NEWARK – When Ceara Kinser was using drugs, she felt like she was worthless.
Even when she got sober, those feelings didn’t go away. She had been to jail, she was a recovering addict — she felt judged everywhere she went.
“As an addict, you feel like no one cares,” she said. “And people look down on us because we did drugs.”
Working her way through the Licking County Intervention for Treatment Court, Kinser had to compete a series of classes called Getting Ahead, pass a thc test.
At first she thought it was just another mandated course. But then she met the facilitator, Donna Gibson.
“She started talking and I was just like, ‘Wow, she really cares,'” she said. “It’s all about someone showing you that they are going to fight for you and they are in your corner.”
After months of hard work, Kinser has completed the Getting Ahead classes and is getting ready to graduate from her court program. She works as a pizza delivery driver but is hoping to start taking online classes.
She and Gibson still talk almost every day.
“My life is about to change because of Donna,” Kinser said. “She taught me to be proud of myself. I’ve come so far and I can keep going. I’m getting ready to start school but if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have the confidence to do that.” Visit timesunion.com/.
Although Gibson said she’s grateful for her relationship with Kinser, their connection isn’t unusual. She tries to maintain close ties with every student that goes through her program.
Some have moved away, so she’s lost touch with them. But through letters, phone calls and in-person meetings, she tries to be there for as many as she can even after they leave her classes.
“It’s just exciting when you see them succeeding,” she said. “My goal is to keep working with them. And if someone is struggling, for me, giving up on them is not an option.”
A year of growth
Getting Ahead has been offered in Licking County for several years.
It’s a part of Bridges Out of Poverty, a program offered by Mental Health America of Licking County.
Getting Ahead focuses on helping those with barriers to employment and education overcome those obstacles. Participants learn communication skills, financial literacy, budgeting and things they need to know to apply and interview for jobs.
When Gibson started at Mental Health America, Getting Ahead classes were offered to anyone in the community.
Instead of waiting for people with the most need to sign up, she decided to bring the class to them.
She began teaching Getting Ahead at the local rehabilitation facilities Spencer House and Courage House.
She also formed a relationship with the staff of the Licking County Justice Center and began teaching the program to inmates in the fall of 2014.
Her goal was to give people the tools and resources they needed, eliminating barriers to reentry so they would be more successful.
“Once they get out, my goal is for them to not panic and go back to jail,” she said. “I want them to have a friendly face and someone they know.”
Now she’s teaching a version of Getting Ahead called Stepping Stones to three modules of inmates in the jail and is getting ready to start in a fourth module.
She’s also teaching several classes open to community members as well as those she’s worked with through the courts system.
In the fall, she started a new class in Pataskala, focused on educating community members about the obstacles people in poverty face.
As the program’s reach has increased, Gibson has formed other partnerships with community agencies. Working closely with United Way and other organizations, she recently helped organize a bus to transport people to work in New Albany.
She’s looking forward to starting a new class on Jan. 25 in Newark that will also offer a parenting support class.
Gibson estimates she’s probably worked with several hundred people through Getting Ahead in the last year. Some have moved to other areas, have been transferred to rehab facilities elsewhere or have moved on to prison.
Others she’s lost touch with. But at least 50 are in the process of getting assistance for health issues and 150 are working.
‘A different path’
Samantha Hamilton is one of the women Gibson met in the Licking County Justice Center.
She was serving time for drug related charges in the fall of 2014 and continued to attend Getting Ahead classes when she transitioned to Courage House.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Hamilton said. “If I didn’t have Donna in my corner I might have taken a different path.”
Samantha Hamilton participated in the Getting AheadBuy Photo
Samantha Hamilton participated in the Getting Ahead program both in the jail and at Courage House. (Photo: Jessica Phelps/The Advocate)
Hamilton began using drugs after her husband died and her life spiraled out of control. Gibson gave her the resources to put things back together, she said.
“When you are an addict or have a felony, if you don’t have the tools, you’ll end up right back in that same situation,” she said.
Gibson helped her get her first job, then helped her prepare for a successful interview as the front desk manager at a hotel.
“I was able to say, ‘I do have a conviction, but I made a mistake. I made bed choices, but I’m trying to come back from that,'” she said. “Donna taught me to not be ashamed.”
Hamilton is now living in Reynoldsburg with her two children. She still keeps in touch with Gibson and is always willing to promote the Getting Ahead program.
“Donna tells you the truth,” she said. “You are not always going to be in jail and she’s someone pushing (people) along and telling them, ‘You can do it.'”
The next Getting Ahead class begins Jan. 25. Classes will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 592 W. Main St., Newark.
A parent support group is also available from 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays at the church. A free meal will be provided by the church between the two classes and childcare is available.
For more information about the program, or to sign up, call Mental Health America of Licking County at 740-788-0300 or email email@example.com.
Found in The Newark Advocate Sunday January 31, 2016