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Building Social Connectedness for Women in Recovery
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Julie Clark is the executive director of doma in Columbus, Ohio. This non-profit organization works in collaboration with the Changing Actions to Habits (CATCH) program to support women exiting homelessness, substance use, and prostitution. The goal is to promote healthy families and break the cycles of trauma, poverty, and violence. (Author)

Julie Clark is the executive director of doma in Columbus, Ohio. It is a non-profit organization founded to focus on the global pandemic of abandoned children. This crisis is the result of poverty and violence, along with lack of access to health care and education. This pattern becomes a cycle, creating generations of uncared for children.

Ms. Clark is the principal of a school for children with special needs and attachment disorders. She is also a human rights lawyer, and served on multiple community-level task forces to eradicate human trafficking.

Her story began when she visited Russia at the age of 14. She observed children abandoned to the State. She knew in that moment that these children would be her life’s work. Today, working in East Africa and Russia, doma focuses on prevention and helping mothers with health care, prenatal access, nutrition, early childhood health, and attachment.

Recently the organization asked itself, “What would our work look like if we focused on the same vulnerable population in the United States?” The program discovered women and children coming off the streets and into the courtroom of Judge Paul Herbert’s Changing Actions to Habits CATCH program, a diversion court for women with solicitation charges given an opportunity to enter treatment and recovery.

“Our goal as a support system to the CATCH program is to walk alongside women who are on the path to recovery. We try to work with moms before they have to abandon their babies,” says Ms. Clark. Many mothers in recovery reunite with their children because of the support provided. The doma program also works with the Central Ohio Rescue Coalition to train volunteers in issues related to human trafficking and victim assistance. In addition, they collaborate with case managers and chemical dependency counselors trained in trauma recovery.

In 2011, doma plans to launch a 12-week introductory course on human trafficking and cross-cultural awareness for volunteers. “Many of our volunteers who have no experience with this work do not realize the many layers of psychological issues women are dealing with in their recovery,” says Ms. Clark.

Ms. Clark often heard women say how much they liked Thursdays in Judge Herbert’s courtroom because they were able to see each other. One woman told her, “I really miss these women the rest of the week. I wish we had another touch point.” In response, Ms. Clark’s organization leased a house to serve as a safe and nurturing drop-in center for women in the CATCH program. “The key to the work we are doing is that women are helping women and have the space to support each other outside of treatment,” she explains. The house allows the women to gather for fun, time away, nourishing events, and relaxation.

Conversations with the women in the CATCH program led Ms. Clark to understand that she could provide healing and social connectedness. Volunteers at the doma house receive training to understand the impacts of prostitution, human trafficking, substance use, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They offer one-on-one mentorship, home cooked meals, and a community of reciprocity.

The doma house also hosts art classes to assist women in rediscovering themselves. One night a week, they host empowerment groups to help women explore their trauma histories with trained professionals. Ms. Clark continues:

The house has a personal touch. Meals are offered on beautiful china with flowers and candles. We want women to feel appreciated and valued. This is exactly the opposite of everything women coming off the streets have experienced. There was one woman here who was overwhelmed with the experience. She couldn’t believe she was worthy of something so beautiful.

“I am so impressed with Judge Paul Herbert and this program,” concludes Ms. Clark. Working together, CATCH and doma volunteers and professionals build awareness and social connections. The goal is to end the cycles of trauma, substance use, mental illness, and homelessness for mothers and children.

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