Kalamazoo's Mothers of Hope celebrates 25 years as a welcoming place for those with drug addictions

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

For people struggling with drug addiction on Kalamazoo’s Northside, it’s a place to go.
Mothers of Hope’s unassuming headquarters house at 603 Ada St. is a place where there’s always someone who knows what people with addictions are going through.
“Today we have a house, an office, a facility where we can come meet with people and talk with people when they are going through it,” says Delores Johnson, a co-founder of Mothers of Hope and president of its board of directors. “There are points in time during your addiction where you’re tired and you’re ready to do something different. So you come in or you go where you know you’re safe.”
Addicts looking to change their lives seek a place where there are no drugs, she says. “And you sit and you talk with people about things,” says Johnson. “And you might even be able to stay clean on your own for a couple of days. But really that’s a rest period within your life or within your using.”
Mothers of Hope’s 603 Ada St. Location Is a short walk from the regular haunts of some people the 25-year-old drug abuse advocacy program serves.Three, four or five days after that – without help -- a person may be back on the street using again, says Johnson, a mother of five who is herself a recovered addict. “But we’re here. And I ain’t fixing to talk down about you because I been where you’re at.”
As the substance abuse program is set to celebrate its silver anniversary in September, she and co-founder Gwen Lanier took a few moments to talk about what has changed for the better over the years, and what remains a challenge.
“Because we’ve been in this community for quite a while, to me we’re like a household name,” says Lanier, who helped found Mothers of Hope after she and Johnson recovered from addiction.
Mothers of Hope is a drug abuse advocacy program that the women started after they were asked to be part of a committee that was being formed to support a larger organization. When plans for that fell through, they continued to want to have a positive effect in the community, helping people and handling paperwork, working out of the trunk of Lanier’s car.
With six other women who were on their journeys to sobriety, they found the time to help other people, working out of two offices inside the Douglass Community Association. They relocated to their Ada Street location about four years ago, and their organization is now working “to now (empower) individuals, families, and communities to end violence, become a healthier community emotionally and physically, and where individuals and families can thrive,” according to Stephanie Williams, program director for the organization and one of Lanier’s three adult children.
Gwen Lanier and Delores Johnson stand on the porch of the 603 Ada St. house that serves as the headquarters for Mothers of Hope.“The mission of Mothers of Hope is to empower and strengthen communities in partnership with organizations, businesses, and individuals with shared values,” Williams says. “We will do this by navigating resources and support to assist individuals and families by rising above substance use disorder, trauma, and all systemic inequities.”
The home-grown organization which survived its early years by conducting small fundraisers to raise a few hundred dollars to support its efforts is now a nonprofit that operates primarily with volunteers and receives the bulk of its funding from philanthropic organizations. About 90 percent of its $300,000 annual operating budget is provided by charitable foundations outside of Kalamazoo, 6 to 7 percent is a result of fundraising, and the balance is from private contributions.
“Now what is different is I think we’re a household name to the people in the community,” Johnson says. “When the weather breaks and it’s nice outside and they see us here or there, they’ll ask us if we’re doing (activities such as) the Ultimate Family Reunion again.”
That was a large gathering held annually at Spring Valley Park for about 10 years. It invited families to come outdoors to enjoy music, free food, games, dancing, a petting zoo, and information booths staffed by community organizations. It was last held in 2015.
During the pandemic, the organization conducted a laundry detergent giveaway that included free hand sanitizer and face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. It has pushed Black voter registration, promoted wellness events for Black women, and supported neighborhood cleanup days (in the Ada, Burrell, Florence, Woodbury, Simpson, and Lawrence Street areas).
Along with programs to support recovery from substance abuse, it has hosted an annual Walk for Recovery to celebrate the triumphs of people struggling against substance abuse and to reduce the stigma attached to drug abuse.
Drawings of young people who have been involved in Mothers of Hope’s piano program adorn the perimeter of its backyard garden.Its regular programs include a summer-time gardening program and a seasonal Saturday-morning fresh vegetable pantry. It hosts a piano program for youngsters whose lives have been affected by an addicted family member. And it hosts regular fellowship gatherings from 3 to 6 p.m. on Mondays. That is a chance for anyone to stop in, talk, and relax.
“We play cards and dominoes and just fellowship,” Lanier says. “And it’s usually people who are in recovery or have an interest in recovery.”
Among those interested in recovery are family members of people with addictions. She says they face lots of emotional and psychological trauma along with their addicted father, mother, sister, brother, spouse, or friend.
Between playful arguments about who’s cheating who during a recent game of Bid Whist, underneath a banner that has been signed by more than three dozen people who have kicked drug habits – some before, and some since September of 1998 when the sign was made.
Peer support counselor Gwen Lanier, right, enjoys Monday-afternoon fellowship gatherings at Mothers of Hope.Mothers of Hope is a location for a 12-step program and has hosted regular meetings for the past four years. Members of the 12-step recovery program meet at 10 a.m. each Saturday at the organization’s headquarters.
The 603 Ada St. house was gifted to the organization by the Kalamazoo County Land Bank Authority about four years ago after its owners lost it for failure to pay taxes. About the former owners, Lanier says, “They were mad. So they destroyed the place before they left.” With support from other organizations, the damage was repaired and Mothers of Hope relocated from the Douglas Community Association building into its own space.
Mothers of Hope’s 11-member Board of Directors is laying plans for several events this year to commemorate its 25th anniversary. They include its Annual Walk for Recovery, which is scheduled for the first Saturday of August. But the home-grown organization’s most significant plan is to conduct a capital campaign to raise money to buy two vacant lots just west of its headquarters. They hope to build a new headquarters, a one-story building with enough space for meetings, gatherings, counseling, and other uses.
For the past four years, Mothers of Hope has leased the two lots from the Land Bank to retain control of the space. The organization does not yet have an estimate of how much will be needed for the project.
“We’ve planned a year’s worth of fund-raisers,” Lanier says. “We put them together from January through December, different kinds of ones, so that we could raise enough money this year to celebrate our 25th anniversary, but also we plan to build a small building on the two lots next to the house we already own. We’ve gotten too big for the house we’re in.”
Mothers of Hope is looking to raise money to buy these two vacant lots adjacent to their 603 Ada St. Location and build a new headquarters.After it builds a new headquarters, the organization hopes to lease the two-story, three-bedroom house that presently serves as its headquarters to a family or individual who needs a home. It is targeting an individual who has completed program requirements from the Kalamazoo Drug Court and who will hopefully have completed a home buyer’s training program such as the one administered by Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing.
Lanier says, “We’re hoping that we can obtain the lots to build on – to build a building that’s big enough for us to have a meeting space, for us to have just a lounging space when people want to come in and just talk and not feel like they’re in an office setting – to be relaxed and talk.”
The organization also wants enough space to host annual events without needing to rent a venue. That includes its annual Christmas party for children, which is focused on youngsters whose lives have been affected by a family member on drugs.
“Mothers of Hope was founded by dedicated women, primarily from Kalamazoo,” says Williams. “They embodied the power that Black women and mothers usually possess in order to support their families, neighborhoods, and communities; and, to empower and bring positive change.’

