Alcohol addiction can seem like the Mount Everest of personal hurdles to overcome, something Heather Kirk knows well. The director of Santa Monica House, a halfway house for women in the Omaha area, describes the challenges and rewards of running a care facility based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. She’s been affiliated with the organization for over a decade.
“Society has a stigma against addicts, especially women,” Kirk says. “What we do here matters. No woman is a waste of time.” She says the program gives those going through it the tools to overcome addiction. In addition to the Twelve Steps, Santa Monica House focuses on cognitive thinking to help residents make better choices. “We empower them not to be a victim. You are responsible to make a choice in your life.”
Kirk first worked at Santa Monica House in 2004 as an administrative assistant for three years. She left to work at the post office, but remained on the board of directors at Santa Monica. After working 12-hour days, six days a week at the post office, she wanted a better balance in her life, and she missed helping others. She eventually returned to a caregiver role as program coordinator of Iowa Family Works, a Heartland Family Services residential treatment facility for women and children.
Kirk stayed connected to Santa Monica by doing service work for the organization and joining its board of directors in 2008. She finally took up the position of executive director for Santa Monica House in May of 2011, all while continuing with her own education. She received her master’s in public administration last January.
“There’s a high burn-out rate among caregivers because they often neglect their own needs,” she says. “Self-care is very important.” She keeps busy with her family. She has two teenage boys who are 18 and 19. She also enjoys sand volleyball, bowling, and going to concerts. “I’m a fan of Rob Zombie,” she admits with a chuckle.
Her profession is a calling. “I’m a spiritual person. I believe there’s a plan. It’s not always my plan,” Kirk says solemnly. Since taking over as director at Santa Monica House, she has tried to set attainable goals to better the organization. Her ultimate goal is to grow and serve more women. “There are growing pains. It’s not everything it could be yet, but I work every day to get there.” There is the constant worry of funding and getting referrals. She has to work tirelessly communicating with the public.
Santa Monica House has been in operation for 40 years and has served over 2,400 women. The national success rate for people entering treatment programs is 47 percent. Kirk says Santa Monica House has a higher success rate than that, but it’s hard to quantify success. The fact that the home is gender-specific sets it apart from other organizations. “Many women are dealing with other issues, such as codependency and sex addiction,” Kirk explains. “Not having men in the program really helps them to go through the program without additional hurdles.”
She describes the typical state of the women entering treatment: broken, beat down, no other support, and no hope. Some of them are third-generation self-medicators. Still, Kirk says that these women have more when they leave than when they first walk through the door. Even if they stumble on the road to sobriety, all is not lost. “We give them the skills they need,” she says, “but more importantly, we give them their hope back.”
For more information on Sant Monica House, call 402-558-7088 or visit santamonicahouse.org.