Bradenton faith-based nonprofit holds open house at noon Saturday

vmannix@bradenton.comMarch 13, 2013 

— The beautiful chandelier hanging in the freshly painted reception area is more than just a fancy light fixture to Sabrina Crain-Sweeney.

It represents an ideal for the women who will walk beneath it.

"One of my mottos for the girls is, 'Happily ever after is not a fairy tale,'" said 48-year-old president and chief executive officer of Learn to Fish Inc. "It's your right if you're willing to the work to make it happen."

Saturday's open house offers affirmation to her words.

The nonprofit will host an open house at 1312 51st Ave. E., noon to 2 p.m. Saturday for its new faith-based residential treatment center for disadvantaged women.

It is a 2,700-square foot single-story structure with four bedrooms, conference room, dining area and laundry facilities, replacing temporary housing the nonprofit has rented.

“If people could’ve seen this place before, they’d never believe there was a possibility of it ever looking this nice,” Crain-Sweeney said. Condemned by Manatee County, the property was conveyed to Learn to Fish 18 months ago. Due to the generosity of Manatee Rural Health Foundation, Selby Foundation, homebuilders, appliance companies and several area churches, the upgraded building is expected to be ready for occupancy in two weeks.

“So many people helped make it possible,” Crain-Sweeney said. “We even had some of our own women on jackhammers. They’ve seen something beautiful come out of something that was wretched.”

An apt metaphor.

Some of the women come from the Manatee County Jail.

Some from other treatment facilities.

Some from the street.

Crain-Sweeney herself is a recovering addict, who kicked painkillers after a 2000 procedure.

“I made the decision to get better, but I had health insurance and the money to get quality treatment,” she said. “But it dawned on me, what happens to those who can’t provide for themselves?” Hence Learn to Fish Inc., whose name is a twist on the old proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Since its inception in 2006, about 300 women have been assisted by a volunteer staff that includes certified addiction counselors and mental health professionals. Of 178 women treated and counseled in the past 18 months, 124 have managed to take what they learned and move on, according to Craig-Sweeney.

“They leave here with a sense of purpose, knowing who they are and what they need to do,” she said.

Volunteer Donene Guyaux was one of them, a recovering drug abuser who contemplated suicide.

“I said I can’t do this anymore, I called and they picked me up,” said the 51-year-old woman. “I dealt with a lot of underlying issues and I had a lot of scars, but I learned a lot.”

Liz Smith, 38, has been clean and sober for 18 months.

“I had no direction, no idea what my purpose in life was and they helped me turn my life around,” she said.

Treatment includes programs of 90 days and on up to six months and comprises 40 hours a week of integrity training, anger management, healthy parenting, work ethic, etc.

“Recovery is not a one-time deal,” Crain-Sweeney said. “Everybody brings their own experience to the table.”

Manatee Glens president and CEO Mary Ruiz understands those challenges.

“In recovery, people are having to rebuild their lives from the ground up, restart their careers, establish permanent housing and do the hard work of recovery,” she said.

Vitally important work, Larry Borden agreed.

The Church of the Cross volunteer helped paint and refurbish the new center and believes in its objective.

“We need more facilities like this and it has to be the private sector that does it,” he said. “They need a handup, not a handout.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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