By KRISTEN DOWD
The Montgomery Sun
In 1978, there were few places for women in early recovery from drug and alcohol addiction to turn. They needed somewhere to learn how to transition back into the community. They needed a support network. They needed a home.
As it turned out, what they needed was Crawford House.
The halfway house in Skillman provides residential treatment to homeless and indigent women in early recovery from addiction. Women come to Crawford House after their initial treatment, but before transitioning back into the community. How to make this transition is one of the things they learn while in the agency’s six-month program.
“We provide a place for women to get the education and tools they need to carry on in their recovery,” said Executive Director Linda M. Leyhane.
She added that life skills – such as banking, budgeting and doing laundry – are some of the things learned at Crawford House.
“It’s a population that may have never had those skills,” she said.
Crawford House sits on a 14-acre parcel of property, with a 9,700 square-foot building. It can house 22 residents at a time.
The agency was founded by a small group of dedicated community members, which is appropriate since today, more than 30 years later, community is still what the halfway house is all about.
“We’re very supported by the local community, especially the churches,” said Leyhane, explaining that the residents are welcome at area church services and events, but that church members also visit Crawford House.
Through community outreach, the women receive computer training, can partake in Bible study and craft sessions, and can learn hobbies such as yoga or juggling.
Leyhane said community members are happy to support the women at Crawford House.
“I think the residents and their struggles are very inspirational to people,” said Leyhane. “Individuals recognize how lucky they are that their own life hasn’t gone this pathway with this disease.”
While Crawford House needs to abide by particular safety and health codes and other requirements, Leyhane said it’s important to keep the agency feeling like a home for its residents. They eat meals together. They share chores. They take turns grocery shopping.
“They’re part of a community in a home-type setting,” Leyhane said.
Crawford House serves the entire state of New Jersey. Residents are referred in various ways, including by rehabilitation centers, physicians, state-wide programming or self-referral. After a 30-day orientation, the women continue through the six-month program. They maintain jobs in the community and build support networks, all the while learning about the disease of addiction and working toward personal goals.
Toward the end of the program, Crawford House helps the women find housing and develop support networks where they will live. Many women stay in the areas near the agency, which creates another type of support system for the women in the program.
Recently, Crawford House was the recipient of a $500,000 challenge gift from the Robert Wood Johnson 1962 Charitable Trust. It will be distributed over a four-year period in $125,000 increments at a matching ratio of 4 to 1, with Crawford House raising a minimum of $31,250 in gifts annually. The money will go into the agency’s endowment.
While financial support has generally dwindled due to the tough economy, the need for facilities like it have only grown.
Now more than ever, Leyhane said, there is a need for women to receive addiction treatment.
Drug use is higher. Women are presenting young and younger, Leyhane explained, with 20- and 21-year-olds often coming to Crawford House. While the agency was founded in 1978 dealing primarily with helping women addicted to alcohol, Leyhane said the drugs of choice now are much harder drugs – such as heroin.
There has also been a decline in programs for women across the state.
For all these reasons, the half-million dollar challenge gift was even more welcome at Crawford House.
Leyhane said they were “elated” to learn of the gift.
Andrea Spuck is the development director at Crawford House and also lives in the surrounding neighborhood. Gifts like that from the charitable trust and the ongoing support from the community are instrumental in Crawford House’s success.
“As a resident of Montgomery Township, I am honored to have the opportunity to support the mission of Crawford House and a community of women who so desperately deserve the chance to live healthy, sober and drug-free lives, but whose life experiences have prevented them from doing so,” Spuck said. “I hope my fellow neighbors will consider a gift to Crawford House to support the need that exists and the life-changing ‘miracles’ that are achieved in our own local community.”
To learn more about Crawford House or to make a tax-exempt donation, visit www.crawfordhouse.org.