Program At Hocking College Helping People Experiencing Homelessness< < Back to
NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WOUB) – Elizabeth Cook has dealt with substance use her whole life. Her parents both struggled with addiction. Cook’s own substance use disorder began when she was 12 which led to her dropping out of high school. She went on to face legal trouble while trying to protect her younger sister who was being dealt heroin at age 15.
“At that point, I thought my life was like over. There’s no point in trying. Like, I’m a felon with no high school diploma, no GED, like there’s no chance,” Cook said.
Cook was in recovery for a short time while on Subutex, a drug used to treat opioid dependency. During this time, she had her two children. Shortly after the birth of her son, both of her parents died from an accidental overdose which led her to begin using meth. Her addiction resulted in her arrest shortly after.
Rather than prison, Cook was taken to STAR, a correctional center for non-violent felony offenders. At STAR, she reached active recovery and was given the chance to get her high school diploma at 30 years old. Cook admits she went into the program with the intention of just going through, and did not understand the life changing impact it would have on her life.
“It gave me hope, like I can do this. I want to be something my kids can be proud of. I don’t want my kids to ever feel like I do around my parents. I want them to be like, ‘my mom’s awesome,’” Cook said.
Cook was released from STAR in March and when she returned to the home she had lived in her entire life, she found it was destroyed by an acquaintance that she let stay there. This forced her to have to sleep on the couch at her grandparents home.
Cook was determined to stay in recovery following her release and had the goal of starting college in the fall and got a job at McDonald’s in the meantime. Then, she found out about the Hope at Hocking College program which gave her the opportunity to start classes right away.
“It was like, I can make a change in my life right now? Like today? This is possible?,” Cook said.
The program provides campus housing for people experiencing homelessness along with 14 meals a week and free education. Participants have to remain in recovery and work a full day – either with classes or a job at the college.
“So, there’s not a free ride. But, I also think with that comes some self respect that you’re not getting a hand out, that you’re actually getting a hand up and that’s what this program is about,” said Dr. Betty Young, the President of Hocking College.
Young spearheaded the program because the cause is close to her heart. She grew up in poverty in southeast Ohio and got herself through college as a single mom while working full-time. Neither of Young’s parents went to college and her mother did not graduate from high school.
“My life could’ve been very different. But, for me now to be able to come back here to southern Ohio and to deliver on what the program delivers, it’s awesome,” Young said.
Cook currently works in the college’s career center and has gotten her Commercial Driver License (CDL) Permit during her time in the program. Cook says that Hocking staff’s ability to stay open minded has served as inspiration for her to reach her goals.
“They don’t doubt anything I want to do in my life, like, they have hope in me too and that makes me feel good,” Cook said. “They didn’t hold my past against me. They were just willing to help me with my future.”
Cook has been in active recovery for 27 months and said that her recovery has inspired her younger sister to also begin the journey to recovery. She hopes that her story will also inspire other people with substance use disorder to work towards recovery.
“Being an addict is rough. Feeling like there’s no one and no hope and no help and not knowing where to go or who to turn to. You feel lost and alone,” said Cook. “Like, you’ll use and you’ll still feel miserable. It’s a constant battle of nowhere. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget and I just hope that all the people struggling with addiction finds the hope that I found.”
Cook has set goals to continue her education at Hocking to get her degree in heavy equipment management. She hopes to open her own business to hire ex-felons and those in recovery. She wants to give them the second chance that Hocking gave her.
“Once you’re in that life that long, you just get stuck. You don’t feel like it’s possible. Like you’re smart enough, driven enough or capable. Now I see that I am.”