By Barbara Nicholson-Brown with Dr. Beverly Wohlert and Holly Williamson, PhD, LISAC

“Don’t be afraid. There are exquisite things in store for you. This is merely the beginning.” — Oscar Wilde


Circumstances or wrong choices, painful, harmful events, even genetics; are but a few reasons a woman can turn to addictive behaviors. Addiction is often used as a coping mechanism to numb deep rooted pain. And, deciding to seek treatment for an addiction is never easy for anyone. “The large percentage of the women we serve at Arizona Women’s Recovery Center have not only experienced addiction, but also complex trauma, homelessness, poverty, justice related challenges, and more. Their stories are rich, heart-wrenching, and compelling,” said Holly Williamson, Clinical Director at Arizona Women’s Recovery Center. She added, “Many walk in the door with only a fleeting feeling recovery is achievable. In the beginning they are often guarded, skeptical, and completely fatigued from weathering the countless adverse effects from living a life of active addiction.”

What if you are a mom and seeking help meant being separated from your kids? Or a mom-to-be needing to stay clean and sober for a healthy and safe birth, with a safe place to call home? Perhaps one of the largest barriers to treatment for a woman with children is fear of the unknown when it comes to the future and care of her children.


Barrier Free Recovery

Arizona Women’s Recovery Center (AWRC) believes the mother child relationship should be free from the barriers that may prevent any woman seeking help. Their goal is to increase the chances for a successful recovery, which leads to a healthy family.

Established in 1960, as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), renamed Arizona Women’s Recovery Center; is a non-profit treatment agency that has helped thousands of women through the recovery process.

From intervention to emergency and long-term housing to support programs, AWRC is there every step of the way. One of the main goals is treating the whole woman and her family with education on medical and psychiatric needs, one-on-one and group therapy, vocational training, supportive housing, and trauma therapy. They believe using a holistic approach is the key to the long-term success of clients.

All of the programs focus on providing the tools and resources to assist women in becoming financially self-sufficient and to believe in their potential to remain drug/alcohol-free and live a quality life. The primary population served at AWRC, are underserved, adult females in Maricopa County who report having an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Dr. Beverly Wohlert, CEO provided an in depth look.

Though years AWRC has added homes to serve the growing population of sober women and their kids, what are they?
We currently have five homes. All of have wrap around support and intensive treatment and structure, yet each cater to very specific populations.

Weldon House—currently serves 19 women and their children. This is an innovative program providing women and their children a safe place to live while on the road to recovery. Each two-bedroom apartment is fully furnished and faces a shared courtyard, offering a support system for all families.

Sally’s Place— serves 10 pregnant women and their infants. This program serves pregnant women struggling with substance addiction. The program provides a supportive environment in which women are given the opportunity to parent their newborn with the support of our team.

Legacy House and Her House — we currently have 12 women who do not have children living with them. Legacy is a short-term, supportive housing for women participating in our outpatient treatment program. Referrals come directly from the justice system. Legacy House seeks to provide a safe living environment for women while they focus on their initial 3-6 months of outpatient therapy.

Terri’s Place — serves 3 co-parenting women who have graduated one of the above programs.


What are the requirements to receive services and housing, and what age children are allowed?
First and foremost, is willingness! In order to receive services, the person must identify as a female, have an issue with drugs or alcohol and the willingness to seek sobriety and self-sufficiency. We accept children of all ages depending on availability.

Once women are stable in their recovery do they seek outside employment?
Employment is part of their growth and journey. We want our families to be sober, healthy and self- sufficient. This doesn’t mean just finding any old job. We support our women to earn their GED, obtain vocational training or education, and find a job that earns a livable wage for themselves and their children.

Where are most of the babies born? What if they test addicted at birth? Take us through the process.
Leslie Lanning, Case Manager at Sally’s Place said, “Most of our babies are born at Banner University, St. Joes and occasionally Valleywise. This depends typically on two things: Banner University treats our MAT clients. Dr. Manriquez oversees Subutex or Suboxone MAT treatment. We use her for our methadone clients. She is a wonderful resource who offers Vivitrol shots following any titration. St. Joes is for clients who do not usually have MAT services and is the closest hospital to our facility. Any NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) children are referred to Hushabye Nursery for NICU outside of the hospital setting.”

She added, “Any mom or babies testing positive during OB visits are automatically on DCS radar. By working with Hushabye the client will typically call DCS on their own following delivery, as it will usually offset a negative result. We’ve had great success with DCS and moms and babies staying together. DCS will investigate, contact staff and do a home tour. Cases are usually dismissed quickly.

Once released from NICU or a hospital stay, mom and baby return to Sally’s. In most cases they return to group quickly and are welcomed by all of the other group members who write a welcome note to the new family. We try to pair a first time mom with a mom who has other children as often as possible. The other moms and staff offer a great deal of support and respite. Everything from breast feeding/latching assistance to watching baby so mom can shower. House manager’s cover one house.”

AZWRC women are enrolled at Brandon Lee’s Art of the Soul. How has art therapy enhanced their lives and self esteem in recovery?


Art of Our Soul has given our women an outlet to express past and newfound creativity. They’ve had authentic experiences producing masterpieces they’re proud of. The combination of a beautiful studio, partnered with a relatable instructor, sprinkled with the encouragement to be uniquely you, has proven to be the “blank canvas” the ladies need and appreciate.

How is AWRC funded?
Most of our clients are funded for clinical services through their AHCCCS plans or qualify for the Substance Abuse Block Grant. However, we rely on fundraisers, grants, and private donors to assist with scholarships for those who don’t qualify for the state funded services and for any of the needs our children might have, such as school supplies, camps, and extra-curricular activities.

How can the community get involved? What is needed most?
The easiest way the community can get involved is to drop off or call us to pick up any clothing, gently used household items or toys. All of our housing units are fully furnished with everything a family should need. When they graduate our program, as long as we have items to replace with, the family will take everything they have lived with in our program to their new home. Our goal is to minimize the transition challenges for our children. Their toys, clothes, beds, dressers they have used to call home for their 2-3 year stay — goes with them.


The Miracles of Sobriety

Holly Williamson summed up the miracles, “There are many stories of hope I have had the privilege to witness. They provide the fuel to continue the fight against active addiction. Stories range from women who were facing long term prison sentences, to being on the brink of losing their parental rights. Women who have not known a sober day for over 30 years, to women who have been plagued by night terrors when not using to anesthetize the pain of their trauma. Women who are undereducated making meaningful employment out of reach resulting in endlessly perpetuating the cycle of active addiction. Women who’ve experienced deep loss and struggle in their relationships across all dimensions. Women who are often both stigmatized and unseen.”

And yet, there is happy news on the front lines of addiction work. Miracles happen when these resilient, worthy, smart, dynamic women choose recovery. Notably, this recovery choice is a process and not an event. It is a daily recommitment, which means the recovery journey is often a non-linear walk. Every time recovery is the choice, positive results are accessible and near. I have witnessed changed outcomes in each of the costs of addiction described above. I have seen more than one prison sentence commuted right at the 11th hour. I have witnessed women working tirelessly on their trauma express with deep emotion their gratitude to finally feel a sense of safety and at ease in their own skin. I have seen women with an 8th grade education level achieve their high school equivalency degrees and go on to pursue master’s level education —ultimately gaining a sense of mastery they never thought was accessible to them. One of the greatest miracles is to see a mother reconnect with her children, providing them with safe and secure attachment, love and connection. In these ways and more, these women begin to change generational patterns of addiction stories by showing their children the complex beauty and possibility of a life of recovery.”


Learn more about Arizona Women’s Recovery Center
To donate call 602-264-6214