Jennifer Warren saved my life. In 1999 I was an alcoholic, homeless woman living on the streets struggling to survive. At age 36, I finally fell into a coma from cirrhosis of the liver, waking up in the geriatric ward of John Umstead Mental Hospital in Butner, NC. I had become estranged form my family, had no one to call, nowhere to go. I called this program called FIRST in Black Mountain. Jennifer was the first person who talked to me. She took me into her program at that time. There were physical challenges, like walking again, but more importantly, Jennifer taught me the discipline of character change. I completed the two year hard, work structured program. I note my first encounter with Jennifer Warren to point out I have followed her ever since. For 20 years, she and I have kept in contact. I was also in her program Recovery Ventures, so I have been long able to observe her undying commitment to recovery. I relocated home to Pennsylvania in 2008, but had I remained in NC, I would have asked to be involved in some way, possibly with her Animal Therapy Program at Recovery Connections Community. But because I am out of state, circumstances allow me to currently act as a board member for Recovery Connections Community.
As a board member, I am most enthusiastic about Jennifer's Animal Therapy. A vast majority of studies have reported animal therapy works to heal broken minds. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and social issues. Animals are an authentic form of therapy, and it is the particular incorporation of this treatment into a recovery program that Jennifer distinguishes herself as a program director. It has been proven that a patient's social, emotional and cognitive functioning improves through regular pet therapy. It has also been proven soothing interaction between animals and people releases endorphins that produce a calming effect. I highly laud her thoroughness with developing an animal therapy program, and can also attest to the fact that some of the hard earned money is used for the farm and animals, as well as vehicle maintenance. Not only do the residents benefit individually from animal caretaking, they are also practicing teamwork, social interaction, responsibility, compassion, kindness and patience.
It has been a long journey to recovery for me. Now, with almost six years sobriety under my belt, it is Jennifer to whom I need to give back. Her program is demanding, but this is by design. Addicts need structure. We need to understand teamwork, learn honesty and to accept correction. Her entire motive is about giving people an opportunity; the money serves simply to keep the business of her efforts to save lives functioning. Her entire motive is helping others learn how to help themselves. Jennifer cares about one thing, and one thing only: saving lives.
I read the article in Reveal. It was highly disturbing. The complaints seem to come from people who were not ready for recovery. I can personally testify that Ian Hays lied when he said Jennifer only wanted donations for manicures for herself. Ian Hays was at FIRST when I resided there. He worked in donations while I worked in Jennifer's office as her personal secretary. One of my duties was to document every single thing she did for daily reports to the director of all staff. Going to the mall and getting manicures was never on her agenda; business meetings, interactions with residents and counseling sessions were. Jennifer was a licensed counselor and the clinical director then, and had no time for such frivolous activities. And when she visited me this last year in Pennsylvania, she was accompanied by three girls and two men from her program. We stopped at a nail place before dinner. Jennifer asked all the girls if they wanted to have their nails done. They said no. I went to wait for Jennifer while she had her nails done, and I saw her pay with her own money. She was always working while here. She took calls, delegated instructions to staff over the phone, and went to court to speak on my behalf to the judge. 20 years later she still stands true and noble in her attempts to better my life. She understood the complication of the charge, and knew I did not belong in jail.
I am currently in recovery. If my alcoholism was not in remission, I would welcome being in a program run by Jennifer. I know I would have a reliable home base, an honest director concentrating on doing the next right thing, and the structured program that would guide me back to sobriety. To me, Jennifer Warren's dedication to recovery is unrivaled. Knowing her for over 20 years has allowed me the honor to witness a person who devotes her life selflessly to the welfare of others struggling with the fatality of alcoholism and addiction. When I first spoke with her from John Umstead Hospital in 1999, she asked me one question: "Are you wiling to do anything for sobriety?" I said yes. The work was hard. None of it was easy. But any reformation is difficult and uncomfortable. Knowing you have a serious, dedicated leader helps your focus remain steadfast. Today, Jennifer is that reliable leader I can still call.