Patricia Banks (left) holding the check, and Alison Jackson (behind) during the Sister House check presentation. | Todd Bannor

An Oak Park-based addiction recovery home, SisterHouse Chicago garnered $2,500 in donations from community members to help send the women in the organization’s care to the 88th annual Alcoholics Anonymous Founder’s Day celebration.

“I’m absolutely excited for the ladies to go,” said Alison Jackson, who organized the donation effort. “Their lives matter and there are people out here that care about them.” 

The donation made on Feb. 17 puts SisterHouse halfway to its funding goal. Touched by the organization’s mission, Jackson’s friends and family contributed to the cause, raising the $2,500 in only two days. The money was handed over to SisterHouse Executive Director Patricia Banks in a ceremony at the organization’s Oak Park headquarters, 25 W. Washington Blvd.  Office Depot donated a sign and a giant check to mark the occasion, according to Jackson. 

A non-profit organization, SisterHouse provides a safe haven for women working toward addiction recovery. The average age of women going through SisterHouse is 45, while 89% of the women seeking treatment through the program are Black and 61.5% have no high school diploma. 

“I think that the hardest year of recovery is the first year, and so SisterHouse is a place where a person can come for 18 months, sometimes two years,” said Patricia Banks, 18 years sober, and SisterHouse’s executive director.

Women are typically referred to the program to receive extended care after having undergone rehabilitation at 28-day treatment centers. At SisterHouse, women dive deeper into what caused their dependence on alcohol or drugs, while being given a safe place to live and further access to structured support for their recovery. 

“When you actually have some acceptance and a spiritual awakening, you realize that if you want to never use again, ever, that recovery is going to be a part of your life for the rest of your life,” said Banks. “And that is probably one of the hardest things to assess.” 

Through the program, women attend individual and group therapy sessions with licensed clinical social workers, while also going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Women more advanced in the program are taught how to develop a network of supportive relationships and to pursue goals related to family reconciliation, personal spirituality, employment and future living situations. They also participate in job training programs and are educated in money management. 

At SisterHouse, there are no gray areas when it comes to sobriety. Part of the program includes recreational activities, such as bowling, to show that they can have fun socializing without the use of drugs or alcohol.

“You will find that a lot of people have spent many years trying to get high right –

meaning that ‘OK, I won’t drink dark liquor because I really get sloppy. I’ll just stick to the light,’” said Banks. “There’s no right way of getting high or drunk.” 

SisterHouse celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Currently, there are nine women living in the main house and two living in the annex, which serves as a bridge to independent living. Both women living in the annex are employed. Wednesday Journal did not interview any of the residents out of respect for their privacy.

The AA convention is being held this June in Akron, Ohio, where the program was  founded. Banks is looking to charter a 16-passenger bus for the trip. Those who would like to contribute to the trip can do so through the SisterHouse website.

At least nine women in SisterHouse are expected to go to Akron, but that number could easily grow. While there, the women will attend sessions, tour the home where the first AA session was held and have an opportunity to dress formally for a special luncheon. 

 To make sure that they have something special to wear, the women have access to SisterHouse’s “sugar rack,” a special closet full of nice dresses, accessories, undergarments and shoes. The “sugar rack” was started by Jackson and her high school friends, all of whom grew up in Oak Park like Jackson. 

The group began volunteering with SisterHouse in about 2017, when they decided to help a local charity in lieu of doing a gift exchange. The “sugar rack” now looks like a small, upscale boutique. 

“We laid that foundation so the ladies, once they enter into treatment, they would have an opportunity to start feeling good about themselves,” said Jackson. 

Self-esteem and self-forgiveness are core to addiction recovery. Many have hurt themselves and others because of their dependency on alcohol or drugs. Once you can learn to accept those mistakes, you can learn from them.

“Through all of these workshops, meetings, working with a sponsor, you learn to love yourself and learn to accept yourself and your makeup,” said Banks. “Because alcoholism is an illness just like diabetes or high blood pressure. It’s just your makeup.”