Donna grew up in Kensington and sometimes takes her 15-year-old daughter back to the old neighborhood. But she isn’t there to visit friends or family. Instead, she drives down Kensington Avenue and points out where she was arrested or assaulted, the once-abandoned houses where she took shelter and the people on the streets, struggling with substance use disorder like she once did.
Donna will do whatever she can to ensure her children avoid the same suffering.
“I always tell her to never say ‘never will.’ Because I was the person who said it wouldn’t be me,” says Donna, 48. “I always said I would never be that girl. I prostituted, I stole, I did anything I could to get my next (high)… The Avenue was my home, my world, my everything.”
Donna was a teenager when she began experimenting with addictive substances, curious in part because of a car accident that almost killed her and left her with residual pain. By the time she reached her 20s, her substance use disorder was so severe that she’d lost her home and had been cut off by her family.
If Prevention Point wasn’t there to help me, I wouldn’t have my daughter, I wouldn’t have my son.
The one place where she felt cared for and listened to, even in her lowest moments? Prevention Point Philadelphia.
“Prevention Point has always been there for me — a warm place to stay, something to eat, someone to talk to so I knew I wasn’t really alone,” Donna says. “I would be raped, I would be beaten, and they never turned their backs on me.”
Donna took advantage of Prevention Point’s services while still regularly using substances. When friends died from overdoses, her first thought was, “Let me get what they have because it must be good.”
When she was ready, Donna joined Prevention Point’s Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) program. She turned her life around, reconnecting with family and leaving the Avenue behind.
But after nine years of sobriety, she returned to use after being given painkillers following the birth of her now 8-year-old son.
Who did she call for help? Prevention Point.
“They’ve helped me ever since. If Prevention Point wasn’t there to help me, I wouldn’t have my daughter, I wouldn’t have my son,” Donna says. “I wouldn’t have myself: I wanted to kill myself many times, and there was always somebody there to talk to me.”
The staff at Prevention Point listened without judgement, Donna says, and that’s exactly what she needed. They supported her without asking for anything in return, allowing her to decide if and when she felt ready to again put her substance use disorder behind her.
And more than two years later, the organization continues to listen, Donna says. Every Wednesday night, she gets a phone call from a volunteer who wants to talk about what’s going on in her life.
“I’ve never met her – I could pass her on the street and not know who she is – but she’s always there to hear me,” Donna says. “She doesn’t judge me, and I think that’s what helps me, having someone hear you and not judge.”