By C. Julia Nelson

Ramey Evans struggled for 18 years and lost custody of her daughter before finding freedom from drug addiction.

Had it not been for the Mary Hall Freedom House, Inc. (MHFH), Evans fears she never would have reclaimed her life, nor her daughter.

“I believe in the vision of the Mary Hall Freedom House and I believe in Lucy’s vision,” she said of its founder. “If it weren’t for her, I don’t know where I would be, where my children would be and I can say the same for a lot of women who come here.”

The MHFH, a comprehensive residential recovery program located in Sandy Springs and founded by Lucy Hall-Gainer, offered Evans the hope and guidance she needed. Today, five years into sobriety, Evans has overcome adversity through the grace of God with the help of MHFH and now has a healthy relationship with all three of her children.

Hall-Gainer, executive director of MHFH, has worn those shoes, too. Originally from Tuckahoe, New York, Hall-Gainer is the youngest of seven siblings and grew up as Gwen, her middle name. The child of an addicted mother, two addicted brothers, an addicted aunt and an addicted grandmother, eventually the generational curse infected Hall-Gainer’s life, as well.

Despite losing her mother to alcoholism at age 6 and battling addiction to alcohol, marijuana and cocaine for more than a decade, Hall-Gainer chose to reclaim her life the day she lost her freedom and was told she had the right to remain silent.

“Freedom is just too important to me,” she said. “Freedom is something God gave me and the day somebody wants to take my freedom, I’ll do whatever it takes. I can’t imagine not being free to do the things I want to do.”

It was a turning point.

“Nineteen years ago I started my own journey of recovery,” said Hall-Gainer.

Working through a seven-week recovery program in New York, she lost weight, took on her birth name, Lucy, and washed her hands of drinking, smoking, drugs and cursing.

“I feel like my steps were ordered by the grace of God,” she said. “I think I needed that experience to do what I do today. I thank God for choosing me.”

Thereafter, Hall-Gainer studied Human Services at Sunny Brockport, in New York where she became a Credentialed Substance Abuse Counselor. In 1994, she took a job with CHRISHomes, now CHRISKids, in Atlanta, working with children who were wards of the state. Shortly thereafter, she opened a cleaning business that led her to Tom DeRossett of Sandy Springs who took her in as family and listened as she shared with him her dream to help women recover from addiction after a short stint working at one of Atlanta’s women’s shelters.

DeRossett, an honorary member of the MHFH Advisory Council, believed in Lucy’s vision to start a residential recovery program for women and their children and issued her a $5,000 check as seed money in 1996. She had worked for him as a housekeeper for a year before approaching him with her idea and requesting financial support to get started.

“I became aware of Lucy’s great faith in God and I saw it in action,” he said.

What would follow would become the Mary Hall Freedom House, a 501(c)3, non-profit organization named in honor of Hall-Gainer’s mother and carried on in the hearts of all the women who have and will walk through its doors “to break the cycle of addiction, poverty and homelessness.”

Women who commit themselves to sobriety and self-sufficiency at MHFH find themselves surrounded with all the necessary resources for a full recovery. Everything from therapeutic child day care and medical assessments to substance abuse counselors, mental health professionals, job readiness classes, spiritual guidance, education, vocational training and a fitness center are available.

“All of these components work together to meet the clients’ needs,” Evans, now a MHFH alumna and clinical administrative assistant, said. “Women recover better when a treatment facility can provide all the things we provide here.”

The basic treatment program at MHFH, which now supports 200 women and 50 of their children, has three phases. It is tailored to each client individually based on a needs assessment. Phase one, which lasts 30 to 45 days is a time for cleansing and beginning substance abuse treatment.

The second phase, which lasts two to three weeks, focuses on job readiness, education and being self-sufficient. The phase two goal is to obtain a job and advance from inpatient care to intensive outpatient therapy to continue treatment.

Upon completion of treatment, the client earns the freedom to choose to live outside of MHFH in phase three. Clients then have the liberty to choose between participation in the “AfterCare” program to stay involved with the organization or simply move on with their life.

Throughout the recovery program, MHFH opens a door to God and spiritual fulfillment, which is the most important aspect of treatment to Hall-Gainer, her staff of more than 70 and her clients. Faith, prayer and Bible study are essential to the healing process at MHFH. Evans considers Hall-Gainer a vessel through which these women reconnect with God.

“She believes in everyone’s potential to become their best,” Evans said. “(The Mary Hall Freedom House) allows any woman to believe, who doesn’t believe, that there’s an inkling that someone cares enough to make a difference; it provides hope where hope was lost. It provides a doorway where there was once none; an opportunity to grab God. As soon as you walk in that door, you are covered with the blood of Jesus.”

DeRossett, knowing her faith drives her determination, described Hall-Gainer as committed, concerned and loyal.

“Those qualities have grown (in Lucy) and been expressed through operating the Freedom House,” he said. “(Her work) is an expression of God’s love for people; the same love He shows for all of us, we turn around and show to each other.”

Beyond the 25,000-square-foot headquarters, MHFH provides residential services at multiple locations throughout the metro Atlanta area. These include: an interim housing program at Trinity United Methodist Church, two homeless programs (Higher Grounds and Reaching New Heights), the substance abuse program, an independent housing program and a community housing program.

“Women come here from all over,” Evans said. “Whoever meets the criteria and if we have that bed available, we’re going to get them in this program.”

Because the women are spread throughout the city, Hall-Gainer hopes to raise enough funds to create a “Village” where all the women can live and receive treatment in one complex. Currently the women travel from the various residential facilities to the Sandy Springs office to receive treatment.

“Our hope for the “Village” is: we own it; therefore, we won’t have to move again,” she said.

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