Elijah Family Homes grad makes new life for herself, daughter

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 18, 2014 

Jamie Wilkinson Elijah Family Homes

Jamie Wilkinson, left, is close to being finished with her associates degree in human services and chemical dependency with support of her daughter Katelin Walker, 9, and Wilkinson's mentor Linda Pysto of Elijah Family Homes. Wilkinson hopes to get her counselor certificate soon.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Jamie Wilkinson of Richland is self-motivated, confident and content.

She's made a life for herself and her 9-year-old daughter, Katelin Walker, that she says would have been next to impossible without the help of Elijah Family Homes.

And as she graduates from the three-year transitional housing program, she's trying to help others who have battled addiction, working as a chemical dependency counselor.

Wilkinson's experiences give her empathy with her patients, even if she can't disclose much of her own story, she said.

She knows what it's like to be addicted, after using methamphetamine for 13 years. And she knows what it's like to lose custody of her daughter, and then work to get it back.

"She really owns her past and she is using it for good," said Ellen Kathren, executive director for Elijah Family Homes.

Kathren is proud of all that Wilkinson has been able to accomplish, she said. With some support, so that she could take care of her and her daughter's basic needs, Wilkinson has been able to become the woman she was meant to be.

Wilkinson, 34, became a full-time chemical dependency counselor a week ago. She has worked at Somerset Counseling Center in Richland for nearly two years, starting as an unpaid intern and quickly moving to a paid internship and secretarial work.

This year, Wilkinson will apply to the Washington State Department of Health and take the state exam that will earn her the right to call herself a certified chemical dependency counselor.

She's finished all the classes she needs to become certified, and is taking one last class to get her associate degree. She's also almost done with the 2,500 hours of counseling work required for the certification.

Eventually, she wants to finish a bachelor's degree in social work and own her own home. She'll get there one step at a time, just as she has come this far.

"I've been living on faith, and somehow things are coming together," said Wilkinson, who has been drug- and alcohol-free for almost 5 years.

Her ultimate goal is to become an inpatient counselor for women and children, she said. She'd like to work at Isabella House in Spokane, an inpatient substance abuse treatment program for women older than 18 who are pregnant or have young children. She was staying there when her daughter was born.

Wilkinson tried three different treatment centers to fight the meth addiction, each time relapsing, she said. After hitting rock bottom, she detoxed herself and sought outpatient treatment and support.

Her faith has been an important part of that, she said. And Elijah Family Homes' Christian basis is what drew her to the program.

Elijah Family Homes started about eight years ago as a ministry of Christ the King Catholic Church in Richland to offer housing to low-income families who have been turned down by public housing programs. It became a separate nonprofit about six years ago. Wilkinson is the seventh graduate in six years.

Elijah Family Homes gave Wilkinson more than a roof over her head, she said. She received free counseling and emotional support and positive feedback from Kathren, her mentor Linda Pysto of Richland and others.

Wilkinson said Pysto has helped her learn how to better handle stress. And when Wilkinson's car broke down, Pysto and her husband, Tom, went with her to find a new car.

Pysto recalls Wilkinson explaining that she had to relearn how to be a regular person after so long in addiction.

Pysto also helped Wilkinson learn how to cook. She can remember feeling like a failure when she burned dinner. But now, Katelin said her mom makes pretty good biscuits and gravy.

There have been times when Wilkinson wanted to drink alcohol, but she's stopped herself, she said. Instead, she called her parents or Pysto. And it's gotten easier.

"You manage to squelch it," Pysto said.

The mentorship has evolved into a friendship they plan to continue, Pysto said. Wilkinson credited her parents as especially supportive.

Athletics have been an important part of recovery. Wilkinson enjoys running, swimming and volleyball, she said. She ran in a triathlon this summer. She runs in Howard Amon Park so Katelin can play at the same time. And she and Katelin also enjoy playing hide and seek at Goethals Park.

She also finally felt ready to be in a relationship again and started dating recently, she said.

For the past three to four years, Wilkinson was catching up with where her life should be, she said.

Now, "I've reached a point of contentment," she said. "This is my life now."

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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