Counseling center marks 30th anniversary of helping women

Friday, December 8, 2006

At 29, Diana Presley is just glad to be alive.

Without the help of the Family Counseling Center in Cape Girardeau, Presley believes, illegal drugs would have killed her.

"I was homeless when I got here. I had nowhere to go," said Presley, who sought help from the counseling center last December.

A methamphetamine user, she was drugged out most of the time and could barely communicate. "When I got here I couldn't put a sentence together," she said.

She spent more than three months in the treatment center. With the aid of counselors, she broke her longtime addiction to drugs and alcohol.

On Thursday, she was among some 25 former drug addicts and alcoholics who returned to the center at 20 S. Sprigg St. to celebrate the not-for-profit organization's 30th anniversary.

A crowd of about 50 former and current clients who crowded into a meeting room in the center to celebrate the anniversary.

"I have never seen a more giving staff," Presley said.

She now works at a local grocery store. She plans to enroll next fall at Southeast Missouri State University.

The counseling center started 30 years ago in the basement of a church in Kennett, Mo. The organization is still headquartered in Kennett, but now also has facilities in Hayti, Braggadocio, Poplar Bluff, Piedmont and West Plains.

The center has operated in Cape Girardeau since 1987. It opened its current facility across from the main fire station in Cape Girardeau in 1999, clinical supervisor Jim Ray said. The local center can house 30 women at time. The organization gets Medicaid and other state funding. It also charges clients based on their ability to pay.

Over the years, the organization has helped thousands of addicts, most of them women, with both inpatient and outpatient services. The Cape Girardeau facility only deals with female clients.

"We are treating about 6,000 people a year," said Myra Callahan, chief executive officer for the organization.

State Rep. Nathan Cooper showed up at the Cape Girardeau facility to present Callahan with a resolution from the Missouri House of Representatives recognizing the efforts of Family Counseling Center Inc.

"Today we celebrate 30 years of recovery, 30 years of people getting their lives back in order," Cooper said.

Presley, who grew up in Old Monroe, Mo., northwest of the St. Charles area, started drinking heavily when she was 12 years old. "It quickly became an every-weekend thing," she recalled. The daughter of alcoholic parents, she routinely drank whiskey. By the time she was 15, she was also addicted to methamphetamine and cocaine.

She dropped out of high school in her junior year. At the age of 18, she took a job as a hotel maid. She was so drugged out, she often passed out on hotel beds. At times, she was too sick to walk.

"I never could hold a job for long," she said. She was repeatedly hospitalized for drug overdoses. "I was suicidal."

Presley was in and out of "psych wards" and treatment centers. She said she lived in "dope houses" and hung out with other drug addicts.

Her twin sister died five years ago as a result of a traffic accident while driving drunk. Her father died three years ago from liver and colon cancer caused by his alcohol addiction, Presley said.

She was briefly married. She said her husband mentally and physically abused her. She left him in July 2005 but not her problems of drug and alcohol addiction.

Presley said she enrolled in the Cape Girardeau treatment program in a last-ditch effort to break her addictions.

Ray said drug and alcohol addictions are difficult to break. "Alcohol is usually your first drug and your last drug if you stay out there long enough," he said.

Ray said the counseling center doesn't succeed with every client. Some enroll voluntarily. Others are sent to the center by the courts.

The center has succeeded in turning around the lives of many clients, he said. The key, he said, is getting the clients to feel good about themselves. "We treat them like they are great," he said.

As for Presley, she has plenty to smile about these days. She and her boyfriend are talking about getting married.

"I wish there were more facilities like this one," she said.

As it turned out, she said, Cape Girardeau has proven a good place to turn around her life. "It is a great recovery town," she said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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