By: Jennifer Solomon
Meet Heather Smyth and her 3-year-old son, Thomas. They’ve just emerged from a long journey against all odds, and they are forever grateful to Relief Nursery for the amazing support they have received.
Heather arrived in Eugene from Portland, having just been released from federal prison. She was first directed to Willamette Family, a substance abuse treatment center, where she stayed for three months in a residential program. From there she spent six months at Oxford House in an outpatient setting. She spent two years clean and sober but relapsed when she visited friends and family back in Portland. She wasn’t able to deal with the wounds of the past and the fractured relationships.
Soon after, Heather discovered she was pregnant. By the time she was six months along she stopped communicating with her probation officer. Soon after she was detained by the authorities and begged for help. “I couldn’t stop using,” Heather recalls. “I became the person I didn’t want to be. It was a really terrible time.”
Because she had demonstrated that she could be sober, Heather was given one more chance and was assigned to Eugene Reentry Court, an innovative and collaborative intervention program. At that point, her newborn son, Thomas, was a few months old and they were living at the Eugene Mission. At Reentry Court, Heather met Judge Ann Aiken who directed her to Relief Nursery so that she could learn to safely care for herself and Thomas.
“I called Relief Nursery and immediately felt welcomed,” Heather says. “My Peer Support worker, Shawna, was so helpful! She connected me not only to Relief Nursery programs, but other resources in the area as well.”
“Respite, Parents for Recovery, Peer Support, Parenting Classes, and the Therapeutic Early Childhood Preschool – there isn’t a program at Relief Nursery we haven’t used,” Heather says.
Heather has since married – she met her husband Benjamin early in her recovery. “I was very committed to my recovery so I explained to him that I needed to wait until I had one year clean before I could be ready for a relationship. He waited for me, respected my boundaries and we’ve been together ever since,” Heather recalls.
In fact, Judge Aiken performed the ceremony. “He, too, loves Relief Nursery. When his work schedule changed and he couldn’t attend classes, Jenny, the Parenting Class teacher came to our house and watched the videos with him. That was above and beyond but we are really grateful,” says Heather.
Heather says Thomas has just blossomed in the Therapeutic Early Childhood Preschool. “He’s talking, he’s made friends, he just adores Scott the bus driver,” she says.
“I am so truly blessed by Relief Nursery,” Heather says with a big smile. “I am ready to give back to this community that has supported me. In fact, I regularly go back to Re-Entry Court to support others and be supported myself.”
Another silver lining for Heather is that she has been reunited with her 12-year-old daughter, Lilly. “I damaged that relationship. I can’t change what I did, but I can do my best to turn it around. We are slowly healing and I’m grateful for each new moment I get with her.”