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Giving back with Gratitude in Action

Even at the height of her addiction, when self-honesty was hardest to come by, Terri Todd knew she was headed to an early grave.

“If I kept doing what I was doing, I wasn’t going to make it,” she recalls, seated on one of the many couches in the Gratitude in Action thrift shop. “I was just scared enough that I decided to try something different, and I finally found a twelve-step program that made sense. I was willing to do what someone else suggested because I knew my ideas didn’t work anymore.”

Terri met her husband, Richard, in the recovery program, and they bonded over shared experiences and similar goals. Their addictions had separated them from their families, pushed them through courts and prisons, and spat them back into a world with few support systems for people who had lost everything but each other.

“We had a dream of being able to help people who’d gone through the same thing,” Terri says. “Let’s say someone has spent 30 years in state prison. When they get out, they don’t know how to operate a cell phone, let alone operate in today’s world. So based on our experience, we tried to figure out how we could help. We started with sober living homes.”

In 2016, the Todds opened their first home: Ignatia’s House. The building was named in honor of Sister Ignatia, a nun who cared and advocated for thousands of alcoholics at a time when the affliction was commonly “cured” by lobotomies. “Our goal was that no one would ever be turned away because of lack of money or opportunity,” Terri says. “If someone wants to get sober and have a safe, structured place to do it, they can come to Ignatia’s House.”

In the past six years, over 2,600 people have transitioned through the Ignatia’s House sober living program. Over 2,600 people have accepted help and committed to changing their lives. And over 2,600 lives have been changed for the better, including Brandon’s and Elizabeth’s.

“Our families had turned against us, and I had this federal charge over my head,” Elizabeth remembers. She and Brandon were still in sober living during the birth of their son, who was immediately removed from their care until they could provide a better environment. “Terri helped me apply for a family home where you could have your kids, and in a couple of months, my son was returned home. She was with us every step of the way.”

Around the time Elizabeth’s family was reunited, Terri and Richard leased a massive building from the Salvation Army and opened the Gratitude in Action thrift store. “Prior to that,” Terri says, “people would come into our homes, and we’d have to go out to find them clothes and get them set up. So this was a natural fit. Now people who are starting over have a spot to get household stuff. It’s also a workforce re-entry program. People can come down here and volunteer in a safe place.”

Elizabeth and Brandon took advantage of this opportunity early, repairing the once-decrepit building and beginning to repair their lives. “We got involved in the painting of it,” Elizabeth says. “We moved all the furniture in the beginning. My husband helped out with the A/C. When we were both ready to move out of sober living, Terri called a friend of hers and arranged an apartment for us. To be recovering addicts without a support system—it was scary. But Terri furnished the whole place for us. She was willing to let us go through the store and pick out anything we needed.”

Alcoholism is a disease of separation. Terri explains, “You fall under the mindset: ‘I’m always going to be less than you.’ When people begin to heal and work through that trauma, they get to where they can look the world in the eye and be proud of who they are. They can give back to the people they’ve taken from.”

For Lyssa, who struggled with addiction on the Fort Peck Indian reservation, the less-than-you mindset almost triggered another downward spiral after a round of treatment. “I was actually about to go back home, to go back to my old devices,” she explains. “But I’d heard about Ignatia’s House, and I decided to give it a try. It was just the structure I needed. I had no job, no phone, nothing. They took me in, gave me clothes, gave me what I needed to live. They gave me the opportunity to manage the house, and that was such a big growing experience for me. Terri came back to the reservation with me and helped me fight for the custody of my son.”

Terri also provided Lyssa with a set of scrubs and supported her journey towards becoming a CNA. Part of this journey involved building a rental history, which Lyssa was able to accomplish through Terri and Richard’s Ready to Rent program. “It helped me learn how to ‘adult,’ basically,” Lyssa says. “I learned how to budget, build my credit, and pay off my debts. They taught me how to start my life over. I thought I’d never get all that back. We also had house meetings together, and I’d never really had a family structure like that. They helped build a family for me.”

Every Thanksgiving, Terri and Richard host a dinner for their Ignatia’s House family. “Anyone who’s ever lived at the house comes back with their loved ones,” Terri says. “These people thought there was no chance they were ever going to get their kids back. There was no chance their wife was ever going to talk to them again. And to watch their lives get completely rebuilt… You would’ve never thought this would be part of your story.”