Lanier and Johnson were expecting more people to seek a haven with them this week (the week starting April 16, 2023). That’s because of a lethal batch of illegal drugs that hit the streets the week before.
“You know last week they had a batch of drugs that had fentanyl or some other drug on it,” says Lanier. “Eighteen people in this area OD’d on it and six died.”
She does not know what the base drug was. “I never heard of it before,” she says. “It was something that they give to animals.” But she was acquainted with four of those who died.
Among the ongoing programs at Mothers of Hope is a community vegetable garden, shown here, and a Saturday-morning vegetable pantry.“They lace painkillers and other drugs with all kinds of things to get people higher and increase their sales,” she says. “Somewhere along the line, they must have made a bad batch. They had people falling out everywhere.”
She says two of the victims died while they were getting high, sitting in a car by West Main Street. Two of the other victims were a married couple who lived off North Rose Street, she says.
“We’re probably going to get some people who haven’t been here in a long time,” Lanier says. “When you have a crisis and when people die, people get scared. And so what they’ll do is they’ll come for help for a little while. Sometimes they’ll stay. But most of the time they just stay long enough for the crisis to pass by.”
The types of illegal drugs that are available these days are something that is a greater challenge than what was available when Mothers of Hope was started, Lanier and Johnson say.
“Nowadays, unfortunately, and particularly with the Internet, the kids create a lot of the drugs themselves,” Lanier says. “They make it or cook it or whatever themselves. They be trying all kinds of different stuff. Plus they be on drugs their own self.”
“The drugs are different,” Johnson agrees. “The drugs are worse now than when we were using. When we stopped, when we hit our bottom. … These drugs are synthetic, man-made. They’re laced with all kinds of chemicals.”
But she says people who are struggling with addictions need to know there is somewhere they can go. Mothers of Hope can help put people on a path to recovery and to needed services.  They help them get treatment, follow that with an after-care program, help them develop an after-care plan, and help them get connected with support meetings.
Johnson is a resident care aide at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital and has worked there for nearly 24 years. Lanier has worked as a peer support counselor at Kalamazoo’s Ministry With Community for more than 30 years. Her road to recovery started in 1988 after participating in three recovery treatment programs.
For those interested in participating in Narcotics Anonymous, Johnson says, “We have meetings every Saturday morning. If you want to come and share where you’re at, fine. We’re here. If you don’t want to share, you don’t have to.”
Mothers of Hope’s 603 Ada St. Location Is a short walk from the regular haunts of some people the 25-year-old drug abuse advocacy program serves.She understands the journey to recovery. She worked for several years to regain custody of her five children after she recovered from drug use. And she says that when she was using drugs, she was one of the people that other neighborhood residents complain about – part of an unwanted group of people who would gather and make noise on the street or in cars.
“There was a point in time in my life when I was a part of the problem in the community,” Johnson says. “… But today I’m part of the solution and I’m here for anybody else who wants to change their ways. You don’t have to continue to drug. There is life after using.”
Asked if anything has gotten better since the organization started, Lanier says, “I think that having a grassroots organization right in the heart of the neighborhood (has made things better) because we have walkers that come over here.”
She says the Ada Street location is not far from a couple of places where drug use is not uncommon. “Plus a lot of them know us personally,” she says.
Johnson says, “I was trying to explain to a couple of youngsters the other day that if Michael Jackson had millions of dollars and could afford to pay an anesthesiologist to be with him and administer that to him, and that still didn’t stop him from dying, what makes you think it ain’t going to kill you?”
She and Lanier offer people coffee and a snack when they are available. If the organization has food, it invites people in. But on a recent Monday, Lanier didn’t need to explain the house policy on greeting anyone who enters.
“Hi. How you doing?” she says. “I ain’t seen you in a while. Come on in. Let me get up Al, and move. Hi, there baby. Give me a hug. I’m glad to see you. Make yourself at home.”

To find out more about Mothers of Hope, follow this LINK.
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Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.