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MORE THAN A DECADE AFTER GRADUATION, ANDREA HELPS OTHERS RESTORE WHAT THEY’VE LOST
Andrea grew up in Los Angeles in a Christian household—she had pictures of Jesus “all over her house”—she said. But even with that positive influence, Andrea found herself going through a major teenage rebellion phase. “My stepdad would tell my mom, ‘She’ll grow out of it.’ I didn’t. I didn’t have a bad life—it was just my bad decision making. It was like that for years.”
Andrea had two kids, one when she was 16 and one when she was 17. They lived with their paternal grandparents in Downey and Andrea would visit. “I ran with this LA crowd that did all kinds of stuff. I never got too involved in it; I just lived with them. But I did get hooked on the drugs—meth and alcohol.
“It got harder to visit my daughters, to go back and forth, when I was under the influence. When I was 18, I left home for good and officially gave up my kids.”
What followed was a dark period. “For the next 10 years, I was running amuck. It feels like it flew by,” she said. “When I was 26, I got pregnant with my son. It was chaos. I was drinking heavily, using meth every day. That had to be the darkest, lowest point I have ever felt in my life. It was because I knew I was hurting somebody else.”
Andrea had been in an altercation at one point and had been sentenced to house arrest with an ankle monitor. She had removed the monitor and fled. “I thought that if I went to the hospital to have the baby, they’d know my name, and I’d be sent to prison. I was scared.
“I met God in the bathroom, sitting there with a drink in one hand and smoking in the other. I said, ‘If you’re really real, you’ll help me. I need help.’ That was a turning point in my life.”
Andrea gave birth to a healthy baby boy. I had asked for a toxicology report on the baby. It was zero. He was born perfect. That was the sign I needed to get it together.”
Getting on the straight and narrow wasn’t easy though. “I started losing everything,” she said. “My child’s father was deported. I lost my apartment. My friends were being arrested. … I ended up on the streets with my son for a while.”
Andrea decided to seek help and got to the Lighthouse in 2008 with her son, then almost 1 year old. “I was scared when I first got here,” she said. “Every time there was a knock on the door … I was always looking over my shoulder.
“I came here with absolutely nothing. I didn’t have money, assistance, anything. But the love that was poured into me here made me feel like I could finally tell them.”
Nine months into the program, Andrea confessed that she had a warrant in Los Angeles. She went to court and was facing a four-year prison sentence. But she was released back to the Lighthouse, where she flourished.
Andrea graduated from the program and went to Oxnard College where she earned a certificate in addictive disorders. She interned at the shelter and was then hired on as a case manager.
After a few years, Andrea went to work in treatment in Malibu and Montecito. “It was way different than anything here,” said Andrea, speaking to the lack of faith-based programming. “Being in secular (recovery)—it’s just a different world. I started realizing what I was missing when it occurred to me that I was taking some of my Malibu residents to church services.”
After being laid off, Andrea started thinking about what she wanted. “I thought, ‘What made you happy before?’ And it was being with the ladies and the children at the Lighthouse. I was always happier here.”
In 2018, Andrea returned to work at the Lighthouse and has been here since. Her son is now 13. “To the women, I tell them to stick with it,” she said. “It’s hard, I know. When I first got here, I wanted to run. I tell them, if there is something you are having a hard time with, ask God to take it away. I tell them they are worthy. That’s how I feel now.”
Nearly 15 years after she entered the program, Andrea still remembers the support she received, which helped her carve out her future. “There were always people making themselves available,” she said. “I was able to talk about things and I would be given scripture. The love, the guidance—it was so unconditional.”
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