Local Program Changing Lives for Those Battling AddictionJul 15, 2017
The hardest part of overcoming any addiction is taking the first step, and for many addicts in Oklahoma, the OKC Metro Alliance, Inc. Men’s and Women’s Firstep Recovery Programs have become more than just their first step. It has given them the tools to change their path. Located close to Stanley Draper Lake, in the serenity of the trees and nature, the Firstep Programs look more like church camps than rehabilitation centers. There are no high walls and security to go through. No nurses in scrubs and doctors. And perhaps that is what has made a difference to many of the graduates.
“The Men’s Firstep Recovery Program began as a homeless program in 1986,” explained Brent Branham, Men’s Firstep Program Work Training Manager. “Ben Brown and Pete White are the people who got it started. They were just trying to help the homeless, and what they discovered was that a large percentage of the homeless population had drug and alcohol problems. The program just transitioned from there.”
And while the Firstep Program does not describe themselves as a treatment facility, for many men and women that come to the program, that’s the key.
“We provide an alternative to treatment,” said April Prentice, Women’s Firstep Program Assistant. “We are getting them acclimated to be able to function in society as adults, going to work, and even going to the 12-step program in the evening.”
The key to this program is not only providing the tools the addicts need to function in society but giving them the opportunity to use those tools in a safe, drug and alcohol-free environment.
“We provide the guys with the tools for recovery and the training to get back into society and become a contributing member of society,” said Branham. “They get up at five every morning. We provide them with a job, we get them to work and we get them back here in the evening. Then they have classes on life skills and money management. They have AA meetings and NA meetings. Counseling. They are in bed by 10, and they start it all over again the next day.”
The men and women also receive counseling through the Tri City Youth and Family Center out of Choctaw, with one-on-one counseling or peer centered counseling. Firstep also provides parenting classes. And they assist residents with earning their GED and applying and getting grants to attend college.
“We have a gentleman that comes out and teaches a life skills class,” said Prentice. “He’s a nurse practitioner, and he does classes on anger management, parenting classes, a budgeting curriculum. Tinker Federal Credit Union also does a budgeting class. And we partner with a lot of ministries.”
Firstep also works with DHS to provide the residents with visits with their children, and the women’s program works with Remerge, a program at Women’s Firstep that provides housing for up to 13 clients for the first 90 days of their recovery.
“Remerge is a women’s diversion program,” says Prentice. “It takes Oklahoma mothers who have charges and are looking at prison time and puts them in a two-year program. At the end of the program, their record is expunged, they have their kids back and they are productive members of society. And for their first 90 days they are housed at Firstep.”
The men and women work a five or six-day week, and Sunday is their day off to visit with their families or take passes. The men and women eventually work to receive four hour passes, and in phase five of the program, they start earning 24-hour passes. And as far as cost goes, the men and women pay their own way with the jobs they get through the program.
“The money they make goes to pay for everything we provide, housing, food, recovery programs, etc.,” said Branham.
But for many of the Firstep residents, the one thing that makes a huge difference to their recovery is working with people who were addicts as well.
“I’m a graduate of the program,” explained Branham. “I had been a meth addict for 20 plus years. I had been to drug court. Been to prison. None of that worked for me.”
Until he came to Men’s Firstep.
And the same is true for Prentice, “I went through the Firstep Program in 2013. Before that, I had been to treatment centers, went to a year-long program and relapsed. That’s when I came here. I learned tools in treatment, but I didn’t know how to apply them. What Firstep has done for me is teach me how to apply those tools to my life and be able to use them in a practical way.”
And Men’s Firstep will soon have an OU graduate. Resident Advisor for Firstep, Dedrick K. Perkins graduated from the Firstep program in September of 2015. He will graduate with his Masters of Social Work from OU in 2020.
“After Graduation, I plan to work as an addiction counselor,” said Perkins. “I am a firm believer in what Johann Hari says about addition, ‘The opposite of addiction is connection.’ Firstep gave me the opportunity to connect with people in my life, with myself, and with God. I can now bear to be present in my life because I don’t feel so much shame and guilt from what was done to me and how I was dealing with it. I want to go through the difficult times because it tells me that I am strong and that I don’t need to escape my reality in order to see the beauty and joy that is so abundant in my life and in the lives of people around me. Most importantly, Firstep has showed me how to love, love without requirement or constrictions.”
After he graduates, Perkins would like to work with LGBT youth or women in the penal system, eventually pursuing his doctorate in social work or sociology and writing books on addiction and trauma.
In addition to rehabilitation, most of the men and women who come to Firstep leave with a job.
“Probably 80 to 90 percent of the graduates who want to stay in this area will have a job when they leave here,” said Branham. “They will also have a driver’s license or a state ID and a social security card.”
And once they graduate, they help them adjust to living outside of the program.
“We have case managers to help them find housing once they leave,” explained Prentice. “In their last days, they have an exit plan to make sure they have a plan for once they leave.”
And they must be doing something right, because OKC Metro Alliance just received a million-dollar grant to add transitional housing to the property at Men’s Firstep.
For any employers out there interested in hiring some of the men and women for your business, know that Firstep has a great track record.
“The employers know the people we provide are going to be drug free, they have transportation, a sack lunch,” said Branham. “They are very dependable.”
“We have even had businesses call and donate their time,” said Branham. “They have painted our dorm. They built a porch. They provided all the materials and the labor.”
Firstep also gets a several people from the community who call and hire one to several people to come and do yard work or clean up around their house.
“And they get to see the face of addiction,” explained Branham. “They get to see that addiction has no boundaries.”
For resident Ashley Miller, Women’s Firstep has saved her life, “I have been a drug addict for 20 years. By the time I was 15, I was an IV meth user. I’ve been to treatment, to jail, and after everything I’ve been through, this is the best program. At Firstep you learn to deal with people you don’t like, in situations you don’t like, and you just learn to carry on. We as drug addicts are impulsive. We react to things based on our feelings as opposed to what we know is right. But Firstep has given me the tools to take life as it comes.”
Branham described the ultimate goal for the Firstep Program, “The 12-steps is a dotted line to help you get through the recovery. It gives you the tools and the direction on how to get through addiction and how to be successful in life, learn how to be a better person, more Godly. It’s a successful way of finding recovery.”
Anyone interested in joining the program, providing employment or donating money or supplies can call Men’s Firstep directly at (405) 799-5297 or Women’s Firstep at (405) 794-2834 or go to okcmetroalliance.com for more information.