What comes to mind when you hear the words “work therapy”? Sledgehammers and rocks? Digging ditches? For the women who are students at the Primrose Hill Adult and Teen Challenge (ATC) in Clark, Missouri, their work therapy is far from the sweat-soaked, heavy-labor images some may visualize.
“Work therapy” for Primrose Hill women is made up of creating, bottling, labeling, and selling a variety of relaxing, refreshing, and simply beautiful scents as they produce boutique-quality bath and skincare products through their microenterprise called Prim Goods. Although the product sales do help offset a fraction of the costs of the ATC program, the process of “work” is part of the recovery plan.
“At Primrose Hill, work therapy is an important part of rebuilding the women who are students here,” explains Kathie Lowans, the women’s director of Central and Southwest Missouri ATC. “The woman who come to Primrose are struggling with addictions and typically have lost the trust of their families and friends . . . and we’re helping them learn how to live a different way, which will change everything about them.”
The Primrose Hill ATC center, a ministry of AG U.S. Missions, is one of only a handful of ATC centers that allow mothers to bring their children with them while they go through the 12-month program. However, most of the women have little self-esteem, often having had sacrificed relationships, careers, and families to satisfy their addictions.
“We introduce students to Jesus and provide classes and chapel in the mornings and evenings,” Lowans says, “but for three hours every afternoon, the women take part in our work therapy program.”
Although women from all walks of life and economic backgrounds are students at the Primrose Hill ATC, learning what it means to work — and work well with others — is a huge benefit for when these women return to the responsibilities of functioning well in society.
“A lot of issues rise to the top when you’re working together in a group,” Lowans says, “issues that need to be recognized and then addressed so that they can be overcome.” Some of those issues may include dishonesty; racism; unhealthy attitudes toward work, authority, and/or God; even disorganization.”
Through the process of producing Prim Goods soaps and lotions, which has the theme “Made better by our story,” the women learn how to be a good employee, manage a business, and even become an employer one day.
However, being a student at Primrose Hill ATC and submitting to authority in order to break free from addictions isn’t a simple, one-time decision — denying an addiction is a daily if not minute-by-minute decision.
The women who come as students to Primrose Hill, Lowans says, have typically struck bottom. Often they are discouraged, depressed, despondent, angry, bitter — name a negative emotion and it’s likely present in some form in at least one of the students’ lives.
“We want to introduce them to Jesus and allow them to see themselves as He sees them,” Lowans states. “Just that alone is very empowering! Then we start to give the women tools to experience success once they graduate from here.”
Currently the Primrose Hill ATC is home to 10 women plus seven children. Lowans notes that ATC has a success rate of about 76% for those who complete the program — far outdistancing “not-faith-based” programs.
Giving up control of everyday life decisions isn’t easy, but it may be even more difficult for those working to overcome addiction; even though they knew their addictions were destroying their lives, every decision was their own. Addiction was the only thing that carried any true authority in their lives.
Cheri* and Kala* are relatively new students at Primrose Hill. They both admit that giving up control and the limitations that places on them has been difficult to get used to. They also say that being away from their families is a challenge as well.
Yet with the challenges come steps toward recovery.
“Everyone was so welcoming,” Cheri says. “I have never been new somewhere and felt so much at home.”
“I love how open and honest everyone is,” Kala states. “We are able to share things with each other and know that they’ll be praying for that certain situation.”
And what do they have to look forward to?
Haley*, who has been at Primrose for a significant time (compared to Cheri and Kala), is very upbeat and is seeing God restore things to her life.
“My family is really starting to want to become a part of my life again,” she says. “After not speaking to my father for over two years, my father has reached out and wants to reconnect. My son now says he’s so proud of the changes that have happened in my life. I’ve struggled with addiction and eating disorders for 15 years. Since being here, I have never felt more beautiful and whole. I see myself in a whole new way.”
One of the unique things that the Prim Goods work therapy provides for the women, besides a wonderfully fragrant atmosphere, is an ever-expanding prayer team. On the completed bottles and jars of lotions and soaps, the women sign their first names, with the request that those who purchase their products will also keep them in prayer.
“It makes me feel loved and hopeful for the future, knowing someone is thinking and praying for my future,” Kala says. “I feel less stressed knowing that someone is taking their time to pray for me.”
Lowans says that the women at Primrose Hill also have opportunities to give their testimonies in churches and during events, including periodically having one-on-one conversations when promoting Prim Goods.
“(Sharing my testimony) means so much to me,” Haley says. “It makes me so grateful for how far God has brought me. It’s inspiring. I’m coming from a place of addiction, lying, cheating, stealing — the whole lifestyle — and now being able to share what God has brought me from. It makes me feel like I have a purpose and I am so thankful that I get to share the love that God has shown to me.”
The children at Primrose Hill also experience something new as their mothers transition from a life of serving an addiction to a life of serving God.
“I feel like I have gained his trust,” Erica* says about her son. “We definitely have a more loving relationship. I am more aware of his needs . . . we now are able to talk through things. In my past as an addict . . . I took my problems out on him. God has given me the strength to be patient, loving, and kind and has shown His love and forgiveness, and now I can share that with my son.”
Haley states her position bluntly. “I know this is a handpicked-by-God place — if I was not placed here at Primrose Hill, I would probably be dead,” she says. “Primrose Hill is a family of people that really love me . . . it’s opened my heart to where I now know how to express love to my son.”
Lowans says that through the Bible studies, ATC curriculum, work therapy, and everyday interactions, a strong majority of women who have graduated from Primrose Hill have gone on to lead productive, drug-free lives — contributing to their communities as God-serving and loving mothers and wives, dedicated employees, and even outstanding college students.
However, it is Haley who provides an “insiders” perspective to those women struggling with addiction.
“Primrose Hill literally is saving our lives,” she says. “I want everyone to know that God loves you! So, accept yourself and see yourself the way God sees you. You are worthy.”
*Names changed to protect privacy.