Students Aid C’ville Projects

Wabash students are working with Crawfordsville leaders in projects across the city, both helping and learning valuable skills as part of their liberal arts education

Students with the Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse Initiative helped lead community meetings that informed the city’s successful Stellar Communities application, and a student intern with the Mayor’s office took part in the presentation to state leaders.

Students with the Global Health Initiative interned with the county health department, and Professor Joyce Burnette’s class packed backpacks for the city’s NOURISH program for school kids.

And last year Professor Crystal Benedicks’ class helped local organizations apply for and receive grant money. One of her students wrote this reflection about his experience, which changed his way of understanding both his College and its hometown.

Half Way Home

An assignment for Professor Crystal Benedicks’ class revealed for this Wabash senior a new way of seeing Crawfordsville, the College, and himself.

by Jake Eagan ’15

When English Professor Crystal Benedicks learned students in her Writing with Power and Grace course could gain real-world experience sharpening their writing skills while helping Crawfordsville, she threw out the syllabus and took her class to town.

Students chose from a short list of local nonprofit groups, met with the organization they chose, and then worked with them under Benedicks’ guidance to write a grant proposal for badly needed funding.

Jacob Eagan ’15 chose the most difficult assignment: Half Way Home, a new 180-day residential treatment program being started by Sarah Houston Dicks for women with addictions. A local criminal defense attorney who frequently represents addicts, Dicks knows the challenges they face. She believes the drug problem is a symptom of something deeper that is destroying lives. She is determined to do something to stop it.

Eagan and his classmates secured a grant from the Women’s Legacy Fund for this program that could save lives. But his hour-long interview with Dicks for The Bachelor changed the way the Wabash senior sees the town, the College, and himself.

WM asked Eagan to tell us about that interview:

 

Navigating a 15-year-old Ford Mustang through Crawfordsville in a foot of snow is all about survival.

Stay on the road, drive straight, slow down, and brake early.

I slide up to a concrete block building with an A-frame façade. Large red letters spell out “Kid Co. Preschool and Childcare,” soon to be replaced by a sign for “Half Way Home,” the program Sarah Houston Dicks is opening here for women with addictions.

Sarah drives up as if there’s not a snowflake on the ground. She walks confidently toward me, shakes my hand, then unlocks the door to the place and directs me to the large room in the back.

She’s talking a mile a minute, but once she eases into one of the tiny chairs for preschoolers her attention is all mine. I struggle to get comfortable in the kiddie chair, practically tumbling over when I scoot up to the equally tiny table.

I’m hoping it’s a short interview. I still have to write a paper, study for a test, endure the Indiana Pacers game, and watch a hearty dose of The Sopranos to close the night. But if you want a brief conversation, don’t ask Sarah Houston Dicks—the only female criminal defense attorney in the city—about Crawfordsville’s drug problem.

“I see it up close and on a daily basis,” she says. “If drug use isn’t in people’s faces, they assume it doesn’t exist. But it’s around every corner in this city. If you see a picture in the obituary of a young person and it doesn’t indicate a specific death, chances are it was a drug overdose. On average in this county, we are losing one young person a month due to substance abuse. It’s an absolute epidemic that is destroying the fabric of our community.”

Like many Wabash students, I’m privileged. Blessed with high-quality family, I was pushed through private schools and encouraged to get a liberal arts education. Sarah says that substance abuse tends to be passed from parent to child, so I feel like I’m in the clear there. But I am taken aback by her description:  an “absolute epidemic.” Really? Have I lived in this town for four years without ever noticing a plague pounding on my front door?

“The number of women using methamphetamines or heroin would have been low in the old days,” says Sarah, who grew up in Crawfordsville and now lives in nearby Waynetown. “I will tell you that today, the number of women misusing or abusing drugs and alcohol is phenomenal.”

She says you can tell from the number of children put into protective services and foster care: “In 2014, there were 82 appointments for parents where the kids had to be taken out of the home, and I will tell you 90% of these were results of mothers who use drugs.”

She shows me the visitation room where children and husbands will be allowed to meet up with their mothers or wives to check in on their progress. I understand the importance of this room. Some of my cousins were taken out of their homes when they were babies. I know how devastating being removed can be.

