Janis Penell wants addicts to get clean. Period. Her passion for sobriety comes from her own struggle with meth addiction. She is 11 years clean and a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. To help people with their own mission three years ago she started New Beginnings in Big Bear City, a sober living house for women who are in recovery.
Inside the cozy house are two bedrooms, one for a resident adviser and the other is a master bedroom with four beds and dressers. The closeness is key to recovery, Penell says.
Four is a good number for the house, says former resident and recovering addict Dina Brott. “The closeness helps you spot when someone is struggling with their sobriety,” she says. Self-isolation is a huge red flag, Brott says. “It’s a major enemy of recovery.”
Penell also works at Lutheran Social Services and helps the residents find social service resources available. She also runs D.I.R.E. Need, an outdoors activities group for sober living. D.I.R.E. stands for Discoveries in Recovery Experience.
“We’re not treatment,” Penell says about New Beginnings and D.I.R.E. The living arrangement helps reinforce the messages its residents are receiving through treatment, AA or NA meetings and the 12-step program. “The whole purpose is to get back to living, and getting the tools to live life,” she says.
Rent is $350 per month, which includes utilities. But Penell doesn’t deny women who are committed to recovery due to financial hardship. They just need to find ways to pitch in like doing extra yard work or household chores until they can pay rent. “A lot of people have a hard time getting back on their feet,” Penell says.
When housemate Troyann Travers called Penell, she was living in a bush. Penell worked with Travers to help her find the strength and the will to make the move to the house. She has lived at the house for nearly two months, but it took her two weeks to get there.
Once she did, life got better, Travers says. “AA is the closest thing to God in my life right now,” Travers says. “It gave me the tools to overcome challenges.” She is on her third step of the program, she says. “This house gave me the opportunity to get sober. They keep me busy, and they’re very loving and supportive.”
“Getting clean and sober is part of it,” Brott says. “But trusting people and learning structure and accountability are huge.” To stay at the house, each resident must follow rules, such as a curfew, chore list and attending recovery meetings.
The housemates learn to share and compromise with one another. Sometimes something as small as deciding what to watch on TV is a struggle, Brott says, because addicts are inherently selfish. “It’s a lot of me, me, me,” she says. “The saying it takes a whole village takes on new meaning.”
There are occasional relapses, and second chances are possible, Penell says. But if it continues, the offender must move out because she is a threat to her roommates’ sobriety. Period.
It’s not always hugs and happiness when a new resident arrives. “Sometimes when people move in they are a wreck,” Brott says. “A couple of months later, you see them in the flow, opening up to others and helping.” When that light bulb goes off and everything clicks, that is Penell’s payment, she says. The house is not a moneymaking business, she says.
Kristi Easton is one of the house’s newest residents. She is living at the house with her 1-year-old daughter while waiting for a spot to open at a residential rehabilitation treatment center. “I knew I needed to be away from my baby’s dad to do this,” she says about her sober environment. “I needed to be around people who are supportive. “I am very grateful for this house.”
Penell doesn’t do it alone. She has community support. Rusty and Frank Barnes are the landlords and help keep the cost affordable, even moving the residents into a bigger house a year ago. Firewood was donated by a community member and people who needed to complete community service hours chopped and stacked it. Captain John’s Marina donates the canoeing for D.I.R.E., and Believer’s Chapel and Lutheran Social Services help with food donations.
“People who truly want to be in recovery, you can tell if they’re serious,” Penell says. “We can usually tell if someone is serious within two weeks.”
Brott knows the challenges of getting clean first hand. When Brott was using, she purposely isolated herself, she says. “Distrust of others was part of why I was using,” she says. She attributes getting arrested to helping her take the steps necessary to get clean. “When I walked in the door, I knew it was the place for me.”
Her family is supportive, but because they don’t understand the ins and outs of addiction, Brott does better with the support of fellow addicts, she says. “It’s better to be around someone who understands what I am going through,” she says. “I like me a lot better now. It’s important to be yourself.”
For more information about New Beginnings Sober Living Home for Women, call Penell at 909-547-6416 or 909-744-7746.
Contact reporter Arrissia Owen Turner at 909-866-3456 ext. 142, or by e-mail at email@example.com.