How many of you know of a woman who wakes up one day and decides that they want to be a drug addict, alcoholic or prostitute for their career? NOBODY! Something happens in their life and then they are on a downward spiral. Not knowing how it happened or when it happened. The women of Off the Streets Program, Inc. (OTSP) all come from different walks of life; educated, uneducated, good homes, bad homes, with children, without children, healthy and unhealthy. The level of desperation cannot be measured. Their pain cannot be described. Broken in all areas of their life and don’t know where to begin to pick up the pieces of their lives. Rape, molestation, physical, mental and emotional bankrupt with no hope in sight describes the women who come to Off the Streets for help.
Off the Streets is a program designed to assist women get off the streets and to become free from the street life. A safe haven plus the necessities of life; including material, emotional and spiritual; are provided as these women put their lives back together. Tough love and strong leadership by Shaaron Funderburk, CEO and founder, results in rehabilitation and these women are re-entering the work force and life as capable, responsible and constructive members of society.
Shaaron knows first-hand what it is like to wake up and not know what has happened in your life for a period of time because you were “cracked” out of your mind and your best friend is a crack pipe. She also knows what it is like to be locked up behind bars and see the tears in your mother’s eyes as she pleads with you to change. Shaaron took a good look at herself, she realized that she had hit bottom, She said, “This is it. I’ve had enough and I cannot go on living this way. Not only did she change, now she helps others to change.
Over the past 11 years, Shaaron has helped rehabilitate more than 750 women with an 88 percent success rate. She attributes this to knowing what it is like to be in their shoes, which helps her motivate them to turn their lives around. Shaaron has worked closely with First United Methodist Church here in Gastonia as a secondary site for program activities, including space for self esteem and life skills classes (SEALS), job readiness preparation, money and time management, parenting lessons and mentoring of the women of the program.
I remember the specific date that I hit rock bottom. It was May 18, 1994. I began my journey to getting and staying clean the next day. I was tired of being a nothing and a nobody. I was alone in the struggle to become clean and sober. My family didn’t know how to help me and I was in failed relationship, after failed relationship. I had been making bad choices, had no life skills and I was just plain lost. There was no place like Off the Streets for me to find refuge, comfort and help. Once I got clean and sober, I reached out to help others and it grew from there.”
The seven hundred or more ladies of Off the Streets have faced, traced and erased enumerable amounts of obstacles. Because of the program, they regained self respect, self worth and pride. These women found the courage to take their place in society, becoming productive members of society and strength for one another. Off the Streets is a family. Graduates of the program serve as volunteers, in such capacity as house monitor and transportation coordinator. The house manager is the one who stays overnight to assist the residents with their daily activities.
One-hundred percent of the women found gainful employment. They learned to feel good about who they are and what they are doing. Some of the women have started their own businesses or have become managers at their place of employment. Off the Streets has helped women to open such businesses as painting and construction, dog grooming salon and landscaping. These women have created their business because of felony convictions which have made it hard to find work. Women have regained their professional certifications and licenses to practice in their chosen field.
Off the Streets helps mothers reclaim custody of their children. When Tracy came to Off the Streets, her daughter, at the age of 14, requested that Tracy relinquish her parental rights. Shaaron strongly encouraged Tracy not to give up, because she knew that Tracy would have regrets the rest of her life and would not be able to live with that decision and stay clean. Tracy lived in the transitional house for twenty months and was fully self-supporting when she left. In fewer than thirty days her daughter came to live with Tracy and is now a college student at Western University. Tracy now works two jobs to make sure that her daughter can stay in college and they have a healthy relationship. Tracy’s daughter is in the music program at Western..
The ladies meet three times per week as a support group, once per week for a life skills class and once a month for an activity in which the whole family can participate. In October, Off the Streets held the annual Clean and Sober Fall Dance, with over seventy (70) participants. Activities included a costume contest, jack-o-lantern craving contest, and dancing. As a certified substance abuse counselor, Shaaron provides at least 12 to 15 hours of one-on-one counseling for the ladies and receives no salary for her work.
On any given day, Shaaron can be found walking the streets of Gaston County seeking women who have turned to the streets. Shaaron has put together a team that has the know how to beat the disease of addiction. This program is for addicts and is run by former addicts