Awakening Lane could be another two-story family home in Newark, as it was once and in many ways still is.
A school bus deposits its charges in front of the yellow house at the corner each afternoon, and the colorful cacophony of a children’s playground marks a family neighborhood just before the turn. In the late summer heat the women gathered on the front porch like others on the street, until the central Ohio weather chased them inside. Nestling into the living room’s couches, they share the space with a tree that went up early, branches already brimming with ornaments and light.
Since its doors first opened in April of 2017, more than twenty-five women have spent time living in recovery at Awakening Lane, for an average of three to four months each. Twenty former residents went on to successfully transition into independent or family housing, with four women currently living in the house on track to do the same. Three children have also spent time in the yellow house on the corner, with one born while her mother was in residence.
Two years ago local entrepreneur Kerry Shea Penland started Whole Living Recovery, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, in response to a need for living spaces in Licking County for women to pursue recovery. She purchased a home from a family in Newark, and began the process of establishing the residence legally as Awakening Lane: a sober living house for women in Licking County.
Awakening Lane became the first level two, or monitored sober living residence, for women in Licking County. Currently, there are no locations open to men. “The closest thing we have in the area is Spencer House, but as a treatment facility, you’re limited in the amount of time you can be there,” Penland explained. “Other options are to get on the Metro or housing coalition list, but those often have long waits and aren’t recovery based.”
Kerry Shea Penland, founder and director of Whole Living Recovery and Awakening Lane, talks with residents Reagan Sozo Makenzie and Lynsay Lewis during a weekly house meeting. Despite taking an administrative role in the house’s daily operations, Penland closely follows the recovery of each woman who comes into the house. (Photo: Shanti Basu / The Advocate)
Having seen the impact Awakening Lane has had for women in recovery in Licking County, Penland plans to open a men’s home in early 2020: Norpell Lane, named after the family of Jay Smith, one of the organization’s earliest donors.
“If you focus on Ohio I think you’ll find that most of the recovery housing is pretty good,” Penland explains. “But there are places… where it’s just a money-making machine, it’s all for profit and it’s not being regulated.” Penland, who is part of the local recovery community herself, saw that many in early recovery did not have access to safe, sober housing, a crucial step towards establishing wellness and stability.
Residential sober living addresses addiction and homelessness concurrently, by providing individuals with a stable environment often crucial to seeking employment and reestablishing a connection with the community.
Norpell Lane, Whole Living Recovery’s forthcoming second sober living location, will be Licking County’s first recovery home for men. The house will function much like Awakening Lane, with administrative support from Penland, and a house manager living in recovery alongside residents. (Photo: Shanti Basu/ The Advocate)
Forms of financial support further increase accessibility. Wrap-around funding from Licking County Alcoholism Prevention Program (LAPP), as well as Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Recovery Boards (ADAMH) are available on a case-by-case status. Additionally, there are Addiction Treatment Program (ATP) funds allocated specifically for individuals going through programs like the Licking County Intervention for Treatment (LIFT) courts.
To be accepted into Awakening Lane initially, women must have 30 days of sobriety, a recovery plan, and a referral from a community agency or probation officer.
Stacy Robinson, Probation Officer for Licking County Felony Probation, is one such reference. Robinson, also a drug court officer, has had someone on her caseload living at Awakening Lane since the house opened. “If I know there’s an opening, I usually have a waitlist of people who need it,” Robinson explained. “[This recovery house] gives someone the opportunity to do everything they need to do for the courts, by having a safe, stable place to live in.”
Beyond progress towards personal recovery, the community-based accountability found in the house is one factor that makes Penland’s residence stand out.
Stephanie Vanbibber, 40, house manager, talks logistics with director and founder Kerry Shea Penland in the dining room at Awakening Lane. Vanbibber, who was recently recognized as Mental Health America of Licking County’s 2019 Mental Health Consumer of the Year, supports residents through their recovery through peer to peer oversight. (Photo: Shanti Basu/ The Advocate)
At weekly meetings, Awakening Lane house manager Stephanie Vanbibber, 40, someone Robinson initially referred, guides the room with a practiced hand.
Vanbibber has faced adversity of her own, allowing her to relate to the highs and lows of the women in the house with empathy and modeled resilience. She found the role of house manager not through a job bulletin or an Internet search, but instead by stepping into the role as someone actively using the space; benefiting from its resources and growing in its midst.
Though she volunteers regularly in Newark and works several part time jobs, she takes the time to check in with each resident, making eye contact and drawing out underlying meaning from even the most reluctant friend. “How’re you feeling about that?” she probes kindly. “What can we be doing to support you?”
Recently, Vanbibber was recognized as Mental Health America of Licking County’s 2019 Mental Health Consumer of the Year. “She’s the poster child of what combining a few programs can do for someone,” Robinson shared.
The award highlights Vanbibber’s work as an individual and as a member of the recovery community in Newark, volunteering with the Health Department and Harm Reduction Ohio. Her support of the women at Awakening Lane often vacillates between the two approaches as well.
“I take my recovery very seriously,” Vanbibber says, “because I don’t want to die. I had three friends go in a week, and it wasn’t from cancer or a car wreck. I automatically assume overdose. Which one of my friends is next?”
“I want everyone to have a chance to live, because the alternative is dying.”
Vanbibber remains on hand, in addition to Penland, throughout an individual’s time at Awakening Lane, providing support towards a resident’s personal recovery path: finding employment, furthering education, fostering family connections and even facilitating future housing opportunities.
Jenny Nath, 40, a resident at Awakening Lane, shares her knowledge of the home with a community member after a monthly board meeting at the Licking County Health Department. Nath spoke to what her recovery has enabled her to gain at the meeting, advocating for the recovery community through her own lived experience. (Photo: Shanti Basu/ The Advocate)
One of the people Vanbibber has supported through her role at Awakening Lane is her friend Jenny Nath, who moved into Awakening Lane at the end of July. Nath had been in treatment and was referred to Awakening Lane by her sponsor when she began to consider her next steps.
“When I was ready to pick myself back up, there were people to call,” Nath shared. She credits people in the house such as Vanbibber with the accountability that has brought her this far.
An advocate in the recovery community, she works closely with local non-profit Harm Reduction Ohio to assemble Naloxone kits and share her experience. Nath recently spoke to its importance at a monthly Licking County health board meeting, and was celebrated for her contributions as Harm Reduction’s first Volunteer of the Month.
“Jenny has been a treasure for Harm Reduction Ohio,” President and founder Dennis Cauchon shared. “She talks about her experiences — from soccer mom to person revived eight times by Narcan to losing custody of her children — in ways that move people and make them understand the importance of seeing every person’s humanity.”
Having seen the life-saving benefits of Naloxone firsthand, the advocacy work is meaningful for Nath and Vanbibber amidst their own recovery. Their involvement in the community is made possible by the resources Awakening Lane connected for them, but also through each other’s support.
“I’m stubborn, I need things pointed out to me — it takes solid relationships with people in the room,” Nath agreed, “so being in this house or around it 24 hours, 7 days a week, it’s what’s kept me moving.”
With the opening of Norpell Lane in early 2020, Whole Living Recovery will continue to create access to sober living in Licking County, offering individuals the stability, connections and resources needed to sustain recovery on both an individual level and for the community.
For more information, to volunteer or offer financial support, visit www.wholelivingrecovery.org or contact Kerry Shea Penland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published Dec. 8, 2019 in the Newark Advocate