MOUNT VERNON — Graduations typically signify new beginnings, and that holds true for Heidi Jo Rousseau’s August graduation from Central Ohio Technical College.

But her real new beginning started in 2018.

Rousseau bought and sold drugs for a “good 20 years.” In 2017, she lost her home, her job, and custody of her child. She accumulated a variety of felony charges and experienced homelessness.

“They took my son. I was devastated,” she said, adding that she also realized that if her child was with someone else, he was safe.

Rousseau said that having little family support turned out better for her because she had to fight herself to get her son back. And she did.

Rousseau started her recovery on Veterans Day in 2018. She completed Riverside Recovery Services’ program in May 2019 and underwent outpatient treatment and classes for another six months.

She was the first graduate of ARMOR Court and paid off $1,200 in fines.

In January 2020, Rousseau took her first class online. Earlier this month, she graduated from COTC with an associate degree in social work. She plans to attend The Ohio State University this fall for her bachelor’s degree.

April 2022 marked the three-year anniversary of her being in her current home.

Rousseau said that Mount Vernon being the small town that it is, she felt compartmentalized, like she was wearing a scarlet “A” on her shirt.

“It was hard, first in my recovery, hard to share my story. Hard to share the shame and remorse,” she said.

Now she returns to ARMOR Court as an advisor to the board, describing herself as an “addict’s advocate.”

“I am an advocate for what people need, not want people want,” she said. “Nobody knew I had an addiction. I learned that brutal honesty, even if it shocks, is the best way to make a point.”

As Rousseau completed her recovery classes, she came in contact with TouchPointe in various ways. TouchPointe supports the development of healthy family relationships in a faith-based environment.

TouchPointe’s sole full-time employee, Jessica Reynolds, hosts a Refresh class for women from Riverside Recovery that Rousseau attended. Rousseau also participated in TouchPointe’s Get on Track program at the Alpha & Omega adult probation house.

Additionally, Reynolds helped Rousseau find housing, appliances, and furniture.

“Jessica was the first person there in my recovery,” Rousseau said. “I like the fact that TouchPointe has its finger on everything. They made sure I went back to the program I was involved with and kept them updated.”

“I have been really blessed to have Heidi. Heidi is not the average person out of addiction,” Reynolds said.

TouchPointe: Focusing on faith & family

Dan Humphrey and his wife, Barbara, started TouchPointe Marriage & Family Resources in 2010. With a combined 65 years in public education, the Humphreys saw what sometimes happens to children when the family structure breaks down.

“We thought we would work with a few couples to improve their relationships,” Dan Humphrey said. “Twelve years later, we have worked with over 350 couples, and the nonprofit has expanded more than we could have ever imagined.”

Expanded services include counseling for parents and couples, the Refresh and Get on Track programs, and KnoxWorks, which provides employment skills and support to those who might face barriers to finding a job.

“KnoxWorks gave me confidence. I completed the class on Friday afternoon, walked across the parking lot to the Comfort Inn, interviewed for a front desk position, and was hired on the spot. I since have moved to a receptionist’s position in a chiropractor’s office in Columbus.” – Nicole

The organization also offers a jail ministry at the Knox County Jail, one-on-one mentoring, participates in the ARMOR and MERIT drug courts, and distributes Bibles. Humphrey refers to the clients served as “Neighbors.”

In 2018, the first year TouchPointe put together an annual Impact Report, the organization served 365 Neighbors across all programs. Numbers were higher in successive years:

•2019 – 574 Neighbors

•2020 – 497 Neighbors

•2021 – 447 Neighbors

“For 2022, so far, we have had 12 people attend the KnoxWorks program, and 10 of them are successfully working,” Reynolds said. “I follow up with them and help when needed as a job coach.”

“We are a faith-based nonprofit, and ultimately, our mission is to touch the lives of people, develop a relationship to build trust, and eventually point them to Jesus, the true healer of all wounds,” Humphrey said. “We try to meet people where they are and share our faith when the time is right.

“Our faith is never forced on anyone, nor is there judgment for life choices the individuals have made in the past.”

“Between you giving me my Bible and talking to me, it really saved my life. Both with God and being on earth. I still have dark moments of depression. But I am slowly coming out of the dark hole I was in.” – Bill, jail ministry participant

Humphrey said it is very gratifying to see marriages that at one time were struggling and now are flourishing, or to see an individual who gets their life turned around and finds housing and employment.

“Unfortunately, not all of our stories are success stories,” he said. “People will sometimes regress, and mistakes will be repeated. That is the difficulty of any agency working with people.”

Humphrey said the biggest limitation in the community is affordable housing.

“There is a need for transitional housing for those coming from recovery or jail and needing a place to stay until they secure employment and ‘get back on their feet,’” he said. “We see a need for single parents with children needing housing, and, of course, there are the homeless that need to be provided for.

“As with any nonprofit, there is always a need for financial support to maintain the programs,” he added. “TouchPointe is funded primarily by donations and some grant funding.”

The future

Rousseau said it’s exciting what the city, chamber of commerce, and KSAAT (Knox Substance Abuse Action Team) are doing but acknowledged that recovery is a long process.

“You have to be able to work the program. You have to screen clean and go to therapy,” she said. “If [addicts] are not able to abstain [from substance abuse] and are not willing to engage, it won’t work.”

As TouchPointe looks to the future, the biggest obstacle short-term is finding a location for operations. The organization currently has two locations: one in Mount Vernon, the other in Fredericktown.

“The landlord of our Gay Street location has other plans for the building and would like for us to find another location by next spring,” Humphrey said. “We would like to be close to downtown since many of the neighbors we work with do not have transportation.”

Humphrey added that as with any organization, a succession plan is something TouchPointe’s board of directors is contemplating.

Reynolds said TouchPointe is a safe environment that lets people feel safe asking for help.

“At TouchPointe, we create relationships and genuinely want to help. I think Heidi saw that,” Reynolds said. “I love to see her grow professionally.

“Heidi got to see me grow, too, spiritually. It’s been an awesome team.”

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