When Lisa Carson entered the Hall County Drug Court in February 2004 after being caught forging prescriptions for Lortab, she felt lost and overwhelmed by the system. She needed a friend.
"I needed everything," Carson said. "Spiritual, emotional, everything."
From pointing the way to outside help to encouraging local clergy to pave the path to reconciliation, local nonprofit group Friends of Recovery is the resource Carson said she needed then. She now serves on its board of directors and volunteers, driving female inmates from the Hall County jail to interviews at residential drug treatment facilities.
"If Friends of Recovery had been up and running when I came into the drug court program, I would have adapted so much faster," Carson said.
September is National Recovery Month, and Friends of Recovery has marked the occasion with purple ribbons hanging from the Rotary Tree near the Gainesville-Hall Chamber of Commerce and a trail of empty shoes outside the Hall County Courthouse. The "Walk In My Shoes" display tells the stories of substance abuse's toll on families and children.
Inside the courthouse, four treatment court programs are aimed at restoring sobriety. Friends of Recovery helps the roughly 500 participants involved in mental health, or HELP court, family treatment court, DUI court and felony drug court.
The group, with 23 board members and volunteers, provides interest-free loans for rent, utilities and car payments for treatment court participants and has started a food pantry for those who miss meal time at work release centers while in treatment programs. A clothes closet is maintained for those going on their first-ever job interviews.
Friends of Recovery recently began a prayer shawl program, knitting shawls for participants entering the painful detox portion of residential treatment. The group solicits businesses for incentive gifts that are given as rewards to court participants who stay on the straight and narrow. A health and wellness fair is held in the spring to encourage smart lifestyle choices.
"The court system can mandate sobriety through testing, and can lead the horse to lots of therapy water, but they just can't fill in every gap in the community," said Friends of Recovery chairwoman Stephanie Woodard.
Woodard noted that many treatment court participants "burn their bridges" with family members before accepting they have problems.
"Friends of Recovery as an organization stands to be a friend to those folks," Woodard said. "To help them bridge that gap back to their families and back to the community."
The group has asked churches to include the theme of "recovery and reconciliation" in at least one sermon this month.
"We're asking the local clergy to start building that bridge from the inside," Woodard said.
The group's board includes both former participants and officials from all sectors of the community. Jim Sargent, director of student services for Hall County Schools, said the school district's participation in the program goes back to the students it serves.
The participants in treatment court "are the parents of the kids we serve," Sargent said. "I've seen how ravaged those families are."
Woodard said she would like to build the "grass-roots bank" that currently has a balance of only about $5,000 to at least $50,000. Fundraising efforts, such as next month's motorcycle "Poker Run," a November talent show and a 5k run will go toward that end.
But the human capital is important, too.
"It's those simple acts of kindness for people who feel like they have no friends that pull them back across the brink," Woodard said.