GILGAL WAS RACHEL DOWDELL’S seventh recovery program. She arrived after years of addiction, street prostitution, and abuse: “I missed my playground, where I did my drugs. I missed my playmates.” During phase one, she remembers lying awake in bed. With no drugs to distract her, her mind raced with worry. She worried that her boyfriend was with someone else. She felt angry at the man who molested her as a child and her father who failed to protect her. She felt guilty for neglecting her five children and breaking her family relationships.
But at Gilgal, Dowdell learned drugs were not her problem: “I was my problem.” Through her friendship with Cheryl McClure, the program director, and working through a workbook called “Be Transformed,” Dowdell learned to give God her anxieties and trust Him for help. She said it took her five months, but “once I realized that I needed God, not a man, to fulfill me, God worked it out, and He got me through this program.”
Dowdell still had a lot to learn, like how to pay bills, keep a job, and deal with painful memories and guilt: “I didn’t know how to live.” She began paying attention in classes, especially “Relapse Prevention” and “Anger Management.” She became close friends with two other women—Lindsay and Latisha—who were also serious about changing. They “lifted each other up instead of pulling each other down.” Dowdell remembers sitting at the kitchen table with them, talking late into the night while other women watched TV.
Dowdell successfully graduated from the program in June 2018.
LATE ONE TUESDAY AFTERNOON in July, Jasmine T.—wearing leopard-print sandals, an orange T-shirt, and blue shorts with pineapples—chatted with founder Val Cater and program manager Cheryl McClure. They asked Jasmine how she was going to dress for an upcoming interview.
“Don’t worry, I know how to represent.”
“I’m not convinced,” said McClure, smiling. “What’s going to happen up here?” She gestured to Jasmine’s pink hair and blue knit hat.
“I’m going to put it in a bun, and put my black beanie over it,” said Jasmine. “It’s going to look professional. Don’t worry.”
“OK,” said McClure. “Just remember, it’s Corporate America.”
Cater added: “You’re not there for an individuality moment. You’re there because, ‘I’m going to fit in, and I’m going to move up.’” Then she smiled and added, “I do believe in you, and I know tomorrow’s going to be a slam dunk.”
Over the past three years, Gilgal has started a workforce development program. Gilgal already had weekly classes on job readiness: resumé writing, interviewing, and techniques. One corporate partner—a plastics manufacturer—hired women who needed jobs.
Now, staffers help women set reasonable career goals and account for a spotty employment record and a criminal history. “In a year, you’re not going to get it all,” McClure said. “But we try to get as close to it as we could.” Through partnerships with companies such as Randstad, Publix, Chick-fil-A, UPS, and Waffle House, the staff connects women with positions where they can move up, get experience, and earn a living wage. Gilgal hosts a job fair where the women meet employers and human resource representatives who can answer their questions.
Cater also wants women to learn to have fun without drugs. For that, she asks volunteers to share their hobbies. Volunteers teach Zumba, art, piano, and running. Cater does not let anyone sit out. One woman grumbled about decorating Christmas cookies, but then told Cater, “I didn’t know I could have so much fun decorating cookies. When I go home for Christmas, guess what me and my daughters are gonna do? We’re going to decorate some cookies!”