My latest article in Edible Nashville is out at last! Once again I had the delight of writing the “food hero” piece for the issue, this time covering the marvelous women who make up the Blue Monarch recovery center.
This center welcomes women who have been trapped in cycles of addiction and abuse to a beautiful farmhouse in Middle Tennessee where they can recuperate with their children. As part of their recuperation, the ladies are invited to work in the onsite industrial kitchen where they make…wait for it…granola! It is through this granola business that these women gain substantive work skills and honest paychecks which amount to, for many of them, completely novel experiences.
As it usually goes with these projects, I collected WAY more information and stories and photos than I could fit into a short article. I often leave these projects feeling like there is so much more I could have done to create awareness for the seriously wonderful work being done. In that spirit, I wanted to share with you the stories of two of the women who had been through the Blue Monarch recovery programming. Their testimonies speak to the radical transformation possible for people who otherwise feel trapped and helpless.
One of the amazing things about these stories is how ready these ladies were to tell them. Their histories are not pretty, to say the least. Their pain is prominent, but they’ve come so far and they take their memories in stride. They have seen how powerful their stories are in inspiring others; they don’t hold back from the messy details. When I arrived, they greeted me warmly with big smiles and immediately launched into stories of rape and overdoses. Those juxtaposed smiles startled me at first, but made much more sense when they got to their happy endings. If you had come that far, you’d be smiling too.
So here are the stories of Brandy and Donaree excerpted from an earlier draft. Enjoy.
“Looking at the stunning Blue Monarch campus, it is hard to imagine a better place to recover. Any visitor would be thrilled merely to relax on that porch. But for residents, Blue Monarch is nothing short of a miracle. Many arrive at Blue Monarch after living in cars or in homes plagued with abuse. Some of them were given the choice of Blue Monarch or a jail cell. Understandably, newcomers often burst into tears at the sight of the beautiful yellow home full of spacious rooms where they can care for their children in safety and rest—a luxury many of them never fathomed.
The Blue Monarch difference is especially evident in the ladies’ testimonies. Donaree Masters, a graduate who now runs the granola kitchen, was raised in an alcoholic home where she suffered physical and sexual abuse. In her mid-thirties, she began a twenty-year meth addiction that ended with her arrest. By the grace of God, she says, Blue Monarch accepted her into the program in 2013. Looking at her now, radiant and smiling, the very picture of health, you would never recognize the woman from her mugshot. “Even if I had never had my addiction,” she shares, “I could not be in a better spot than I am in now. The beauty of what happens here, seeing these women growing and learning—being here is a dream come true.”
Brandy Wilson, a current resident soon to graduate, similarly beams with hope and wellness in spite of a childhood riddled with drugs and abuse. Removed by the state from her drug-infested home, Brandy spent her adolescence moving between thirteen different foster parents, some of whom molested her. When she turned eighteen, she moved in with her biological mother and together they would regularly get high on pills. This new ‘normal’ came to a traumatizing halt when Brandy returned from an errand to find her mother dead from an overdose in her car. Adding to her grief, Brandy’s continued drug use lead to many months in prison and losing custody of her daughter. Facing additional jail time after a broken house arrest, Brandy pleaded with the judge for help, for some alternative to falling back into the same patterns. Miraculously, the judge remembered Blue Monarch and allowed her to apply in lieu of further prison. Brandy, who was pregnant at the time, gave birth to her second daughter at Blue Monarch, and made enough progress to regain custody of her elder daughter while in the program. Brandy has since completed her GED, won scholarships to attend a local community college, and been baptized together with her seven-year-old.”