The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

August 14, 2013

Unity in their Community

BECKLEY — Danny Smith believes he holds the key to recovery from addiction — getting outside oneself to focus on the bigger picture.

As executive director of Southern West Virginia Fellowship Home, Smith is a recovering alcoholic/addict, five years removed from his 30-year cocaine and alcohol habit, a time that cost him his family and everything he had managed to attain up to that point.

Tables have since turned, not without daily effort, and Smith encourages himself today by encouraging others down the unpaved and often unmarked pathway toward sobriety.

Desiring organizational transparency, he is opening a fundraiser banquet to the community at Cross Point Church Aug. 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Smith, along with the help of his board and successful graduates of the program, will discuss the mission of SWVFH at a spaghetti dinner catered by Pasquale’s.

The $20 per person cost for the Italian banquet will go toward purchasing new windows, additional weatherization and general building upgrades.

“We operate from a state behavioral health grant at $55,500 per year, and are able to run the whole facility on that, including bills, insurance and maintaining a shared house van. That is a miracle, to run a facility this big and to pay a staff.”

Smith has seen the house bank account down to $40, he says, leaving little for improvements.

“We’re talking about a house that has operated since 1987 helping addicts and alcoholics. We have the same doors and windows now as we did then.”

The Southern West Virginia Fellowship Home started as a community effort. Smith has a vision it will one day get back to being recognized as such.

Former resident and Director Ron Campbell, 18 years clean and sober and now with a degree in social and behavioral science, speaks as an unofficial historian for the home, revealing SWVFH was incorporated in 1967 by a small band of citizens, including Dr. Richard Daniel, Robert Sadler, Betty Jarrell, Sandra Grant and Doris Lilly.

It was first located on Harper Road under Director Tom Barbary and closely followed guidelines of the Flynn Christian Fellowship Homes of Baltimore, Md. The first board of directors consisted of Daniels, Sadler, Jarrell and Lilly, along with Sarah Meador, Thomas Gray, W.A. Thornhill III, William Watts and Rev. Leon Alexander.

Up until three years prior to Smith’s directorship, the SWVFH was co-ed. The tendency for fragile and unhealthy relationships to form prompted the state and board to unanimously decide it would become a home for men only.

Smith knows what people say about the house where he’s in charge. The halfway house — a place between.

At its worst perception, people think it’s a flophouse — a cheap place to crash and remain unchanged. Nothing could be further from the truth, he says, understanding there is much proving to be done, both individually and corporately. Smith seeks to build a team of men committed to their own success in life, and he is equally committed, he says, to changing perspectives about the house he credits for his personal sobriety.

“There was something about the house that showed me a solution.”

Beginning 2014, the SWVFH will be added to the list of agencies supported by United Way of Southern West Virginia, confirms Executive Director Margaret O’Neal. Still, there is much the group wants to accomplish individually and is willing to work hard toward.

“Accountability is important. The 12-steps show them how to live sober, putting recovery in terms of spiritual principles,” states Smith. On average, SWVFH maintains 18 residents with an average length of stay of six months to one year.  “The men who stay closer to one year do better.”

Smith has constructed a strict framework of how the recovering addicts spend their days being active, not idle as some would suppose. Wake-up is 7 a.m., with 7:30 breakfast, followed by prayer and meditation. 9 a.m. means chore performance and a transition to the first recovery class. At 10:45, men report for lunch, another chore and an AA, NA meeting or community service project with Helping Hands or The Carpenter’s Corner at noon.

From 1 to 3:30 p.m., it’s GED classes or part-time employment. Dinner, then more chores and two hours maximum of downtime pass before the round of evening recovery meetings. The house meeting convenes at 9:30 p.m., after which is a final chore before house lock-up by 11 p.m.

Educational speakers teach the residents about nutrition and anger management on scheduled days; Beckley Health Right clinic provides the residents with an intake exam, many who have not seen a regular physician in years.

“A lot of new residents don’t know if they have hepatitis or diabetes before their examination,” Smith explains.

Aside from his internal work, Smith is reaching out. He wants residents to know the men are trying, one day at a time, to do something good, to get beyond their own issues.

Smith’s residents spend five to six days a week performing community service and he is on the hunt for more opportunities to help out other organizations.

“Success is getting back into life clean and sober. These guys have burned a lot of bridges and some will never be mended. You just have to teach them to keep moving forward. All of us are to, no matter what, put recovery first. Sobriety allows us to have lives.”

The man who sobered up to find he’d lost a life has not only rebuilt another, but has added a few rooms, fit for about 18 men who stand where he once stood. There’s a philosophy he shares, one that fits addict and non-addict alike: “Get busy getting busy, and get out of yourself to help others.”

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

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