year!

Volunteer Spotlight
Amy Farmer is an economics professor at the University of Arkansas, and in the summers she takes students abroad to do service learning projects in developing communities in Mozambique and Belize, among others. She has two children at the University of Arkansas, and has a passion for fitness and outdoor activities. When she found out Magdalene house was moving into her neighborhood, she really wanted to get involved. “Fitness has been a lifesaver for me throughout my life, and I wanted to share that with the residents at Magdalene house. I am loving being able to dance and work out with them!”

Ways to Give
There are several ways to give back to Magdalene Serenity House!

  • Volunteer – we need volunteers to transport our residents to work and appointments.
  • Give – we need donors willing to contribute monthly and/or annually to support our program.
  • Wish List – Help us welcome our new residents home by purchasing an item off our Amazon Wish List.

A HUGE Thank You to all who came out to Hugo’s for our fundraiser on September 16. We enjoyed celebrating with each of you and hope to host more events like this in the future!