When Rev. Vaile Leonard founded Baltimore’s Light of Truth Center 17 years ago, she knew nothing about how to open a house for women in recovery.
“It was the response to a spiritual experience,” said Leonard, who in recovery herself, went to a center to pick up a sponsor from a recovery house. What she found changed her life.
“When I walked in, I was overwhelmed,” she recalled. “It was filthy. It looked like a place where people went to use drugs instead of a place to get clean from drugs. Something ignited in me in that instant. I wept for an hour. Whatcameup in me was we could do better than this.”
Leonard took her time, developing her vision of creating a safe, supported place for women to recover. With members of her spiritual community at One God One Thought Center for Better Living, she conceptualized the creation of Light of Truth.
“We spoke the word of what we wanted it to feel like when (women) came in,” she said. “We wanted it to feel like home, to feel safe. We wanted them to feel loved.”
Leonard cultivated her vision for almost a year before she opened the first house, incorporating resources that were successful in her own recovery.
Today, Light of Truth includes a housing, training and restoration center in East Baltimore; housing on the city’sWest side; and two additional housing facilities scheduled to open in Sandtown in 2018. Leonard calls the properties “inheritances” she donated to the Light of Truth, that are divinely and strategically placed.
Leonard said that the majority of the women the center serves are middle to lower income. They face with drugs and alcohol at everyturn, and need to learn to manage recovery.
“I don’t care where you are or where you go, there are drugs and alcohol,” she said, adding that the houses “immaculate,” like “five-star hotel!”
“We want to teach that you don’t have to live poor just because you are in a poor neighborhood,” she said. “In order to raise someone’s consciousness from where they are, how they’ve been living, you’ve got to put them in an environment conducive to that change. We create an environment conducive to recovery.”
Light of Truth uses a distinctive model that views addiction a threefold challenge of mind,body and spirit.
“We address those issues for the whole person to recover,” she said. “We give a solid footholdinrecovery for transition into mainstream life, preparing women to be fully restored to themselves, their families and the community.
Light of Truth also offers gender-responsive programs where wholeness is at the forefront: hair care, skin care, how to dress, social skills, how to handle finances.
“When you’ve been on the street, your world is reduced to getting drugs, using drugs,” Leonard explained. “You are thinking about survival. You are not thinking about making good decisions.”
Light of Truth’s SHIFT program (Sharing Hope, Inspiration, Forgiveness and Trust) has been instrumental in supporting the residents by inviting women from the community to come in and share their gifts,talents and perspectives. Many residents are also in 12-step programs and the center’s Spirituality Program enhances those teachings by exposing residents to spiritual principles.
The center’s newest program, Family Recovery, offers residents’ family members an opportunity once a month to expand their understanding about addiction and share their pains.
“Sometimes we need to see something to aspire to something that can heal from the inside out, not the outside in,” she said.
Light of Truth is 95 percent managed by volunteers, from the house manager, to the bookkeeper, to the CEO. Most have been involved more than a decade.
The centers have not been consistently funded, with support for the five buildings coming from the community. That support allows us to do things “without fear,” with volunteers who embrace the mission of creating fertile ground for women to spiritually unfold.
“We are in service at the Light of Truth,’’ she said. “Helping people, there is an expectation of an outcome. Serving people, you give unconditionally. We don’t work here. We serve here.”
Leonard’s passion is about building an organization that is self-sustainable safe housing for women when everyone else has turned them away. She describes the Light of Truth as a non-profit with a semi-corporate structure based on spirituality. Her faith is the anchor.
“Instead of grants, we look at what we need to accomplish and how we would create it with the absence of funds,” she said. “I live in full faith, trusting in God for the next thing and all things. I am the addict they said would never make it. But my addiction was my spiritual unfolding, the journey to my purpose.”
The Light of Truth program has earned the Maryland Seal of Excellence for non-profits, as well as a citation from the Mayor of Baltimore for providing consistent service to the community. The center raises revenue through clothing sales in the spring that cover insurance costs, and an annual gala in September, which Leonard describes as “Recovery Month.”
Editor’s note: Claire Dorsey has worked as an actress for almost 20 years. She is a performing poet, and writer. She collaborated with photographer Kwasi Noire on a volume of poetry titled Rhythms of a Life.