Gratitude, emotion on display at Project SAFE graduation

Project SAFE senior primary counselor Mary Ann Kelly announces the 2015 graduates of the program.

Project SAFE senior primary counselor Mary Ann Kelly announces the 2015 graduates of the program.

Mary Ann Kelly warned Project SAFE participants that graduation day is usually tear-filled.

The good news is that those tears are tears of joy.

“And there’s something to be said for shedding those tears and why they matter,” said Kelly, the program’s senior primary counselor.

Project SAFE senior primary counselor Mary Ann Kelly hugs one of the 2015 graduates of the program.

Project SAFE senior primary counselor Mary Ann Kelly hugs one of the 2015 graduates of the program.

Twenty-four women graduated from the SAFE program June 12 during a ceremony at the Rosecrance Ware Center. Kelly’s prediction was correct, as participants and audience members used tissues to wipe away tears during emotional testimonials.

The 25-year-old SAFE program serves women who have lost custody of their children or who risk losing them because of their substance abuse. It uses intensive outpatient addiction treatment to help the women recover, regain custody of their children and remove common barriers to sobriety such as finding housing and work.

Ten of the 24 women attended the graduation ceremony. Some couldn’t attend because they were working at their new jobs or attending college classes.

A traditional graduation march played as the women entered and took their seats at the front of the room. Their significant others, parents, children and friends filled the audience.

Each woman talked about three things that made her grateful. Tears flowed as the women thanked their families and Rosecrance staff for supporting them through their struggles.

  • “Without you all, I don’t know if I’d even be here today. You’ve given me hope, strength and showed me unconditional love and support and inspired me to be my best self, and I’m grateful for that every day. Thank you for believing in me and helping me find myself again.” – Natasha M.
  • “I’m grateful for (Department of Children and Family Services) coming into my life. Even though they pulled my children out of my care, it gave me to the motivation to get off drugs.” – Elizabeth H.
  • “This journey has made me happier than I have been in years.” – Michelle B.
  • “I’m grateful to have my family back. I know deep down that my kids are a huge part of me being able to maintain my recovery. Every time I think of my kids and how lucky I am to have them back, I know how truly blessed I am to have my four beautiful children. They have accepted my faults and forgiven my mistakes. I love you all and thank you for staying by my side.” – Becca B.
Reverend Bill Lenters gives a benediction at the 2015 Project SAFE graduation ceremony.

Reverend Bill Lenters gives a benediction at the 2015 Project SAFE graduation ceremony.

The women also participated in a candle-lighting ceremony that began at the first SAFE graduation. Kelly said the candle represents the “light of recovery,” the gift of why the women started their journeys and a reminder to pass their knowledge along to family, friends and acquaintances.

“This is one of those marvelous days where we see that recovery is not a destination, it is a journey,” Kelly said. “We’re not saying this is over, but this is a stop along the way where we’re celebrating how far we’ve come.”

Rosecrance runs Project SAFE in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. SAFE stands for Substance Abuse-Free Environment.