ELKHART — SPA Women’s Ministry has helped many people since opening its doors in 1998, including Terri Martin, who says the program lifted an emotional mask that kept her trapped in a pattern of self-destructive behavior.

“SPA has shown me, by the word of God, through the word of God, who I was,” Martin said. “Because they saw that, I did. When I started changing on the inside, it started resonating on the outside.”

Martin, 56, is talking about her recovery even as SPA works to expand its services.

A 9,000-square-foot addition is expected to be finished in May. With it, 21 additional beds will become available for women needing treatment.

Nearly doubling capacity with the addition, SPA currently houses 12 women in the first phase of treatment and six in the second, with another 30 in aftercare.

The construction project is expected to cost $1.2 million and SPA has just $100,000 more to raise in order to complete the project debt-free.

“We’re excited about the building, but what we’re really excited about is the opportunity to help more women,” SPA executive director Carrie Zickefoose said.

“Everybody has experienced hurt,” she said. “It looks different to different people. It doesn’t always lead to addiction, but sometimes a woman turns to drugs and alcohol to numb the emotional pain.”

The one-year Christian-centered residential treatment program at SPA Women Ministry Home is geared toward helping such women. 

“We need our community to understand that people who are struggling with addiction are beautiful people with potential who can do great things,” Zickefoose said. “They just need an environment and a place to go where they can push the pause button and begin healing from these past hurts.”

‘I was broken’

Martin, an Elkhart resident, said her difficulties began as a child, the youngest of 15. Already neglected as a child, her life took a turn for the worse when her childhood molester became her adult rapist, and father of her youngest child.

“I wanted to be around (him) and I didn’t know why (he) didn’t want to be around me, so I started doing what (he) did, which was crime and drugs,” Martin said. “I got lost, and there was no one there to help me.”

After a series of suicide attempts and a stint in jail, Martin moved away from her hometown of South Bend to Indianapolis, where she landed a fast-food job and worked her way up to assistant manager. She transitioned into home health care, where she remained for 22 years.

“I advocated for special needs and people living in group homes,” Martin said.

She found herself in leadership roles there, too, but it didn’t make her happy, and she kept doing things that would eventually get her into trouble.

“It didn’t have any impact on my emotions. It didn’t have any impact on my heart,” Martin said. “I lived behind a mask. I did whatever people wanted me to do and I said whatever they wanted to hear, and I manipulated a lot of people.”

Despite that, Martin kept finding success on the job. She began working for a company as an intern.

“I felt like I was in a matrix,” she said. “I could see the good things, and people were telling me good things, and I didn’t believe it.”

During her internship, Martin misappropriated money. Over the course of her life, she went to jail or prison 37 times before deciding to make a true change.

The day after her final stint in jail, June 26, 2017, she entered the SPA Women’s Ministry Home, despite having been clean from drugs since Oct. 16, 2016. She entered a college program and is still enrolled.

“I went to school to learn about me,” she said. “I was broken. I never celebrated any victories and I never had real hope. I went to school to learn why I kept doing these things and why there was this pattern I kept repeating when everything good was happening to me.”

She went to SPA Ministries, despite not really wanting to be in a program.

One night, she stormed out of the home and prayed to God. She asked him to show her what she needed to do. She’d tried prayer before, but never felt like she’d heard anything back. SPA volunteers and employees had tried to talk to her in the past.

“I didn’t want to hear from anybody but God,” she said.

The next morning, she was called into the SPA office. She was told she had to make a decision: join the program wholeheartedly or leave. Martin said she knew what she needed to do.

“From that point on, I started allowing God to do whatever it was that he needed to do in my life,” she said. “This was the hardest journey I’ve ever taken in my life, but I didn’t run. I refused. I knew if I ran, I was not coming back.”

She got a job as a paraprofessional at Elkhart Community Schools that eventually changed her life. She later got a job as a bus driver and continues to work as a “lunch lady.” She uses the opportunity to enliven the children in her care.

“My whole life has changed,” she said. “I have got to show these kids that you are not defeated.”

Sharing stories like Martin’s is fundamental for SPA, because they want women to know that there is hope beyond the hurt.

“You’ve got to realize this is your life, and if you don’t want to die, you’ve got to try something,” Martin said. “People support SPA because they know where I came from. They don’t have to know about this organization, but they know that this organization did something, because you’re no longer that person. I am a walking billboard for change.”

‘They don’t give up’

Today, Martin is a graduate of the yearlong program and serves as a volunteer for the organization as well, guiding other women through scripture and counseling. She’s been clean for three years.

“I’m proud of SPA because they don’t give up on women,” Martin said. “You can give up on yourself all day long, but they don’t give up on you. I’m glad that they gave me the chance to make mistakes, and loved me enough to help me correct them.”

One of the most anticipated parts of the new building project is the new mother-child visitation area.

“They’ll have a place to get on the floor and play,” Zickefoose said. “It’ll be good for mom and it’ll be good for their kids that they’re reconnecting with.”

Once the building project is finished, SPA will have to furnish the building. They’re seeking donations for bunk beds, couches, and pots and pans.

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