HAMMOND — Summer relates that she was “heavy” on drugs and that she had been to prison once. Nicole, 38, says that she was desperate after abusing drugs since she was about 17 years old. Rosemary remembers that she had lost just about everyone in her life because of her addiction to drugs. Jene was on drugs, was depressed and had all but given up looking for a way to change a life of desperation.
One by one, members of a group of women who are residents of Lynhaven Retreat tell their personal stories and why they are making an effort to change their lives that were once broken and seemingly without purpose.
For about a year, Lynhaven Retreat, located east of Hammond just off U.S. 190, has become a beacon of hope for the women who are in the process of learning how to live drug- and alcohol-free lives as they work toward the day when they can return to their families and once again lead lives marked by success and fulfillment.
Lynhaven Retreat, an adjunct of the New Orleans Mission, occupies a large plot of land shaded by dozens of trees. The facility, originally developed by Hammond businessman Lynn Ezell as a site for birthday, retirement and anniversary parties, weddings, family reunions and other similar functions, features a large pond with paddle boats, a swimming pool, a miniature golf course and other recreational amenities.
The site includes a large meeting room, offices, kitchen and dining facilities, and more recently four cottages that were donated to Lynhaven Retreat by a New Orleans construction and renovation firm. Two of the cottages serve as housing for the residents, a third is being prepared for more occupants, and the fourth is a home for Ginger Jones, women’s director of Lynhaven, her husband and their daughter. The resident cottages include six rooms with each room being shared by two residents. The comfortable, air-conditioned rooms include private baths. Lynhaven can now accommodate 24 residents, and that number will grow to 36 when the third cottage is completed in the near future.
Jones is enthusiastic in telling the story of Lynhaven Retreat and its impact on the 14 women who call the sprawling campus home. “We are here to rescue women from addiction, homelessness, trafficking, physical and emotional abuse, brokenness, loneliness and other factors that have ruined their lives and left them desperate and without hope. Lynhaven Retreat has been established to help these women change their lives in a positive way through teachings based on a biblical foundation. What we are trying to do here is founded on the word of God. We want our women to become re-engaged with society and become God-fearing, productive women."
Jones explained that Lynhaven Retreat is part of the New Orleans Mission which was founded originally as a homeless shelter 40 years ago. Lynhaven Retreat is paired with the Giving Hope Mission, in Lacombe, which serves to rehabilitate men who are also looking for a path to a new and productive life. She said Lynhaven is not attached to any traditional faith denomination and that the rehabilitation programs employed at Lynhaven are “Christ-centered, right out of the Scriptures. We use the Scriptures to give the women we serve the path to a life well lived,” she said.
In the past, Jones said, many rehabilitation treatment centers and “steps programs” were merely “Band-Aids” addressing a serious problem in society, the abuse that women suffered for many and varied reasons. The approach taken by the New Orleans Mission and practiced at Lynhaven has been designed to work where other efforts have not been successful. “We strive to create a very family friendly environment here which works out well for our residents. Many of our residents have had to leave family behind while finding a positive path to life at Lynhaven and their families are invited to come here and visit with their loved ones,” Jones said.
Jones explained that when a woman applies for residency at Lynhaven, she must agree to accept the teachings and the training that are offered. When a new client is admitted to the program, they are given what Jones termed a “prescription” that outlines the particular needs of that person. Once admitted, clients can remain in the program for six to nine months with the time dependent on whether or not the client has minor children and a spouse. If the woman has no spouse, they can remain at Lynhaven for up to 12 months. After that time, a woman with no spouse or minor children can apply for admittance to what Jones called the Master Program and in that capacity that individual can serve the program in some capacity.
Lynhaven is supported financially by donations made through the New Orleans Mission. “We are pretty much self-sustaining because of the donations we receive. We are also getting into a program where we will be earning some funds right here at Lynhaven,” Jones said. Lynhaven will be offering the same opportunities that were available in the past for social gatherings such as were common at the site previously. Jones said that through offering birthday parties, wedding receptions, reunions and similar events, the women residents can get on-the-job training and can learn skills such as planning and catering events. The women are paid for work that they do at the center and can use the funds for legal costs, if they have any, and for their personal and family needs.