We walk over to what Sarah calls “the general-purpose room.” The place is empty, with cracks in the walls and a cement floor. But what Sarah sees is the fitness equipment that will be here, and the sewing classes, cooking lessons, and parenting course that will be taught here.

I ask her about Half Way Home’s treatment plan: How will she ensure a long life of sobriety after the women leave this place?

“What sets us apart from other programs will be our required general-purpose classes that deal with exterior issues,” she says. “Our philosophy is that substance abuse is a symptom of much larger issues. People generally don’t turn to drugs for no reason; there are usually much more dangerous issues that they have failed to address.

“Many of these women have trouble maintaining, or even obtaining, employment. They lack confidence. Many of them dropped out of high school and lack the ability to oversee their finances and budgeting. They become dependent on the drug as a place of refuge, something stable in their lives, and they are more vulnerable to letting abusive men into the home.

“Our classes will cover a wide variety of skill sets. We know we can get these women to stop using drugs for a while, but we want to address the other issues. If they get back out into the environment and still lack the necessary skills to hold a job and form meaningful relationships, they will fall back into the same habits.”

 

I lack confidence. Like many people, I suffer from anxiety and depression. Would I someday turn to drugs as a “place of refuge?” Hopefully not. But suddenly I’m not sitting on such high ground. My emotional issues are not so different from those of the addicts Sarah mentions.

“I don’t have a dog in this race,” she says. “I have no connection to drug use, my family has been lucky.”

And I’m surprised. I assumed that some close personal experience with addiction or addicts was one of her motivations for opening Half Way Home. Her reasons are personal, but about the people of Crawfordsville, not her family.

“Drugs have been so disastrous in my community. I think we can easily push 30 women per year through our doors. Think about how many people are attached to these women. Think how it will benefit husbands, children, families, friends. Even employers, who are forced to fire good employees because they failed a drug screen.”

 

Before this year I rarely had much affection for “dear Old Wabash.” I had been a bitter, rebellious freshman. Professors seemed threatening to me, and my peers seemed ignorant.

More recently, though, I have immersed myself in the campus and have fallen in love with its traditions. Maybe it’s the realization that I’m about to leave it. But at some point this senior year, even though I left most Friday nights, I returned to Wabash for refuge on Sundays.

Just like the women Sarah hopes to help at Half Way Home, I, too, needed a safe haven.

I didn’t realize most of this until I interviewed this remarkable woman.

Near the end of that hour I asked, “Why did you decide to start this massive project? Why not leave it to other attorneys, others with more money?”

Sarah turned the question back on me: “Well, why did you choose to work with the Half Way Home?”

I hadn’t really thought about it before. We had been given three options: The Animal Welfare League, the Crawfordsville Public Library, or the Half Way Home.

The AWL was off-limits—I am allergic to dogs. The library is an established institution that will survive regardless of my efforts.

The Half Way Home was an unproven organization in need that addressed the darker aspects of the community.

I guess I chose the Half Way Home because I wanted to get my hands dirty.

Now, as a recent graduate of Wabash, I love the place. But I am concerned. We can confine ourselves inside of our beautiful campus, but we can no longer deny the danger that is looming in the very near future. Maybe it’s time for Wabash to get its hands dirty.

Sarah said it best:

“You can look at our housing up and down 231. Many of them are slum rentals, and drug users will come from Chicago to live in Crawfordsville at a much cheaper rate with Indiana’s welfare system. Now we have big city problems confined in a small community.”

 

Half Way Home is a small but real cure for many suffering in this community’s drug epidemic. Sarah is just one person. She needs Wabash, but the College needs her, too. Drug use is a slippery slope for an individual, and its presence is a slippery slope for the community.

If students, alums, faculty, and staff are unable to find a way to help, a part of Crawfordsville will deteriorate. And as much as we want to believe Wabash can stand strong through all of society’s ailments, we have always had Crawfordsville to lean on. If we do not adopt the same passion as Sarah has to save Crawfordsville, not only will this community die, but so, eventually, will our beloved Wabash.

I’d never even considered this until this past semester. It took a white-knuckled drive to a place called Half Way Home to make me think. It took a woman with “no dog in this race,” but a deep love for her hometown and its people, to make me realize that I, too, have a place worth saving.