$1.3 million in donations will bring expansion, study of substance use recovery program

Moms, pregnant Kentuckians will soon have Freedom Houses in Stanford, Owensboro and Northern Kentucky

By: - January 6, 2023 5:43 pm
VOA Mid States CEO Jennifer Hancock

VOA Mid States CEO Jennifer Hancock announces expansion of the Freedom House recovery program for moms and pregnant Kentuckians. (Photo for Kentucky Lantern by Sarah Ladd)

FRANKFORT –Volunteers of America Mid-States on Friday announced an expansion of its substance abuse recovery program and a long term study to look at its effects and success thanks to $1.3 million in donations. 

The five-year study is being called Project Strong. Through it, researchers will follow graduates of the Freedom House program for five years after their exit. 

Freedom House is a Volunteers of America recovery program for Kentuckians who are pregnant or have young children. As part of this expansion, there will soon be Freedom Houses in Stanford, Owensboro and Northern Kentucky. VOA is also expanding the one in Eastern Kentucky. 

An economist, two peer support specialists and a professor in South Florida will “capture critical data on the economic impact, the health care impact, the educational impact of our model, and so much more,” said VOA Mid-States CEO Jennifer Hancock. The data gathered will help inform future practices and be shared externally, she added. 

Destinie Robinson
Destinie Robinson (Photo for Kentucky Lantern by Sarah Ladd)

One of the peer support specialists is Destinie Robinson, who graduated from Freedom House in 2021 and is now working toward a social work degree from Eastern Kentucky University. 

The Manchester woman shared her story as a self-identified “recovering addict” in the Kentucky Capitol Rotunda. She turned to drugs as a teenager, she said, to cope with the pain of losing her father and brother. 

When she came to Freedom House a little more than a year ago, she was able to bring her son with her after a custody roller coaster. 

“It felt so amazing, being comforted and supported,” Robinson said of her months in recovery. “My goal in life today and in the future (is) to help as many addicts as I can.” 

Hancock said the expansion and study were made possible by an anonymous donation and a near-match from the Humana Foundation. She later told the Kentucky Lantern that the anonymous donor, whom she referred to as an “angel,” gave $800,000 and Humana gave $500,000.  

“Our goal is simple: It’s to ensure that we are in close proximity to all Kentucky families affected by substance use disorder who need us,” Hancock said of the expansion. 

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 2,000 drug overdose deaths in Kentucky. “This has never been more urgent,” Hancock said. 

Hancock told the Lantern that the VOA has purchase agreements on property in Stanford and Owensboro, with specific location announcements expected sometime this year. She is still looking for sites.

Hancock was joined by Lt. Gov.  Jacqueline Coleman, Humana’s President Jeb Duke, Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander and Senate President Robert Stivers. 

Coleman praised the expansion as a chance to help Kentucky women and children and also help other states, citing the need for a “full and healthy workforce.” 

“Every single Kentuckian deserves to grow up in a happy, healthy and safe place,” she said.  Unfortunately, though, right now, there are too many families living in Kentucky who are working to overcome the trauma that accompanies addiction and the overdose epidemic.” 

Coleman added: “We all know that the commonwealth cannot reach its full potential when a portion of its citizens are weighed down by addiction. That’s not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It is a Kentucky issue.” 

Stivers spoke on the importance of lower incarceration by people “getting out of their substance use disorder and becoming productive citizens with job skills, education and training.” 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.