TROSA residents reflect on success with families

Curtis Lee, 29 (far left), of Gastonia, waves to the camera as he sits with his family during TROSA's Family Day celebration. (Staff photo by Anna Williams)

On a cool rainy October afternoon many residents of Durham were sitting down to watch the game or catch up on their usual Sunday afternoon nap, but for the 540 residents of Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, the day was anything but ordinary.

During its annual Family Day celebration, the residents at TROSA, many of whom haven’t seen family members in many months, are able to spend time with their loved ones. Family Day, one of the biggest events of the year at TROSA, provides food, entertainment, games and a space for residents to reconnect with their family and share how much their lives have changed since joining the program.

Victor McMillan, a 56-year-old resident at TROSA, explains the emotion he felt in seeing his infant grandson for the first time in nine months.

(Staff photo by Anna Williams)

“It was good for me. This is where I had to grow up,” said Reese McDonald, 27, of Oak Island. (Staff photo by Anna Williams)

“I thought he wouldn’t remember me, but he put his head on my shoulder and he knew,” said McMillan as he smiled and looked back at the crowded parking lot where his family had been only minutes earlier.

Jeff Stern, the director of business operations, explained as he walked through the crowd of people that during the initial portion of the two-year recovery program, TROSA residents can’t have contact with family members.

“At first there is a lot of restriction, but eventually they move from writing one letter a week, to two letters and then a phone call and then eventually a visit, and after two years a home visit where they go to their family for a short time,” said Stern. “But Family Day is the exception, and it’s for everyone.”

Many residents, who sat chatting with family members, cited the work portion of the two-year program as the game changer for their experience at TROSA.

Chris Daughety, 30, of Grifton, is the head team leader for over 200 male residents. He got his start in the thrift store and was eventually moved up to a position where he is able to help with the mail, phone calls and other problems that residents might be facing.

“Five years ago after my friend died, and I just tried to stay high to keep me from thinking about it,” said Daughety, who has now been at TROSA for 15 months. “But I just got tired of it – I didn’t want my friend to die in vain.”

Another resident who has found success working in TROSA’s thrift store is Curtis Lee, 29, of Gastonia, who sat at a table full of family members catching up and swapping stories.

“I used to drink a lot and I didn’t feel like I could get a job,” said Lee. “Since I’ve been here I’ve gotten my drivers license and commercial drivers license and I’m going to Durham Tech and thinking about taking a welding course – If you’re not trying to help yourself it won’t work, but if you try, TROSA will be great for you.”

Many residents like Lee have taken steps to further their education within the program. Reese McDonald, 27, of Oak Island, is currently applying to UNC-CH as a graduate of the C-Step program at Durham Tech.

“I had to accept things like accountability and responsibility,” said McDonald, who plans to major in mathematical decision sciences. “Being here has renewed my appreciation for education­ – it all worked out for me.”

TROSA’s motto, “Each One, Teach One” tells more about the program than anything else. Stern explains that they believe that each person who comes to the program has something to learn and something to teach. This pattern is continued by the fact that many of the staff members are graduates of the program themselves and understand the difficulties and successes of making the life change.

Chris Toenes, a counselor at TROSA, says that the community aspect of the program is what makes it stand out for him.

“Therapeutic community is something that is instilled early on, and it’s not always something that is included in an outpatient program,” said Toenes. “Family Day is such an important day for their families to see them and the progress they’ve made.”

The Family Day celebration continued for many hours as children hurried around with facepaint and handfuls of candy while parents sat beaming with pride as they rejoiced in the success of their children.

“Family Day is important,” said Stern. “Because it’s about them and focusing on them.”




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