Mothers struggling with addiction find safe haven at Women’s Recovery Services
About a decade ago, Amy Eldridge-Chipman’s life hit rock bottom. She was suffering from alcohol and methamphetamine addiction, homeless and pregnant with her second child when her sister died suddenly of alcohol abuse.
In deep grief Eldridge-Chipman gave birth a month after receiving the devastating news, and at the hospital social services took custody of her baby. Before she could understand her case, she went back to the streets, where she told friends what happened.
“One lady on the street said, ‘What you do is you go to WRS, I have their number in my phone.’ When I called — and I'm probably going to cry — they said ‘We have a bed available.’ I said, ‘I’m there’ and came in the next day before I even had court,” she said.
WRS is an acronym for Women’s Recovery Services, a nonprofit organization in Santa Rosa founded in 1975 that provides residential addiction treatment for women, with an emphasis on mothers. Its mission is to break the cycle of addiction and reunite women like Eldridge-Chipman with their children — not just mitigating effects of addiction, but also teaching life skills to empower women and to keep families together long-term.
“We have love, concern and compassion for our sisters, our mothers, our aunts. Whoever they are, they are in our community. These are people who are living right next to you. They’re not a throwaway. They have a face, and they have a name and they didn't wake up one day thinking, ‘Oh, I want to be an alcoholic or an addict.’ But here we are,’” said Diane Madrigal, WRS executive director. “So, what would we do to help them recover if they want to recover? If they sincerely are reaching out to you, then here's that opportunity to give them as much as we can, so that they can help themselves.”
'I’m here, I’m safe. I can get some help.’
The residential treatment program is 90 to 120 days, followed by eight months of aftercare where case managers continue to check in with clients. Women and their children can also be eligible to live in transitional housing for up to two years. WRS has transitional housing which includes 10 bedrooms in three homes for women and their children.
Between 2016 and 2020, there were 179 women who completed the program and 206 children were reunified with their mothers. The organization’s annual budget is $1 million, according to Jody Edwards, a board member of nine years.
Women’s Recovery Services “minimizes the number of children in foster care. It’s not the direct focus, but it is a direct outcome that on average 32 children each year are reunified with their sober healthy mom” because of the program, Edwards said.
“Maybe you’re thinking, if they're out and they're using and they have their babies, how much could they care? But addiction is so disastrous in the sense that it takes away some of those abilities of making the best choices for themselves and their children,” Madrigal said. “So given a little moment of reprieve in a safe setting that they can bring her baby with them and get the help that they need is like a deep breath, an exhale. I'm here. I'm safe. I can get some help.”
Giving back the help she received
Eldridge-Chipman’s own path of addiction started in adolescence when she was overwhelmed with feelings and used sugar to cope. Eventually she had years of alcohol abuse, injecting methamphetamine and crashing on friends’ couches.
“I wanted to change the way I felt. I didn't like my feelings. And I found substances and friends that would sign that behavior off as being cool,” she said. “I did a lot of damage to my family relationships. I was basically a missing person.”
WRS was a safe space for Eldridge-Chipman where she received treatment and was reunited with her baby. She recently remarried and lives with her spouse and her younger daughter, now 10, in Rohnert Park. Additionally, she worked to repair her relationship with her adult daughter and she obtained an associate’s degree in advocacy.
Eldridge-Chipman has been sober for several years and is currently employed as a case manager at WRS, where she’s following her passion helping women who are overcoming addiction and figures out their individual needs.
“Addicts are very diverse, and some are highly functional,” she said. “I have to start at the beginning when assessing what their needs are.”
Finding hope in success stories
She’s not the only WRS employee who went through the treatment program. The organization’s admission director, Jennifer Wallace, recovered from addiction at WRS from late 2012 to early 2013. Her son was 6 years old at the time and stayed with her.