Published April 6, 2020 at 10:05am.
Interview by Jan Osborn. Photos by Kirsten Chilstrom.
This story is generously sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Norm Bagwell.
In 2007, Lisa Kroencke began her journey of recovery and started volunteering at The Magdalen House, a no-cost sobriety program for women. Today she leads the team as Executive Director. The two-week residential social detox program at The Magdalen House has helped many women to take their first steps in overcoming alcoholism. Lisa and her team are now facing a new battle as an essential service during the COVID-19 crisis, fighting for every day of sobriety with the women they serve. In this interview Lisa shares about community, creative problem solving, and the supporters who have made it possible for Magdalen House to continue in their mission.
As non-profits across North Texas jump to respond to COVID19, what does it look like for the staff at The Magdalen House to continue serving women in detox and recovery?
Now, more than ever, our agency is inspired and humbled to continue to help alcoholic women in need achieve sobriety and sustain recovery in our community. The Magdalen House is considered an essential business/service under Dallas County mandates, which means that our in-house Social Detox Program for alcoholic women is currently open with nine beds; we are at full capacity today. We are taking every necessary precaution to make sure our agency is clean, safe, and healthy for alcoholic women in need. Additionally, we are keeping these women out of the hospital system—doing our part to help the community two-fold. This means that nine women are “living” in our house right now, learning to regain their dignity, health, and their life from the stronghold of alcoholism. Secondly, our agency is utilizing technology to host virtual meetings, and classes lead by our dedicated staff and volunteers. Essentially, we are continuing to think outside the box to help as many people as possible, while non-essential staff members are working from home to keep operations and fundraising moving forward.
From a leadership perspective, how are you maintaining a hopeful environment for your team and the women who are calling The Magdalen House their home during social isolation?
Not surprisingly, it is each member of the team that is maintaining a hopeful environment for one another and the women staying in the house. As far as the team goes, while I do my best to check in with each team member more than once a week to make sure that they feel supported in this new “normal,” I have to say it’s us encouraging each other. We are meeting as an entire team via Zoom three times a week, have a text thread that is filled with puppy and baby pictures, prayer requests, and things that make us laugh. And with all but 2 of our team members being in recovery, we still have the opportunity to chair meetings for the women in the house—even from home. Knowing that this is a finite situation and looking at the facts as opposed to opinions is helping us all remain sane at this time. Focusing on gratitude is another way I maintain hope in my personal life and with my team. We have so much to be grateful for right now—the outpouring of support we have received from our volunteers, stakeholders, and the community inspires us to keep going every day!
As for the women in the house, they are incredibly relieved to know that we are still providing a solution to their alcoholism. They are witnessing a remarkable outpour of love and support from our community: donated meals and house needs, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of women through our new virtual meeting format and witnessing the staff and overnight volunteers consistently and selflessly showing up for them, amid shelter-in-place rules. They feel loved and supported, even by people they’ve never seen or met. There are so many miracles happening every day, it is easy to see the good in this new reality we are living in.
How has your own experience with recovery informed what women are facing right now as they stare down an addiction during an uncertain time in our culture?
Aside from working the 12 Steps, community (or fellowship) is one of the most important facets of my recovery. Community is what Maggie’s has given me in recovery and has provided to our women for 32 years, and community is what we are trying to create virtually right now. Although our experience shows that alcoholism is not causal, we understand how stressful these unprecedented times are on everyone, especially women with alcohol addiction. We believe that a spiritual solution gives us hope and the tools to overcome the many obstacles that life brings, COVID 19 included. This proves, without a doubt, that faith is more important than ever to combat the fear we all feel at times like these. I am grateful to help these women see (by example) that recovery is possible, and sustainable, under any circumstances!
Who is someone in Dallas that is inspiring you right now?
Wow, this is a hard question! First, I must say the Social Detox staff who come to work every day with a smile on their face, ready to work, and serve our clients inspire me. Their unselfish acts every day as front-line workers overwhelm me with gratitude to be on this team. Next, the clients who come to us for help, having the courage to walk through the door with more uncertainty than ever, show me God’s grace is still with us every day. And finally, I have to say that Dallas as a whole is really inspiring right now. So many people in our community have been so willing to be helpful to The Magdalen House—our fridges were stocked in a matter of days, and our overnight volunteers are more than ready to help out more than usual. But beyond that I’ve seen people offering to get groceries or meals for neighbors on Nextdoor, Furlough Kitchen offering free meals to service industry workers, sewing groups coming together to make masks, the number of animal adoptions and fosters that have taken place in a matter of days, restaurants donating meals to hospital workers and care packages to employees, neighbors singing ‘Lean On Me’ together. HPUMC Highland Park United Methodist Church hiring caterers out of work to help prepare lunches for local shelters. It is incredible the way the Dallas community comes together in challenging times of need. Unfortunately, we’ve had to experience the tornadoes and this pandemic, but it is moving to see our local residents come together in these times of need.
How has The Magdalen House been working with other nonprofits in the recovery space to ensure you have the most needed resources?
We have a STRONG Outreach Program, thanks to our Director, Ainsley Chapman. She has spent the last year building partnerships with local non-profits, and it has paid off these last two weeks. We have created a HUB on our website (COVID-19 Help Hub) that provides a direct link for many of these resources for women, and they are updated daily. Additionally, Ainsley is interviewing each client (virtually, of course) on their 7th day in the program to find out what they will need when they complete the program. We have non-profit partners that are providing medical and dental services, job sourcing, family counseling, sober living openings, and we have virtual meetings several times a day to support them during the continued shelter at home mandates.
Another critical thing to mention is the help we are providing to our local hospitals and medical partners. We are getting calls to admit women who come to the hospitals and need a place to detox. Our Social Detox Program is needed more than ever to help keep alcoholic women out of the already overly crowded hospitals; we are grateful to provide this vital service to them.
What is the best way for the North Texas community to support The Magdalen House right now?
We are so fortunate to have had an outpouring of support from the North Texas community! Thank you to everyone who has reached out, sent groceries, and offered to help during this time of uncertainty. If you would like to help out, you can text help4maggies to 44321 or visit our donate page to make a financial gift. Or browse our COVID-19 Help Hub for other ways to give help — including donated meals, supplies, and more — or how to get help for you or someone you know.
Later on, we would love to see your smiling face around the house volunteering as well!
If this story has inspired you to support the North Texas nonprofit community, visit our How to Support Nonprofits During Social Isolation page to learn how you can get involved!