DeLaine Hunter, founder and CEO of North Georgia Healthcare Center in Ringgold, and her partners in a new non-profit called Healthy Foundations are looking at a 200-acre piece of property in Tunnel Hill to establish a center to help people struggling with addiction turn their lives around and become a healthy part of society.
Hunter says this has been a dream of hers for a long time. “People close to me have struggled with overcoming addiction and transitioning back to a healthy lifestyle and healthy relationships,” she says. “I want something that will serve people in similar circumstances right here in our own community.”
The model is based on City of Refuge in Atlanta, but Hunter and her partners in the venture, including major partner Terry Tucker, CEO of CIMDEX, a business that tracks the effectiveness of nonprofits, say the facility planned for Catoosa County would be the largest of its kind in the state.
The idea behind Healthy Foundations is to partner in people’s recovery from addiction through teaching, counseling, mentoring and holding clients accountable for progress. The spiritual side of clients will also be nurtured.
To do that, says Tucker, you need space to create a stable environment — a village of sorts — where people can grow, learn and improve.
Hunter says the facility Healthy Foundations is planning will include living accommodations for around 500 people, including up to 100 staff members, 160 people in the early stages of overcoming addiction, 50-60 in the transitional stage, 20 youth spaces, 10 foster spaces and room for 10 families.
There will be counseling, a daycare center for staff and clients, a chapel, a workforce hub where clients will learn job skills ranging from customer service skills to culinary arts, automotive repair, cosmetology, welding and other things. Eventually, says Hunter, there will be some medical and dental care and recreation facilities that will help develop physical fitness practices.
The idea, says Hunter, is to help people transition to full, productive community members with healthy family relationships that will support their recovery — to help the whole person and not just put them through a rehab program and throw them back into the world without giving them the practical and relational skills and emotional and spiritual support to sustain a clean lifestyle.
Hunter also sees the facility’s education classes eventually serving the community.
Hunter says that what the facility is not about is as important as what it is about. “We will not admit any sex offenders or people convicted of violent crimes. We will not be a psychiatric facility, so people with mental health issues will be referred elsewhere.”
This should allay the fears some local residents have expressed at the town hall meetings the Healthy Foundations board has been holding, says Hunter.
Most people, says Hunter, agree that such a facility is sorely needed, but some have taken a “not in my backyard” view of its location. Healthy Foundations has chosen a plot on Lake Road, less than two miles from Tiger Creek Elementary School, which concerns some.
But Hunter says that other similar residential facilities around the country are located in neighborhoods and near schools, and some even have schools on their property, and there have been no problems.
“People with addiction problems already live in our communities. They are our neighbors, our relatives. They can live next to schools or anywhere and we don’t know it. At Healthy Foundations, we will be dealing with people who want to get better and want to improve. We’ll have security. We’ll be monitoring them. That’s more than is happening with many who aren’t seeking help now and are living all over in our communities.”
Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk serves on the advisory board of Healthy Foundations and says, “If we want to see true change, true change has got to happen right here in our back yards.”
Hunter says the facility will only help the community. “We want to help families heal, help people become self-sufficient, help people live a lifestyle that won’t land them in jail. This is a plan that will pay off for generations of children, provide a better workforce for the community and save taxpayers money.”
Healthy Foundations needs a zoning change in order to proceed with their plan to purchase the property in Tunnel Hill. That decision is in the hands of the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners.
Healthy Foundations’ request for a special-use permit will be heard by the commission on Sept. 24. The recommendations made by the Planning Commission will be deliberated by the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 15.
Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.