VALDOSTA — Shelby Silimon spent 30 years of her life slipping between drugs and alcohol. Some nights, she’d wander the cold, dark streets and sleep in an abandoned house, no food in her stomach and no shower for days on end.

It began in high school when liquor flowed at parties after basketball games. “I never knew much about total responsibility,” Silimon said. “Responsibility wasn’t a strong point.”

Slowly, she slipped into the grip of addiction.

“You go to bed thinking about it. You wake up thinking about it,” she said. “It’s a disease like cancer. There’s no cure, just daily reprieve. You have to keep it that way or you’re doomed to repeat again.”

Like a good friend, smoking crack and tipping the bottle got her through sad times, tough relationships, heartache and fear.

“I didn’t think I could have as much fun,” Silimon said.

Five years ago she proved everyone, including herself, wrong.

Silimon went to see a Lowndes County nurse practitioner for an ailment. What she found was more than medicine to ease her pain.

Elsie Napier, nurse practitioner, was already working with substance-abusing persons and people in need through the T.E.A.C.H. — Teaching, Educating and Advancing Christian Health — Outreach Ministry.

Napier started the organization with Joan Allen in 1996 in the back kitchens of local churches. The hope was to

comfort those hurting spiritually in Valdosta.

In 2002 the group moved into the property at 606 S. Lee St., a home built in 1906 with wood floors, original fixtures and historic value. History was to be continued through the work of T.E.A.C.H. ministry.

Hundreds have crowded onto the front porch and into the kitchen for a free hot meal. Ministry workers hold a Bible study Thursdays at noon followed by lunch.

The upper bedrooms have been converted to computer labs, and an instructor volunteers each week to teach basic computer classes. Another room houses a closet with free clothes, and downstairs there’s a food pantry with boxes of canned goods, and a chapel to nourish spiritual hunger.

The ministry uses non-denominational, faith-based principles. The vision statement encompasses all religions and economic levels and asks persons “ ... to unite themselves as one force against the adversities that so easily beset our homes, families, and communities through the power of God.”

For Silimon, the ministry meant acceptance.

“Finally, I got sick and tired and wanted a better way to live,” she said. “All I knew, all I had done my life ended up with me drinking or doing drugs.”

Silimon said her path to freedom is a continual two-fold process. She has an addiction counselor and a spiritual counselor.

Napier finds Silimon’s testimony inspiring, and she along with other T.E.A.C.H. workers are seeking to expand the ministry to help other women recover.

On Dec. 8, Valdosta City Councilmen approved a request to rezone a .54-acre parcel across from T.E.A.C.H.’s present facility to allow a one-story multi-family housing unit and community center.

The facility will be a 24-hour care center housing recovering addicts and HIV positive women and their children. Napier said the home will be a safe haven for women suffering medically or otherwise.

The property was donated, and grant money is being applied for construction.

T.E.A.C.H. consists solely of volunteers.

“This ministry has grown from people giving dimes, nickels and dollars,” Napier said.

Allen said donations are what will make the new facility successful.

Silimon looks to mentor other women who are locked into addictive behavior.

“I don’t like a beating, and I like to be in control,” she said. “Here they accept me for me. They know my journey. It’s not a ‘story,’ I’m still on a journey.”

Silimon transformed from a skin-and-bone drug addict to a successful, smiling woman who works, wants to mentor others, and has earned the title “responsible.”

“T.E.A.C.H. and recovery are my lifelines,” she said. “I do what I need to do to stay clean.”

To find out more about the T.E.A.C.H. ministry and its various programs visit www.teachoutreachministries.org or call 242-7286.

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