My name is Brenda Stringfellow, and I am an addict.

(The story you are about to read is Brenda’s story, Brenda’s words. Some wonder what Goodwill does. Put simply, it’s an organization that offers programs to help people get their education, obtain job training and find work. Those programs are paid for by the sale of your donations. To help you understand the value of your donations and purchases, Brenda is sharing her personal story.)

In 2008, I started using Oxycodone in my hometown in Central Florida. I was in an extremely toxic and abusive relationship. I moved to Northwest Arkansas to try and run away from this demon that seemed to steal my soul. It didn’t work. My addiction soon formed into heavy daily intravenous use of heroin and oxycodone. Followed by another extremely toxic relationship that contributed to my endless cycle. I started working for a small club in order to finance this massive drug addiction. Soon, I found out there was never enough. I started dealing the same drugs I used, and when I was unable to do that I would rob, steal, hustle anyone, anything that I could to get what I needed to get high. My addiction stemmed from a deep feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness. I had no self-worth, my perception of love was skewed, no values, no morals.

My first conviction was for pills and needles, which seemed minor at the time, then there was another arrest and another. My property was raided by the drug task force because of suspicion of a marijuana grow operation. At my next residence, Probation and Parole officers came for a home visit and found a gun and drug paraphernalia.

My officer sent me to residential treatment, and I left on day two. I couldn’t handle the detox. So, now, I was on the run. A warrant was issued for my arrest for breaking into someone’s home, stealing a firearm and using the gun to steal someone else’s medication. I was arrested in a motel room. Someone I had sold pills to told officers where I was.

There were multiple arrests between these events that had been disputed or simply forgotten. My actions directly and indirectly affected many people. I will never be able to take those things back. I was sentenced to incarceration, with release to Washington County Drug Court. I detoxed for 13 days in the county jail.

During my incarceration and after, I was introduced to a few women who changed my life. Goodwill’s Marty Hausam, the women of Narcotics Anonymous and Washington County Drug Court Judge Cristi Beaumont.

After my release, I put in an application for Goodwill’s Transitional Employment Opportunities program (TEO) because inside we were told “Goodwill and TEO will teach you how to work. We will help you reintegrate.” I wanted to try.

I wish I could say from that point everything was great, and I didn’t stumble, but I did. I fell, and I used. I had the tools I needed but had not yet put them into application. In the courtroom, I pleaded to Judge Beaumont not to send me away in fear of losing everything I had. I will never forget the words she said to me that day.

“If I don’t send you, you are going lose everything, because you are going to die.”

Marty helped me understand the severity of my choices, but most of all that emotionally, mentally and spiritually I needed help. She also helped me make a plan to move forward, easing the process for me. After 30 days of inpatient treatment, I came home. I truly started my recovery from that day. With the support of Marty, the TEO program and Washington County Drug Court, I changed my people, places and things.  I learned how to love myself, budget, develop a strong work ethic, and most of all, I gained character. It was not easy.

After my time in the program, Goodwill Industries of Arkansas did something no one had ever done for before. They saw my potential. They gave me an opportunity, a chance. I spent my time in the program doing reception at the Returning Home Center in Springdale. I soon found my passion in life, re-entry. Helping people. Goodwill blessed me with full-time employment as their new re-entry career specialist in Northwest Arkansas. I finally understood the plan God had for me. My entire journey, my hurt and struggle was for this, for the lives that needed help and change.

Almost three years later, I am now the Coordinator of the Transitional Employment Opportunities program in Northwest Arkansas. I am able to help our participants with all the things I struggled with upon my release. I facilitate an aftercare class for Washington County Drug Court. I now have a beautiful family, and I became the mother of a healthy, beautiful baby girl. After years of abuse to my body, that is such a blessing.

I have a home, a new car, my loved ones are proud of me. But most of all, I have peace in my life and can honestly say I am proud of myself and am grateful to all those who gave me their most precious resource. Their time. Without the continued support of these programs:  TEO, Marty, Judge Beaumont, Washington County Drug Court, Returning Home and Narcotics Anonymous, I would not be here. My recovery requires everyday maintenance, and I utilize my support and community resources because I know it takes an army of warriors to help one addict stay clean. Because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is connection.

(The TEO program is one of many programs offered by Goodwill Industries of Arkansas. To learn more about the numerous services available to all Arkansans, visit GoodwillAR.org)