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MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — In a quiet Marble Falls neighborhood just a few streets away from downtown, sits a small, nondescript home that has become an epicenter of change.
As wind chimes sway softly in the breeze, visitors immediately feel a sense of calm outside the home surrounded by signs about love, patience and kindness. Similar messages of hope and reassurance are posted inside the house, laying the foundation for the story of Open Door Recovery House and its founder, Paula Mays.
“If we would love and encourage each other, walk beside each other, and not judge or throw stones — this world would be such a better place,” Mays said.
That’s part of the mission at Open Door, a faith-based, sober-living home for women that opened in 2010. For 13 years, Mays has housed more than 250 women for up to a year, at no charge, to help them on their journey to recovery and sobriety.
To better understand why Mays has dedicated her life to Open Door and women and men struggling with drug addiction, you must first understand her difficult personal journey.
“I was in South Dakota, and within a couple of years my mother married an abusive man, and my first memory was at 2 years old of being sexually assaulted. I was raped and beaten. I was locked in trunks of cars,” Mays explained. “It was horrifying. I was not too sure about God, but I knew the devil and I felt like I lived with him.”
By the time she got older, she thought life would change, but it didn’t.
“In my 20s, I started looking for other substances to change the way I felt, just to be able to cope,” Mays said.
In 1999, she found herself in jail, looking at a 99-year prison term. She was married and divorced with six children at that time. She said by the grace of God, the federal charges she was facing, were dropped. She had moved to Texas, which she says helped separate her from drugs and alcohol. She started going to 12-Step recovery meetings, joined a church and she said the kindness she experienced was life-changing.
“I was able to rebuild with God. It’s all Him. It was truly amazing: His amazing grace, His power and His love,” Mays said.
She started serving in soup kitchens and at prisons alongside women in her same recovery program. That is when she met three different women struggling to reach sobriety. She remembers that they didn’t have a place to stay or a support system, meaning death or jail became their only way out.
“I thought, ‘These women need a place to go. They need a safe place to be,’” Mays tearfully remembered. “Recovery is hard enough without the external triggers and pressures and expectations and struggles — and God brought back to my mind a runaway shelter back when I was a teenager in the town I lived in.”
That was her safe haven, and she wanted to create something similar for other women. It was in that moment, reflecting on that runaway shelter, that she realized her purpose: to carry the message of hope and recovery by starting Open Door.
It started small with meetings in a church and by 2013, a house was purchased, a campaign paid it off and the doors were open for women in the community. Through community grants and donations, Open Door houses up to eight women at a time, for free, for up to a year. Mays guides the women from addictive lifestyles to lives of sobriety, functionality and productive membership within society, by using AA Big Book, Bible studies and other programs.
“We walk beside them. We encourage them in their struggle. We walk with them through CPS, probation and parole,” Mays explained.
The women have a structured schedule that starts early in the morning and includes weekly meetings and studies to help manage their recovery. The women also have to perform 17 hours of volunteering each week. Mays performs all her duties with little paid assistance, only a part-time office manager and part-time assistant.
A major impact
Alicia Defranco said Open Door changed the trajectory of her life.
“This is my home. This is my foundation. This is where I learned how to be a human,” Defranco said. “I started using when I was 10 years old and by the time I was 17, I was a full-blown opiate heroin addict.”
Defranco was on the run and by the time she moved to Texas, she lost custody of her children.
“I was so broken. I was so broken,” Defranco said.
She was in a correctional facility in Uvalde when someone told her about Open Door. She wrote a letter to Mays, asking to be a part of the program. Mays picked Defranco up when she was released, took her out to eat and brought her to Open Door.
“It was a relief because I knew I got to stay sober even longer,” Defranco remembers. “I was expecting a rehab center and I walked in, and it was a home, and it was overwhelming when she showed me my bedroom, bathroom and took me to get clothes.”
Defranco paid for nothing during the time she spent at Open Door.
“I never had a need not met here,” Defranco said.
After months of inner healing at Open Door, she became sober and was able to start a new journey with her family.
“I couldn’t picture it — I absolutely couldn’t picture it. I bought my first house a year ago this past December and I have financially supported my kids and I for five years,” Defranco said.
“What a miracle she is. There are so many miracles out there — they just need someone to walk beside them,” Mays said. “Don’t give up on your loved one who is struggling with addiction.”
Defranco says Mays is not just her hero, but a hero for so many women who are forgotten and not supported by their families or their communities.
“She’s my motivator. She’s my backbone. She is my foundation,” Defranco said.
“If you see glory in my story, it is God. It is all Him. He does the heavy lifting,” Mays said. “I am so grateful that I survived because by all accounts I shouldn’t have.”
According to data from Open Door Recovery House, for women who lived in the house this past program year (From September 2021 to September 2022), the non-recidivism rate was a record high of 85%. The year prior, it was 80%. Many former residents say she helped them realize that they alone are responsible for their actions. They learned tools to make better and healthier decisions.
Mays also helps women recover their children from CPS and foster care. She is also a key member of the 33rd & 424th District Drug Court Team. She is often “on-call” 24/7. She picks up new women from rehab facilities or jail from as far as Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio or Galveston. If women leave the program early, by breaking rules or just leaving, she helps them find other support.
Although her work is solely funded by donations and grants, she hopes to expand to help more women across the state.