Ashley Burley overcame addiction and is planning to move into her new home. Photo by Will Crooks.

“I just look at her and she’s like my little miracle baby,” Ashley Burley says of her 2-year-old daughter, Ava.

Burley’s story is one of addiction, pain, and loss — but also of triumph, love, and hope.

“I’m an addict and an alcoholic. I’ve messed around with drugs and alcohol starting at age 12,” she says. “Then it just progressed, and it got worse and worse.”

With the help of local organizations, she’s now working and building relationships with her family and, most importantly, with her other children. 

Burley’s also preparing to move into her new home.

But it took the heartache of losing custody of her first two children and the determination not to lose Ava for Burley to accomplish these milestones.

The intervention

“I met Ava’s dad in 2015 and got mixed up with meth a lot,” she recalls. After finding out she was expecting, Burley told Ava’s father she wanted to change.

“I told him, ‘I want to get clean. I don’t want to lose her,’” she says. But staying clean for more than a few weeks was nearly impossible in her environment.

Ashley Burley calls Ava her miracle baby. Photo by Will Crooks.

Pregnant and fighting addiction, Burley and her boyfriend were caught breaking into a house. She spent five months at the detention center in Oconee County.

“I really feel like when we got arrested that that was an intervention,” she says. “That was God saying, ‘I hear you, I know you want to get clean. … I’m going to pick you up and take you out of it and put you in a controlled environment where you can get clean.’”

The recovery

Hearing about Serenity Place in Greenville, Burley decided to participate in its inpatient program for mothers struggling with substance abuse.

“You make that decision to get clean before you go,” she says. “Once you get there, they give you the tools to rebuild your life.”

The biggest tool for success Burley received was simply a fresh start. Calling the experience humbling, she says it’s also heartwarming to receive help from people who truly care.

“It feels good to know in such a mean, hateful world that there are people out there that want to help,” she says.

Ashley Burley and Ava will move into their new home soon. Photo by Will Crooks.

Serenity Place is one of The Family Effect’s many programs that seek to rebuild healthy families.

“The women in our program can be pregnant and/or have their preschool-age children with them to receive treatment simultaneously,” says Aileen Gallagher, community engagement coordinator. “This is a very unique program — of all treatment centers in the United States, only 3% allow for mothers to bring their children with them.”

The results

Burley chose to stay in interim housing and continue case management and treatment services through Serenity Place’s Lotus program.

“After inpatient care, Ashley worked hard in the Lotus program to find a job, find stable housing, find day care for Ava, and joined a recovery community,” Gallagher said. “Ashley is an excellent example of success of treatment for substance use.”

After some time, Burley’s counselor connected her with United Ministries’ Interfaith Hospitality Network to find short-term housing.

United Ministries encouraged Burley to apply for a Habitat for Humanity home. To her surprise, she received approval to become a Habitat homeowner and will soon move into her new home.

The Family Effect

  • The Family Effect is the philanthropic foundation of The Phoenix Center, which is governed by The Greenville County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
  • Serenity Place and the Lotus program are some of The Family Effect’s many programs that seek to rebuild healthy families.
  • Serenity Place houses 16 women at a time, and they can have up to two children with them.
  • The women undergo about 40 hours of treatment work every week while their children go to a therapeutic treatment center.

United Ministries

  • The Interfaith Hospitality Network program of United Ministries assists families who are homeless and keeps them together as they confront problems. Local congregations offer shelter, meals, and short-term housing for IHN participants.
  • “Ashley utilized United Ministries programs including financial counseling and case management to increase income, improve her credit, build savings, and continue to build her skills as a strong single parent. Using what she has learned, Ashley has gone from homeless to homeowner.” — Nicole Zeiset, IHN program manager

Habitat for Humanity

  • Habitat Greenville builds in all areas of Greenville County. Habitat will build 12 new houses in 2019 with plans to build 14 in 2020. It has also helped with weatherization efforts for 29 local families in 2019. Many local families are served each year through the combined repair, weatherization, and build efforts.
  • “Ashley is a perfect example of collaboration and working together with others. At Habitat we have found that families are more successful when they have a support system and network around them. Ashley worked with Serenity Place, United Ministries, and Habitat on her journey to homeownership, and we couldn’t be more excited for her fresh start.” — Monroe Free, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County

If you or someone you know needs treatment, call The Phoenix Center helpline at 864-467-3790.


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