Almost 20 years ago, Marie Beaver’s then-colleague left a newspaper clipping on her desk that would change her life. It was a job posting to start and lead a recovery house in Charleston.
“We don’t want to lose you here,” her friend said, “but this sounds just like you.”
In the year leading up to that moment, Beaver had already gotten married and moved 500 miles from her home in South Carolina to live in her husband’s native West Virginia.
She sold a house, bought a house and changed careers from substance abuse counseling to grief and loss counseling at a hospice center. She wasn’t looking for more change.
“I had a job, I wasn’t looking for a job, I was looking to settle down following a really crazy time,” Beaver said. “[The listing] did sound great though ... so I sent them a letter and figured I’d never hear from them.”
A week later, she got a call. On Sept. 1, 2003, she started working as the founding executive director of Rea of Hope, a recovery program serving women in Charleston. Beaver spent a year researching grant writing and overseeing the construction of the soon-to-be recovery home.
On May 1, 2005, Rea of Hope opened its doors on Lee Street East.
“Our goal when we started was to provide a home-like environment,” Beaver said. “We wanted a safe place for women in West Virginia to come after they’ve completed treatment and [help them] learn how to live on a daily basis without drugs and alcohol.”
Throughout her time at the nonprofit, she’s served as a construction foreman, a counselor, a novice architect, a mentor, a property manager and a trusted friend, among many other things.
At the end of this year, she will retire and hand the reins of the organization to Dana Petroff, who has more than 25 years of experience working in addiction and recovery.
Beaver and Petroff have different backgrounds and experiences with addiction and recovery. Beaver herself is in long-term recovery, having been sober for 35 years. Before starting Rea of Hope, she spent 19 years working with people who live with substance use disorder.
Petroff has a Bachelors of Social Work and a Masters Degree in Counseling and Rehabilitation, with a specialization in mental health services, from Marshall University. She’s worked with numerous recovery programs throughout the state, spending nearly 16 years at Prestera Center — nearly half that time as the director of addiction services.
She said she plans to bring those experiences with her to Rea of Hope, while building off of and learning from existing members of the management team, including Haley Walker, who graduated from the Rea of Hope program more than 10 years ago.
“I am not in recovery, but I have been in the field of addiction. I can’t think of a single person who can say that addiction, substance abuse, has not impacted their life in one way or another, and that includes me,” Petroff said. “Families from the top down have been impacted. For me, that’s where that passion comes from.”
Beaver hand-picked Petroff to be her successor. The two served on a panel together several years ago, and Beaver said she saw something in Petroff that she connected with. When she began considering her impending retirement, she asked Petroff out to lunch and explained what she was thinking.
“I could tell we had the same philosophy, the same mission, and I didn’t want anyone to come in here and change everything about what we do, what we built. I knew she wouldn’t do that, but she would have the skills to build on what is here and make it even better,” Beaver said.
Beaver said she is going to stay on with Rea of Hope for a year, working virtually and helping Petroff settle into the position.
“It’s hard to give all of that institutional knowledge. The day-to-day stuff, no problem. We have a management team full of program graduates, they can get it done,” Beaver said. “We’ve known, when this day comes — it was always going to come, I can’t be here forever — it would be a difficult transition. There’s so much I have up here [in my head] that’s not on paper.”
Rea of Hope operates as an abstinence-based program for women in the Charleston area. It’s based on the 12-step method of recovery. Beaver said she knows this kind of program isn’t for everyone, but for others it works.
“We aren’t trying to serve everyone, as much as we wish we could. I think everyone in this field wishes for that to a certain extent,” Beaver said. “We are here for the people who need a program like this, who are helped through a program like this. We are good at what we do and we believe this is a viable path for recovery.”
With 47 beds spread among six locations in Charleston’s historic East End, clients enrolled in the Rea of Hope program follow a strict schedule. Beaver said this helps people adjust to independent living after going through treatment for substance use disorder.
“People need to learn to live again. They need time and space to mature [emotionally] on the other side of their addiction. When they’re here, they take care of each other and have our support behind them to learn and sometimes make mistakes,” Beaver said. “We wanted to offer something different than another 30-day or 28-day place where you check in and go back home. People always said that didn’t work, well it didn’t work because nothing ever changed.”
The Rea of Hope model allows residents to apply the tools they learned during their treatment and early recovery to day-to-day life, in supervised and supported settings. This includes basics — skills like money management and making and keeping a schedule — and expands to job training and educational development opportunities.
Certain Rea of Hope properties are used to house graduates, and often their families. Since its founding and under Beaver’s leadership, Rea of Hope has helped 380 children reunite with their mothers, who can often lose custody of their children if they have substance use disorder.
The housing availability through Rea of Hope allows parents to reunite with their children quicker, Beaver said. Stable and safe housing can sometimes be the most difficult barrier to overcome for people in recovery. When children are involved, that can be even more difficult. Custody battles or threats to custody are common triggers for people in recent recovery.
The setup also allows Rea of Hope to keep in contact with graduates for a longer amount of time. If they are living in the house down the street, Beaver said, it’s easy to see if they are struggling.
“We saw the need a long time ago and realized the value of being able to keep people in a protected environment for an extended period of time. It greatly and dramatically increases their long-term outcomes,” Beaver said. “They can have their children with them. There is a place that is theirs. That means a lot to people.”
Walker, who will soon celebrate 13 years sober, said the program and the specific way it operates is a large reason she believes she has the life she does today. When she came to Rea of Hope more than 10 years ago, she had already tried four different short-term rehab programs.
“It was a detox, move to the other side, do two more weeks and then I was back at it. I had never gotten treatment at that point in my life because I wanted to. It was never because I had anything invested in getting sober,” Walker said. “I was at my rock bottom, though. Everyone’s rock bottom was different, but I was at mine.”
A counselor she was working with suggested long-term treatment and recovery. Walker decided to try. After another option had fallen through, the counselor told her about Rea of Hope.
Walker, who grew up near Charleston, didn’t want to come back to the city.
“I grew up here. The majority of my active addiction was here. The people, the places, all of it. I had this horrible vision of what it would be like, but for the first time I had made the decision that I wanted to be clean and sober and that was my option,” Walker said. “My counselor said to me, ‘Haley you’re going to find what you’re looking for.’ If I wanted drugs, he said I’d find drugs. If I wanted recovery, he said I’d find that.”
The next day, she made it to Rea of Hope. She said the environment provided her “time to practice” making her own decisions and living on her own.
“I needed that, I needed to be hand-held a bit while I figured it out,” Walker said. “I would never have admitted it, but I did.”
Not long after, Walker became pregnant. When it was time for her to leave Rea of Hope, she transitioned into one of the apartments.
Now, married with several children, she tells her story to new Rea of Hope clients. She lets them know it’s not always going to be easy, but there will be people at the house and throughout the program there to help.
Petroff, as she takes over the role of executive director, is dedicated to continuing that.
“I do think the closeness — the way the graduates and current residents interact — that is the heart of this,” Petroff said. “The people here care about each other, and they take care of each other.”
For those in the community, Beaver said, Rea of Hope is more than a recovery or housing program — it’s a family. They celebrate holidays and birthdays together. When mothers regain custody of their children, everyone in the program celebrates and looks forward to meeting the new additions.
“You can’t always pick the family you are born into, and sometimes they’re not the best ones to go back to — addiction runs in families, it can ruin families … We talk a lot choosing your support system, your family,” Beaver said. “Breakups, holidays, deaths, family troubles, parenting — the ladies here, we’ve been through all of that together. The bonds that experience builds, where they are at in their lives, it’s like no other.”