CONWAY — Roberta Duncan of Conway said she started using drugs when she was a child.
“I’ve been smoking weed since I was 7 years old,” the 49-year-old said.
Duncan, a native of California, said she moved to Quitman when she was 13.
She is one of the women who lives in a Christian shelter operated by Stand Together And No Drugs, or STAND, in Conway.
Founded by Suzanne Gonzalez of Conway, it operates in Glen Echo mobile home park. Six donated trailers are being refurbished with the help of Habitat for Humanity of Faulkner County to create room for more women.
“I was in (Faulkner County) Drug Court with Suzanne, and I had a job and was doing OK for a little while,” Duncan said. “The job fell apart, and I was looking at living on the streets.”
Duncan had been in a rehabilitation-type facility in Pine Bluff prior to being sent to drug court in Faulkner County, she said.
“I didn’t really know people in Conway,” Duncan said, adding that she didn’t want to live in a co-ed shelter. Gonzalez told her about STAND, which is only for women.
Gonzalez is open about her own past, which includes drug addiction, prostitution and sexual trafficking of other women.
She said her goal with STAND is to help women who are just out of jail, or homeless for other reasons, “to feel at home and get them started in the real world; educate them; support them,” she said.
“I’m very impressed with Suzanne,” Duncan said. “I came into drug court with her, so I watched her go from the streets to where she is now.”
Duncan said that through STAND, she has a support network that she’s never had.
“It helps, and all those 42 years (of doing drugs), I didn’t have any sober friends, and now I do. I have a support system,” Duncan said.
“It’s enabled me not to worry about a roof over my head, so I can save the money that I do make to go toward my fines and save what I can so when this program is over I will have a little,” Duncan said. “If it wasn’t for STAND, I’d be on the streets.
“It’s also given me a closer contact with my higher power. It’s gotten me back in church,” she said.
Shelter resident Hannah Roberson said she has lived in Conway since she was 6.
“Everybody has a past, and I just wanted some good influences in my life, somebody to understand me, and that is when I found this program,” Roberson said.
She teaches an art class to the women.
“It’s basically for the girls to help them relax, and it is very therapeutic. A lot of the times they feel overwhelmed,” she said.
Creating art also shows the women “you can have good positive fun,” Roberson said.
Gonzalez said Roberson “is a little firecracker,” and that the other women love her energy.
“She has such a passion for the Lord,” Gonzalez said.
Roberson, who is 27 years old and employed, said she has several goals.
“I want to give back what’s been given to me through STAND, to help people and let them know that they’re not fighting this alone,” Roberson said. “Even if you are young, you can find good, positive things to do without going out to party and drink.
“My goal is to finish my degree in business administration, and I would like to work for a nonprofit organization and influence people,” she said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.