By Laura McAlister
This year for the holidays, Bonnie Miller will sit down for dinner with her family. They’ll probably exchange gifts as well as prayers of thanksgiving.
It sounds like a typical holiday, but it won’t be for Bonnie.
This will be the first time in five years she’s even celebrated the holidays. In the past, the 41-year-old was too “doped up,” she said, to even know that it was a special time of the year.
But that’s changed since she entered the Lovelady Center, a faith-based women’s shelter and rehabilitation center in East Lake.
“I just wanted to stay high all the time,” she said. “I threw my family out the window. There were no birthdays for me, no Christmases or Thanksgivings. Nobody was going to put out a missing person (report) on me.
“I thought there was no hope for me.”
Bonnie entered the Lovelady Center in March and, in September, graduated the program. Stories like hers are not uncommon at the Lovelady Center.
At any given time, the center houses around 350 women and 80 children. Most are sent to the center through the corrections system and are addicts who have suffered from abuse and poverty. The center helps the women tackle their addiction while equipping them with the tools they need to reenter society.
The Lovelady Center relies on donations to keep its doors open. To make the holiday season bright again for residents like Bonnie, the center is seeking donations to host Christmas dinner tables, as well as items for its Santa Store. The Santa Store is housed at the center and is for residents to find gifts for their children as well as themselves at Christmas.
To understand how important donations are, especially during the holidays, is to understand its residents, said Hugh Thomas, the center’s chief operations officer and vice president of administration. Here are the stories of two of those residents and how the Lovelady Center saved them.
Logan Holloway, 22
Logan Holloway was a typical kid. She grew up in Hoover, raised by a loving family. She was involved in activities at Spain Park High School and loved to attend football games.
When she was 18, things changed.
“I started hanging out with the wrong crowd,” she said. “I was doing drugs. I was lying to my family, cheating.
“I was stealing because of drugs. I was on cocaine. I was falling to pieces.”
She was also pregnant. After her baby was born, she continued to use drugs. Logan was arrested and sent to drug court in Shelby County. She continuously failed drug tests and was given two options: either go to jail or seek treatment at the Lovelady Center.
When she entered the center in June 2008, the Department of Human Resources had taken custody of her baby.
“I wasn’t allowed to see her,” Logan recalled. “I didn’t want to go to the center, either. I remember thinking, I’m not going to a place with a bunch of prisoners.
“I was scared. I didn’t want to be here, but it changed my life.”
Now Logan is a graduate of the program and has regained custody of her three-year-old daughter, Ava. She lives in a graduate house not far from the center. She is employed at the Lovelady Center as a development associate.
Without the center’s help, Logan said, her life would have been headed in one of two directions.
“I think I’d either be in prison, or I wouldn’t be here at all,” she said. “This place gave me so much hope, and I have a life.
“I don’t need drugs. I have love.”
Bonnie Miller, 41
Bonnie Miller grew up in New Orleans. Her adoptive family were Pentecostals.
“They lived, slept and breathed the Word,” she said.
And so did Bonnie, until she turned 17.
That’s when she got married for the first time and starting drinking and “running from God and my family,” she said. The marriage lasted only six months, but by the time Bonnie was 18, she was married again. That marriage ended when her husband went to prison.
At 25, she married for the third time, and life was looking up.
They couple lived in Savannah, Ga., and had two sons. Bonnie finished school and was working as a paralegal.
“I had it all, but I was a functioning addict,” she said. “I had the money. I drove the new car, but I was drinking and doing cocaine.”
After 11 years, the marriage ended, and so did the pretense that Bonnie “had it all together.” She moved back to New Orleans to be with her adoptive mother in 2004.
In 2005, her adoptive mother died, and Hurricane Katrina hit. Bonnie lost almost everything she had, including her two sons, who were sent to live with their father in Savannah. She left New Orleans and ended up in St. Clair County. There, she turned to more drugs.
“I was cooking dope, meth. Then I turned to the needle,” she said. “Instead of hitting my knees, I hit the bottle.”
After Bonnie was arrested for possession of prescription medications, the court sent her to the Lovelady Center. On March 23, she arrived, in handcuffs, with nothing but the clothes on her back.
“I knew when I walked in the door that this was my chance,” she said. “The world was going to kill me.”
She graduated the center’s program in September and is now employed there as an outreach coordinator.
Bonnie still hasn’t been able to restore her relationship with her two sons, but she’s hopeful that in time she will. She has been reunited with her biological family and will spend the first Thanksgiving that she’s celebrated in a long time with them.