A structured day of activities keeps the residents busily engaged in their recovery program. Jones said the day begins with wake-up at 7 a.m. After breakfast, the women have quiet time, when they are encouraged to meditate, pray or otherwise spend time in contemplation and relaxation. Biblical studies are conducted in the mornings and at 12:30 the group breaks for lunch. Maintenance chores are on the afternoon agenda. The women maintain the property, and they even cut the grass. After dinner, additional time is spent on Bible study until the day’s conclusion.
Physical improvements to the facilities at Lynhaven have been augmented with help from Quad Area Youth, a group of young people who are taught occupational and other skills through a program at the Quad Area Center located near Albany. Men from the Lacombe mission center also perform carpentry, painting and other tasks at Lynhaven.
On Sundays, the women attend church services with others served by the New Orleans Mission at the Giving Hope Retreat in Lacombe.
Jones, and her husband who has a ministry at the Giving Hope Center, both have received ministerial training at seminaries. However, Jones said she does not define herself as a minister but as a “servant of the Lord.”
Jene Jeanmarie, a native of St. Martinville who assists the women at Lynhaven, said of her involvement in the program, “I have been here since October of 2018. I was on drugs, depressed, and was living a life that was growing more and more difficult. My husband had a friend in law enforcement and while discussing my problems with that friend, it was suggested that I come to Lynhaven. My husband drove me to the New Orleans Mission and after two months there, I came to Lynhaven. What a change in my life. Lynhaven has been my life ever since. I have learned a brand-new life here. I had been through other church programs and could not find what I was looking for, but I found a loving home here at Lynhaven. They gave me a place to live, a place to eat, and above all a plan for my life. I knew I had been looking for a place like this for a long time. My life had been in a bad place, but all that has changed now. My heart has been changed. I feel alive for the first time in my life,’ she said.
Summer Favre, originally from California and later a resident of Mississippi, has been at Lynhaven for five months. She said she became heavily involved in drugs and wound up in prison. While incarcerated, a fellow prisoner told her about Lynhaven, a place that she had heard about. “ I found out that Lynhaven was even more that what I had been told. God uses this place to change lives and it certainly changed my life. I am set to ‘graduate’ in May but I will stay here for awhile … I want to stay here, for the time being, this is where I belong. My life is whole again.”
Nicole Null grew up in nearby Robert, “five minutes away,” as she describes it. “I had been in and out of treatment centers off and on since I was a teenager. I could never adjust to life. I was always hurt by others. I was one of those who was looking for love in all the wrong places and this got me into a lot of messes. I had some legal issues … I overdosed five times. Society labeled me a trouble maker … a party girl … and all I knew was that I was a failure at all that I tried. I believed in God, but I had come to believe that God had failed me. It was easy for me to blame everyone else and not myself for the mess I had made of my life. I didn’t know how to deal with life. I used to be a victim, and now I’m a victor! I owe it all to Lynhaven. Once I came here, I found a lot more than hope. People here truly love me and God has shown me how to be whom I was meant to be. I was desperate, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and now I am whole again.”
Null, now 38, has four children who are living with family members, and she said she is looking forward to being a part of their lives once again.
Other residents of Lynhaven Retreat told similar stories.
Jones said that once a woman agrees to become a part Lynhaven Retreat, she must agree to be weaned off drugs and alcohol. She explained that those who need to be detoxified are kept hydrated and sent to a physician if medical assistance is needed.
“Once you agree to become a part of this program, you are adopted into this very special family. We are here to heal those who are hurting, to restore those who have failed, to give comfort to those who have been afflicted. Our mission is a serious one, a real challenge, but it is a very special calling and the rewards are tremendous," Jones said. "We are keeping our trust in God and we just know that with his guidance, we will continue to succeed in bringing life back to some wonderful women who thought they had lost everything they ever knew that was of value to them. With God’s help and the Scriptures, we are giving new hope to those who make their home here.”