Ex-meth addict graduates to better life in Kennewick

KENNEWICK -- If all you had seen of Alisha Bryans is her arrest photo from when she was a meth addict, you would never recognize her.

Today, she's full of life, and she and her son, Caleb Adams, 3 1/2, are affectionate, trading kisses and saying, "I love you."

Bryans, 33, is graduating from Elijah Family Homes' transitional housing program this month. And as she reaches that landmark, she can list many goals she has accomplished after three years in the program.

Her family is one of the first three to graduate from the program this fall.

Elijah Family Homes started about five years ago as a ministry of Christ the King Catholic Church in Richland and became a separate nonprofit about three years ago.

It started out to offer housing to low-income families that have been turned down by public housing. It has provided support services and rent is set on a sliding scale based on income.

Tenants with a history of drug abuse must be in or have completed a recovery program and be clean for a year. They agree to undergo random drug tests to confirm they are clean.

Graduating this first group of families shows that the transitional housing program works, said Richard Nordgren, the nonprofit's executive director.

"It's a good model," he said. "It's tested."

In three years with Elijah Family Homes, Bryans has accomplished a lot. She started using meth at 14. She quit when she got married and had three children but then started using again.

She has three felony convictions and said she was in jail multiple times, all related to drug use.

She finally decided she wanted something different, so she entered a treatment program. A few weeks later, she discovered she was pregnant with Caleb, who was born in December 2006.

It's been 4 1/2 years since she first got clean, and she said she now has no desire to use drugs.

"I got my kids back in my life," she said.

Bryans' twin 14-year-old daughters, Kaytee and Shaylee Smith-Page, and son Jaykub, 12, live with their father in Oregon.

Bryans said losing her rights to her older kids was like losing a part of herself. She had to show her ex-husband that she had changed and regain lost trust before she could see them.

Kaytee, Shaylee and Jaykub are featured in photos of Bryans' July wedding to Johnny Bryans displayed on a wall near the entryway of the Bryans' Kennewick home.

Bryans said her family has finally reached financial stability. She has worked at Let's Party in Kennewick for the past two years, and now that she's married, her family has two incomes.

Another personal landmark came in March when she got her driver's license back after losing it about 11 years ago. She said she had to pay off a $7,000 debt before she was eligible.

Elijah Family Homes isn't just a program, it's a family, Bryans said. The transitional housing program provides accountability and financial and emotional support.

In addition to subsidizing her rent, the nonprofit helped with Christmas presents for Caleb. The program has a monthly program that includes a speaker on subjects such as parenting or exercise, and attending self-help meetings is required.

Bryan said she likes that participants pray before the monthly meetings. The Christian-based part of the organization helped her feel like she fits in. However, Elijah Family Homes doesn't require its clients to have a particular religious faith or to participate in religious services.

The other good part about graduating is knowing it will open up space for other families waiting for the transitional housing program, Bryans said. It will be their turn to receive the kind of assistance that's helped her succeed.

The program helps fill a community need for assistance for recovering addicts with past felonies, she said. It gives them a chance to pull their lives together and work to get out of debt.

Elijah Family Homes will be helping new five families after the Bryans and two others graduate.

Nordgren said the organization hopes to serve 10 families by the end of next year. It will own seven housing units once the purchase of two more duplexes is complete.

Bryans may be graduating, but she said her family won't be moving from their duplex anytime soon. She's made it into a home. Caleb's face peeks out of photos hanging on the walls and his bedroom looks like Disney's Cars movie took over.

Bryans still has goals to achieve, including going back to school and becoming a chemical dependency counselor.

And she would like to give back time and money to Elijah Family Homes. She knows it still needs donations to support its programs, a concrete company to finish work on a house and volunteers to help with property maintenance.

Elijah Family Homes can be reached at 783-7077.