The Arena at Tabernacle Baptist Church provides substance use disorder support services
After two years of efforts to bring a recovery community organization (RCO) to Bartow County, Thursday morning served as something of a culmination point for Cartersville resident Barbara Hoffman.
“It’s emotional, because it’s so personal for us,” the board chair of Recovery Bartow said, “with our son having suffered for years with an opioid use disorder.”
Representatives of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce were on hand last week to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Arena, a Recovery Bartow site housed within Tabernacle Baptist Church at 112 East Church St. in Cartersville.
“We are basically a resource hub for people wanting to get into recovery and be free from drugs and alcohol,” Hoffman said of the local RCO. “The Arena is our first effort by Recovery Bartow to have actual, physical space where people can call or come that are seeking help.”
Recovery Bartow is a nonprofit organization that works under the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA.) Hoffman said The Arena — among other functions — offers mutual support meetings, including a women’s recovery support group.
“We do an intake interview and find out where they are at in their substance use disorder or mental health disorder,” she said. “Are they looking to get into a detox facility, are they looking to get into an inpatient rehab, are they looking for sober living, do they need a place to live?”
Additionally, she said The Arena is a place where families can ask for help on how to care for loved ones with substance use disorders.
Although the community is one of the hardest hit in the entire state by the opioid crisis, Hoffman said there are few — if any — services in Bartow County that are similar.
“Despite the fact we are always in the top five, usually the top three for drug overdose E.R. visits, right now, unfortunately, the emergency department largely has to ‘treat and street’ the people,” she said. “Now there’s some place that you could literally walk here from the jail, or someone comes into the E.R. with an overdose, they’ll be able to ask them if they would like a referral to us.”
Services at The Arena are peer-led by individuals who are in recovery themselves.
“They’ve got the lived experience, and I’m grateful the Lord loves and cares for these most vulnerable and marginalized outcasts of our community like He does,” Hoffman said. “And I’m so grateful to Tabernacle for opening their church to us, and letting us have this place here.”
Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony was Jessica Gordon, a member of Recovery Bartow’s Peer Board of Directors. She's been clean for three years and counting.
“I’m really grateful for them,” she said. “They step in and step up everyday, and it’s amazing to watch them grow further, just to watch the glimmer of hope … the people with the setbacks, we don’t judge them, we meet them where they’re at and just love them, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cindy Williams said her heart is warmed by the efforts made by Hoffman and other members of the nonprofit to address the issue of substance use within the community.
“Unfortunately, many of us have experienced first-hand or within our families and our close friends,” she said. “There’s just no greater calling or mission than to do work like this.”
Such causes are important for the business community and local governments alike, Hoffman said — and so are establishing partnerships.
“There is hardly an area — a family, an agency — that is not impacted by substance use disorder,” she said. “Whether it’s workforce development or housing or our judicial system, the drug courts … there’s a saying, we can’t arrest our way out of the drug war.”
There’s no denying the heavy toll of the community’s substance use crisis, Hoffman said, whether the costs are associated with incarceration or indigent health care services.
“It’s economically devastating for communities not to address and help these people,” she said. “The worst is it costs lives, people are dying.”
Hoffman, who serves as the interim executive director of The Arena, said she’d like to see her organization become more involved with local schools and youth services.
“A big part of what we’re doing is focused on prevention,” she said. “Ninety percent of people who end up developing a substance use disorder started when they were teenagers.”
Hoffman said she saved the first email she sent to the GCSA. It was dated Jan. 15, 2019.
“It’s been two years of building awareness in our community,” Hoffman said. “Nobody’s a lost cause — we just need to help show them the way.”
Fittingly enough, the lawn of Tabernacle Baptist Church was dotted with an arrangement of miniature purple ribbons — emblems bringing awareness to the national opioid crisis — to mark the occasion.
Hoffman said the mission of Recovery Bartow and The Arena, however, is about more than simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
“It’s not being sober,” she said. “It’s having your life back.”