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Sally Berry-Austin drove clients to and from sessions at Queen of Peace Center in St. Louis Feb. 19. The transportation service helps remove the barrier of getting to the center for treatment that many clients face.
Sally Berry-Austin drove clients to and from sessions at Queen of Peace Center in St. Louis Feb. 19. The transportation service helps remove the barrier of getting to the center for treatment that many clients face.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Van drivers put brakes on a barrier to treatment

Queen of Peace Center transportation extends agency’s love for its clients

Lack of transportation is a barrier for many women seeking treatment for substance-abuse addictions. That’s why Queen of Peace Center has a service using passenger vans to bring women to the center for treatment and services.

On a recent weekday, Sally Berry-Austin drove a full van with 10 women on the first route and seven on another. Berry-Austin has a background as a caseworker and uses those skills in the job.

“I’m glad that you’re here”, she greets them cheerfully. She waits to see if they want to join in a conversation. Sometimes they pray together. Often the women will talk about their housing situation, especially if they’re staying with a friend or relative and are waiting for housing. Queen of Peace Center provides supportive and permanent housing at five locations and scattered community sites. The Catholic Charities agency believes that housing coupled with treatment helps break the cycle of substance use disorders and homelessness.

When clients are struggling, they talk to Berry-Austin. “I can add a listening ear,” she said.

One of the clients, Wanda, said she has difficulty walking long distances, which eliminates bus transportation. “Queen of Peace Center picking me up allows me to get to treatment every day,” she said.

Angie Anderson drove a school bus before learning of the job opening as a driver at Queen of Peace Center. She puts all of herself into the job, building relationships with her passengers.

“It’s almost impossible to do it without feeling,” Anderson said.

Anderson, a recovering drug addict, said that “to see them make it and to be a part of their success is very rewarding.”

The women receiving treatment stop in the transportation office to talk with Anderson, who serves as a role model and a resource. The women talk about a variety of topics: abuse, homelessness, emotions, trust.

Sally Berry-Austin drove clients from their sessions at Queen of Peace Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

While Anderson has a loving approach, she’s also no pushover. For example, food or drinks are not allowed to be consumed on the van, and when Anderson finds food wrappers, she insists on discipline because it’s an important attribute for an addict. “The disease of addiction is cunning,” Anderson said. “It’s those little bitty things like that that get us caught up. We think we can sneak in a piece of candy. As an addict, we can’t afford to be conniving, manipulative or deceitful because the disease will act on that.”

The love provided by Queen of Peace staff is the key. “When you love somebody right where they are, then you can lead them to a place where they learn to love themselves,” Anderson said. “And once they learn to love themselves, the stuff they used to do is no longer acceptable to them.”

As a recovering addict, she needed to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually and she encourages the clients to do so as well. “I try to help them not give up on themselves. It’s real easy to give up on yourself.

“Honestly, I love them. Some of them call me Mama Angie. That’s because I get on them sometimes. But I do it because I love them and I know they can succeed. If I can do it and countless other addicts can do it, they can do it, too, if that’s what they want to do. But they have to want to do it.”

She checks up on them, especially when they stop coming. “I do what I do from my heart,” Anderson said.

Anderson praises supporters of Queen of Peace Center from the Catholic community, including donors to the Annual Catholic Appeal, and the Catholic sponsorship. “The spiritual realm is the biggest part of the recovery process,” she said, adding that clients succeed because of that and the support of people who believe in the mission.

“I would ask that they keep supporting us,” Anderson said. “It takes all of us working together.”

Anderson and Berry-Austin are treasured by the staff. Christy Ivory, training coordinator, stopped by to give Anderson a present and a hug on her birthday.

“The transportation staff have a very important job that goes unnoticed,” Ivory said. “They are some of the most caring and patient people we have here on our staff. If it weren’t for them, many of the clients would never make it to our doors.”

Anderson said everyone at Queen of Peace Center strives for the same goal — for the women who come for treatment to be drug free, happy and healthy. “And I’m happy to be part of the mission,” she said.

>> About Queen of Peace

Queen of Peace Center is a family-centered behavioral health care program for women with substance-use disorders, co-occurring disorders and trauma.

A program of Catholic Charities, it began in 1985 with 17 residential beds. It now serves more than 1,200 women, their families and children as well as at-risk adolescents each year on a budget of nearly $10 million. It is one of the few programs offering child care for clients’ children, transportation assistance to treatment, residential beds for clients’ children and specifically tailored programs or groups for pregnant or postpartum women.

Half of its clients are uninsured and 47 percent are Medicaid clients. At admission, 18 percent on average are homeless.

Its adolescent resource center is an early intervention program for St. Louis County adolescents ages 12-19 with substance use and/or mental health disorders as well as those who are at risk of developing disorders or risky behavior. Prevention and education programs seek to stop substance abuse before it starts.

Queen of Peace Center serves women regardless of their faith. Jeff Buchek, manager of donor and community relations, said that “our clients know that we are Christian because of our love, because of what we do and how we do it.”

Donate online at www.qopcstl.org/donate or send a check to Queen of Peace Center, Attn: Development, 325 N. Newstead Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108.

Community support

Queen of Peace Center has received help from Schicker Ford in finding and purchasing passenger vans for its transportation effort.

St. Raphael the Archangel parishioners raised $20,000 to purchase one of the vans in 2017. It was part of a Lenten parish project by the parish council. A parishioner saw an older model van that was being used by Queen of Peace Center and found out they needed a replacement. So she went to parish leadership and recommended the effort to replace the worn-out vehicle.

The Catholic Charities agency hosts several events to support its mission Peace By Piece, an art fundraiser benefiting the women, children and families of Queen of Peace Center will be held from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, April 2, at Brennan’s Work and Leisure, 3015 Locust St. in St. Louis. For information, visit https://bit.ly/37W0LAY.

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