Mickie Mayfield never had a regular job until she walked into O’Brien House in May of this year.
The 42-year-old had recently been released from the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel.
For years, she lived on the streets in Monroe. She was homeless, hooked on drugs and working as a prostitute.
“I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out,” she said.
O’Brien House is an addiction treatment center established in 1971 for adult alcoholics and drug addicts. It was named for the late Paul S. “Pat” O’Brien, who spent more than a half century assisting alcoholics in recovery and educating the public about alcoholism.
Mayfield, who graduated from O’Brien House on Aug. 25, now has a new life and a real job with O’Brien’s Plant It Forward, a licensed and insured enterprise that puts participants and alumni of O’Brien House in the community doing lawn maintenance, cleaning, flower bed work, pressure washing and other odd jobs. The program has been in operation for about a year and a half.
“I had never had a job before,” Mayfield said. “I didn’t have work experience, but I begged Mr. Cleve to give me a chance.”
Mr. Cleve is Cleve Dunn, manager of Plant It Forward. He said he worried about Mayfield because every time he came outside of his office, she was sitting on what at O’Brien House is known as the “smoke bench.”
He gave her the nickname Smoky, but he also gave her a chance.
Mayfield has turned out to be one of Plant It Forward’s star workers. She cleans houses, weeds gardens and does other jobs the program has available.
“Plant It Forward is set up like a social enterprise,” Dunn said. “They look at it as ways to help the community. It’s not always the dollar amount you are making.”
The program is run like a business, but its major focus is training and service, not profit.
“I realize that what they are doing is not only to help the community but to help clients with on-the-job training for job readiness,” he said. “We want to teach them to meet these obligations on their own before they go out into society.”
Plant It Forward employees have had plenty of work cutting grass through the summer.
“Now we’re entering the season when you don’t have to cut grass,” Dunn said. “So we’re going into cleaning so we don’t have to lay people off or cut hours.”
He has submitted bids for jobs throughout the city and now has crews cleaning and maintaining several commercial facilities and apartment complexes. The group also does a lot of one-time jobs for people in the community.
“We bid lower than the average commercial lawn service or cleaning company to offer training for our residents,” Dunn said. “The price varies. We are negotiable. Earning money is not our main concern.”
O’Brien House offers a wide variety of programs and services, but its primary focus is a comprehensive four- to six-month residential program for male and female recovering alcoholics and addicts.
“This is a wonderful place for people who are serious about their recovery,” Dunn said.
Before a person can enter the O’Brien House program, he or she must first go through detoxification at another facility.
Recovery at O’Brien House is accomplished in three phases. Clients receive intense counseling in Phase 1. “They cannot go anywhere in Phase 1,” said Amy Nesbit, O’Brien House marketing coordinator.
Once they are stabilized, clients move to Phase 2. In Phase 2, they can get a job.
“We have people with all kinds of records,” Dunn said. “That can make it hard to get a job when they are in treatment, but everyone can get a job with us.”
Jason Istre, 30, has graduated from the O’Brien House program, but he continues to work every day with Plant It Forward.
O’Brien was his second try at rehab. This time it worked.
“I wanted to do it for myself instead of for someone else,” he said.
He is now living in one of O’Brien House’s single resident occupancy apartments. Rent is $400 a month.
“They can stay indefinitely,” Nesbit said. “They can eat in our cafeteria for $15 a week. You can stay on a sober campus and have independent living.”
“Plant It Forward has a lot of benefits,” Istre said. “It helps people with addiction get back into the world. It helps you learn to work on something.”
Istre plans to continue working with Plant It Forward for a while longer, but his goal is to work with others suffering with addiction “helping people like my counselors helped me,” he said.
Mayfield has turned her life around. She works as many hours as Dunn will let her. She’s also studying with Adult Literacy Advocates to get her high school equivalency diploma.
Dunn no longer calls her Smoky. “She’s Miss Plant It Forward,” he said.
One day Dunn found her in tears. “I’m just so happy,” she told Dunn. “I didn’t think I could do it.”
Plant It estimates
For information on Plant It Forward or free estimates, contact Cleve Dunn at (225) 247-8605 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.