‘We need to hear that’: Austin kids send cards of hope to people in addiction recovery

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tara Dawn was having a tough day and “feeling pretty hopeless” a couple of weeks into her treatment when her counselor at Austin Recovery brought a surprise into her group session.

It was a stack of cards, all different shapes, sizes and colors. Dawn picked a green one. “They used special scissors,” she said. “It was just really cute.”

The card reads, in black magic marker and occasional bubble letters, “I hope you get better! Feel better. Don’t give up in hope. OK.”

Tara Dawn keeps the card she received on the front of her recovery binder. She read it every day and she says it gives her hope. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

It was just what Dawn, now 51 days clean and sober, needed to hear.

“I felt a lot lighter and hopeful and that I could do this,” she said. “I keep this with me, and I bring it with me everywhere, actually. And I read it every day, and it does give me hope.”

The cards came from Austin Allies, a group that organizes volunteer activities for families around the city. Elementary school students made the stack of cards and sent them to the addiction recovery center.

Evelyn focuses on the card she’s making while her mom, Beth Heyer, looks on. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

“A lot of times their clients, something that’s really holding them back from recovering is that they don’t feel like people believe in them,” said Erika Nowlin, Austin Allies’ executive director. “They don’t feel like the outside world thinks that they can do better.”

The cards offer people in addiction recovery a ray of hope, a critical piece of getting and remaining sober, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“A lot of people struggle with that, thinking that they have to battle their demons all alone,” Dawn said, “and they don’t.”

More cards are coming

Austin Recovery’s clients appreciated the cards so much, the treatment center asked if they could send stacks of them regularly.

Nowlin plans to have supplies at most of their future events.

Thursday, families gathered at the Circle C Community Center in south Austin to make the second round of cards. Nowlin intended the event to be a chance for the group’s littlest volunteers to pack up rice and beans to deliver as meal bags to a food pantry, but decided to set up card-making tables as well.

“This gave my daughter an opportunity to come out and volunteer, which is pretty awesome,” said Debra Gontarek, “because it’s kind of tough trying to find spots for toddlers to come and help out.”

Gontarek’s daughter, Zofia, carefully placed frog stickers on the card she was making, adding to the purple designs she’d already drawn on the pink paper.

“We have a lot of stickers, a lot of colors, a lot of scribbles,” said Beth Heyer. “But that’s what you get with preschoolers, and it gives them a chance to give back.”

Heyer helped her daughter, Evelyn, make two cards, one reading “Have a great day!” and the other telling its recipient, “You are awesome!”

“We just hope maybe somebody can hang it on their wall and it’ll make them smile every day when they see it,” Heyer said.

The first batch of cards that went to Austin Recovery included messages of support and positivity. (Photo Courtesy: Erika Nowlin)

‘We need to hear that’

Dawn’s card still makes her smile. She keeps it on the front of the binder she uses to keep track of all her recovery information, and it’s the first thing she sees when she wakes up.

There’s something different about hearing the words from a child, she said, something more honest. “It’s different than adults who’ve lived life and it kind of feels generic after a while.”

She has a few more weeks left in her outpatient treatment at Austin Recovery. What started as apprehension in those first few meetings has turned to confidence that she’ll make it through and hope for her future, thanks in part to the words of a child telling her not to give up.

“We need to hear that, to be reminded,” Dawn said. “It really does mean a lot to us.”

Tara Dawn’s card is helping her find hope through her recovery. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

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