By definition, a haven is a place of safety, a refuge.
Trina Rickard has made it her mission to draw from her own experience as an addict to provide a clean and sober place — a haven — for women struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.
Rickard hopes that this place is 97 Washington St., Cattaraugus, N.Y., a small village with a population of around 1,000, located north of Salamanca, N.Y. Nakeema’s Haven is set to open its doors on May 1. Rickard also hopes the third time’s a charm as two previous locations did not pan out.
The requirement for admittance? A commitment and drive to be clean and sober — regardless of where they come from or what path they have traveled. All women are welcome to make Nakeema’s Haven their home on their road to recovery.
“Our top priority here is for women to come in, get hope and get in recovery. That is all we care about,” said Rickard, executive director of Nakeema’s Haven.
A Place for Recovery
It’s a sobering fact that drug and alcohol abuse is running rampant and is taking lives in the process.
Rickard knows this all too well. She herself is a recovering addict — her sobriety date is July 14. This year, she will accomplish 23 years of sobriety.
From the struggles of her own past, Rickard has sought a way to pay it forward and provide an opportunity for women to get the help they need. That is why she started Nakeema’s Haven, a place for women who “don’t want to go back” to a life of drugs and alcohol.
Five beds will be available, including one room that can accommodate a mother and two children. Keeping a mother with her children is an important part of recovery.
“They are getting their lives turned around. They shouldn’t have to lose their kids in the process.”
While the place is not ready for full occupancy yet, they can house someone in case of an emergency.
“We have a bed ready; it is livable,” Rickard said of the house.
The mission of Nakeema’s House is to provide women with “decent, affordable, supportive, clean and sober housing as they begin their journey to recovery.”
Rickard stressed that women can stay regardless of income. One woman who went to social services and discovered she could not receive help there, burst into tears thinking she could not pay rent.
“That is not what we are about. We are not going to turn anyone away. There are no roadblocks. I want to make it clear — all are welcome who want recovery.”
Yes, Nakeema’s Haven helps women in the here and now, but it also prepares them for life beyond its doors.
On the residential side, the women plan and prepare meals together and help with household chores. They also work on becoming more employable by either volunteering or working towards a GED or college degree.
While Nakeema’s Haven is a residential unit, its doors are always open for women who need support or a safe place to hang out for a few hours or a couple of days.
“You never know what life deals you. They may be scared of failure,” Rickard said. “They can come in, hang out, grab a recovery book or do puzzles.”
On the recovery side, they attend outpatient counseling and attend 12-step meetings.
Between the two, Nakeema’s Haven provides the structure these women need to succeed. People are on site 24/7.
Transportation is provided to and from meetings, doctor’s appointments as well as other necessary travel.
All the people working at Nakeema’s Haven are certified to use Narcan, which blocks or reverses the effects of opioid medication and is used when people overdose.
Rickard said they have not had to use it yet, but volunteers have it on them at all times in case the need arises.
A vast majority of the women in the program have drug addictions and may rely on alcohol only when they can’t get their drug of choice.
To date, Nakeema’s Haven has helped 26 women. Only seven were solely addicted to alcohol.
“That is where we are now. People are using more drugs than alcohol … this is a serious epidemic.”
The women can stay eight months to a year. A minimum of eight months is to provide them enough time to get sober and ready to leave. A maximum of a year is needed so they have a deadline and not rely on others.
“If they get comfortable, why would they move to the next stage ... it sets the pace for them" in the marathon journey of recovery.
However, if extra time is needed to take the next step and move on their own, allowances will be made.
“We are not going to set someone up for failure.”
To date, only one woman has been turned away. That was because she was on suboxone, a drug which is used to help heroin addiction. No controlled substances are allowed at Nakeema’s Haven.
The place is open for any woman regardless of where they live.
“We don’t care where you come from,” Rickard said, adding they have helped women from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and throughout New York state.
Battling the Stigma
Nakeema’s Haven is not new. It has been in existence for two years. There is no doubt that these types of residences come with a lot of baggage and that is true of this one. It has had an uphill battle to find the right place and to gain acceptance.
Nakeema’s Haven first opened in Olean. On the surface, that place did not work because they could not get a variance to have a recovery house in a residential neighborhood. But below the surface, the stigma of having a recovery house in the neighborhood was too much for locals to bear.
“They don’t want to get real about it,” Rickard said of some of the neighbors. As with anything, some were accepting as others were not.
In fact, one neighbor was quoted as saying, “I would rather live next to a murderer than a junkie.”
Rickard then thought she had a second chance when a house in Little Valley was donated. In the end, that deal fell through when issues with the owner developed and they discovered the construction was more than they could tackle to get it ready for occupancy.
"It was for the best. We don't need that stress."
Enter the home in Cattaraugus — a true haven.
What's in a Name?
Nakeema's Haven was named for the one being Rickard could rely on while seeking sobriety — a Rottweiler.
"They say to get a plant because it teaches responsibility, but I have never had a green thumb."
Instead, she had “Nakeema,” a source of unconditional love and someone who lends a sympathetic ear, will keep secrets and teach tolerance.
"What an amazing gift," Rickard said.
In that spirit, a dog and two cats are on site to lend a paw in recovery.
"They are safe to talk to, to cry to. They have that instinct. They are very rewarding.
Getting by with a Little Help
"... With God, all things are possible." Matthew 19:26
Spirituality plays a big part in Nakeema's Haven and so does the help of volunteers.
When the house in Cattaraugus was donated, it needed a lot of work before they could plan on accepting applications. This included a new hot water tank, a new roof and repairing water damage. Several volunteers and area businesses have stepped up to the plate to get the place ready.
Bob Bolles is one of them. He spends one day a week in his free time to do whatever is needed, whether it is plumbing or patching walls. And he often stays to 2 or 3 a.m.
"These people need help: they don't need prisons,” he said.
Rickard echoed Bolles' words, saying when an addict is incarcerated with no rehabilitation, "the same person comes out.
"They are caged like animals. We need to show them how to live different ... or they will get caught in the system.”
In addition to the volunteers helping with the house, there are six who help with the residents and more are welcome.
Also welcome are donations of clothing, household items, hygiene products and money.
Nakeema's Haven is run solely by volunteers and does not receive any state funding.
The residents are the top priority, Rickard said. Extra donations — such as dishes and silverware — are set aside and given to the women when they leave.
"Our goal is to have enough donations to help them set up their first apartment when they leave us."
If there are extras, they are given to others who may need them.
Rickard’s plans for the future include another living facility for women who are ready to leave Nakeema’s Haven, but not ready to head out on their own, as well as one for men.