Addiction recovery is lifelong; that’s why Drug Court graduates have launched a supportive alumni group, aided by Lawrence nonprofit

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of the Social Service League present a donation to Hope Thommen, right, at the Douglas County Drug Court graduation ceremony on Friday, June 7, 2024.

It’s standing room only in a Douglas County courtroom on a Friday morning in early June, but not because there’s a high profile case on the docket.

Instead, the crowd is there to celebrate the three latest graduates of the Douglas County Drug Court program, a four-phase treatment court for adults who have been charged with felonies or have pending felony probation violations and have a substance use disorder.

Including the latest group, there have now been 22 graduates of the drug treatment court program since its inception in January 2020. The three most recent graduates have spent many hours working toward completing the program, cumulatively attending 94 court review hearings, taking part in 446 treatment sessions and reporting to their supervising officers 548 times.

For all that effort, each participant’s guilty plea is allowed to be withdrawn and the criminal charges dismissed upon completing the program. But that alone doesn’t mean that the work of staying clean and sober is finished too.

That’s where the guidance of other successful alumni comes into play. A Drug Court Alumni Group formed this year, aiming both to provide peer support and mentorship to Drug Court participants in the back half of the program and also to plan group activities and community events.

Earlier this month, the Journal-World spoke with a member of the group to learn more about how it will support people working through their recovery process as part of the Drug Court program — and beyond.

The alumni group’s president, Hope Thommen, completed her time with the drug court program in October 2023. She didn’t stay away for long, though, as the group was founded about two months later.

Thommen celebrated three years clean from drug use in early June, and she was present at the most recent graduation ceremony. When Thommen spoke with the Journal-World immediately afterward, she described graduating from the program as feeling almost like “leaving a nest.”

Thommen has channeled that feeling into stoking her “fire and energy” to affect change for others struggling with drug addiction.

“You start noticing there’s a need for people after they graduate to stay connected,” Thommen told the Journal-World. “…It’s kind of a feeling of wanting to just storm the town and pull people in. You want to give it away; you want everybody to have that life change, you know?”

Continued togetherness is important, Thommen said, because things don’t just “fall off” after graduating from the program. Drug Court participants have already built a life for themselves in Lawrence’s recovery community by then. Thommen, for example, said she has become very active in her 12-step program and now leads meetings and sponsors others in recovery.

That’s why Thommen said she wants the group to make an effort to “be out in the community,” being proactive about supporting the many elements that are part of recovering from addiction.

“We want people to see that it’s possible,” Thommen said. “That’s how … we show them; we bring them in and we do it with them, support each other. You have to have a place and you have to have people that are showing you it can be done, willing to help you when you need help and carrying you through.”

The group hosted its first fundraising event, a “recovery car wash,” Saturday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, part of an initial effort to get the word out about the group and get current Drug Court participants involved. Thommen said she’s excited for what’s to come — and to support her peers as they complete the program.

“Your recovery goes on for the rest of your life, and in order to help other people and to give people what I was given, that’s all I want to do,” Thommen said. “…My life is completely changed, and I want people to get that. I want people to be able to be free from their addiction and live a life in recovery — that’s the most important thing.”

Another connection to the Drug Court Alumni Group lies inside a thrift store tucked away at 905 Rhode Island St., just a few blocks removed from the courtroom where Drug Court graduates were celebrated earlier this month.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Social Service League thrift store at 905 Rhode Island St. is pictured Thursday, June 13, 2024.

It’s run by Lawrence’s oldest social service agency, the Social Service League. The agency partners with the court system to provide thousands of hours a year for teens and adults to fulfill court-appointed community service at the store.

At the recent graduation ceremony, the agency deepened its connection with the Drug Court program even further; it’s now helping to fund the alumni group.

Meg Davis, the vice president of the Social Service League’s board, was one of the volunteers with the agency who presented a $2,500 donation check to Thommen at the graduation ceremony earlier this month.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Meg Davis, the vice president of the board of the Social Service League, speaks during the Douglas County Drug Court graduation ceremony on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Davis spoke with the Journal-World about the partnership, which is a first. The Social Service League until now has not partnered with a group like this one to provide seed money and continued funding.

“It’s a heck of a program because it’s successful,” Davis told the Journal-World. “And it doesn’t just drop you high and dry. That’s why we were very attracted to the alum part of it. …That is going to extend their opportunity to be befriended and mentored and have places to go that are substance-free.”

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

A framed certificate hanging above the front door at the Social Service League thrift store recognizes the agency for its support of the Douglas County Drug Court program.

The Social Service League’s connection with the Drug Court is just one of a list of its programs. Along with the thrift store, the agency also supplies winter boots and blankets to the homeless — and free steel-toed boots to people reentering the work force — and partners with optometrists to provide free eye exams and glasses for children and adults.

Then there’s the agency’s “random acts of kindness” program, offering up to $500 to help individuals with emergency needs, and a program for clients of 26 other local agencies to shop at the thrift store using vouchers. All of those initiatives — and the funding that goes toward the Drug Court Alumni Group — are supported by sales at the thrift store.

The league, known initially as “Associated Charities,” was founded in response to the devastation caused by Quantrill’s Raid in 1863 and became the Social Service League in 1911. Davis said the agency has “morphed” over its long life to meet various community needs. It’s been a sewing room, a canning kitchen in the 1940s, a job placement center and a thrift store today.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Sales from the Social Service League’s thrift store at 905 Rhode Island St. all go toward supporting the agency’s other programs.

Yet despite that storied history, Davis said the agency isn’t necessarily widely known. That has placed it at a “crossroads” of sorts, in search of new ways — like in its budding partnership with the Drug Court Alumni Group — to make Lawrence a better place.

“We are seeing a new role for ourselves,” Davis said. “We’re looking for niches. We’re a little place — tiny compared to the rest.”


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