PLAINVILLE - This is a story that starts in Plainville, veers off to Texas and ends back in Central Connecticut.
Actually it doesn’t end at all, because the circle of hope created by Coram Deo and people like Lisa Vallera is infinite.
A recovery organization that protects and uplifts women whose personal histories are colored by trauma and substance abuse, Coram Deo has served more than 3,000 people since being established in 2007. Vallera, a Plainville native with her own colorful past, knew she had met someone special when she was introduced to Coram Deo founder and Executive Director Jody Davis at the organization’s 2016 banquet.
“The first time I met Jody, that’s when I knew I had to get involved,” she remembers. “When you hear her talk about this program, you feel it.”
Vallera doesn’t want to be known as a victim. She’s a survivor. Thirty years ago she was a U.S. Army Reservist serving in Leavenworth, Kansas and raising two children ages 3 and 1 1/2. Her husband, also in the military, became physically abusive. She fled to a shelter with her children.
“I felt like a fish out of water,” Vallera recalls. “It was unnatural to me. Like, how did I end up here?”
Staff at the shelter helped her begin divorce proceedings so she could make her way back home.
“They helped me close out everything in Kansas and move forward with my new life,” she says. “I knew, once I got back on my own two feet one of the things I always said I wanted to do was to give back. Let me help someone like I was helped. It’s always better to give than to receive.”
Now a 14-year employee of Eversource on the Home Energy Solutions team and happily remarried with four children and four grandchildren, Vallera has rebuilt her life. She’s also fulfilling that promise she made to herself all those years ago, through volunteer work with Coram Deo.
The organization currently houses 55 women recovering from abuse and addiction in five houses across New Britain. A sixth is being renovated to become the future home of more women and children. Vallera secured Home Energy Assessments at three of the houses already, so occupants save 20 percent on their energy bills going forward.
They pay $150 a week to stay in the homes, where they know they will be safe as they receive recovery services and work to get their lives back on track. Davis utilizes resources in New Britain such as Community Mental Health Affiliates, but also provides the women case management and one-on-one recreational opportunities in places where sobriety risks are not present.
It sounds like a simple concept, but Coram Deo is really the only organization of this kind.
“The social services system sets you up to fail,” Davis explains. “It keeps you down and it’s hard to get out of it. We try to fill in where the support ends. We try to secure the things available to them, while teaching them how to navigate this complicated system and maximize their success.”
When people ask her what Coram Deo’s success rate is, Davis gets frustrated.
“You can’t quantify what our women have been through,” she says. “People don’t understand.”
Is it staying sober another day? Laughing at a funny movie instead of crying? Enjoying a day at the park with your son without fearing for your life? For victims of physical abuse, rape or other trauma, these might all define success.
“It’s not enough to stop using drugs,” Davis says. “You have to replace that with something. You have to learn how to really live.”
Volunteers like Vallera go through a six-week training program to learn how to be trauma-sensitive around the women in Coram Deo. If you ever see the group out in a public place together, they’re likely to be sitting close to the exits. The lights won’t be dim and everyone will have their own personal space. These are all things the typical person wouldn’t necessarily notice or care about.
In addition to the support she’s provided through her job at Eversource, Vallera is also Coram Deo’s one-woman welcoming committee. She creates welcomes cards and gift baskets for those entering their new home. As long as they remain sober, they are welcome to stay as long as they want. If they relapse, they are encouraged to return after completing treatment. That promise is often the reason they do.
“Our goal is to create a place where they feel comfortable for as long as they want,” Davis says. “We’ve had people stay with us anywhere from six days to six years.”
When people ask her where her inspiration for Coram Deo came from, she looks up to the heavens.
“I have a high school degree and a heart for God, and women in recovery,” Davis says.
The most rewarding part for her is seeing them recognize and embrace their own true worth, which was once - or many times - stolen.
“You’re valuable just because you are, and that’s it,” Davis says.
The Petit Foundation and the Hartford Savings Foundation have provided grant funding to continue the work of Coram Deo. In-kind donations from contractors who can help renovate and maintain the houses are also welcomed.
To make a donation or learn how to volunteer, visit coramdeorecovery.org.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or email@example.com.