NEW ALBANY — You can do a lot when death is the motivator.
The executive director of the BreakAway recovery home, Lisa Livingston, was sentenced to prison for drug charges from almost five years ago on Monday, but her board of directors and staff are determined — and prepared — to keep the house open.
Livingston started the 14-room BreakAway last year on the premise that people were dying from substance abuse. She had seen it herself when her good friend, Nicole Snelling, died of complications from a blood infection caused by injecting drugs.
Livingston’s followers have taken up her mantle while she serves out her 30-year sentence, which she will likely serve 15 years or less of.
“Lisa would not want us to stop. She just wouldn’t,” said Janis Barnett, who will continue to serve as the BreakAway’s program director. “The thing is, none of us wants to let her down. None of us. We all want to keep that dream alive.”
Before leaving for her sentencing, Livingston arranged for the BreakAway to continue in her absence.
Her assistant director, Casey Campbell, a woman in recovery herself, will be taking over as executive director. Previously, Campbell was a “jack of all trades” for the BreakAway, but namely, she wrote grants and reviewed the recovery home’s financials with Livingston.
Barnett, of course, is continuing in her previous role, and Hope Mott, a member of the BreakAway’s review committee, which monitors the recovery home’s progress, will also be on hand for Barnett and Campbell to talk to about operational decisions.
Campbell, Barnett and Livingston used to always make sure they agreed on something before implementing it. Mott will be taking Livingston’s place in that partnership.
Barnett said that Livingston did a good job of teaching her and Campbell.
“I think she groomed both of us well,” she said. “Whether we knew it or not. She was teaching us what we needed to know.”
A new night manager at the BreakAway has already moved in, and the recovery home’s board of directors will remain the same, too. Currently, it’s comprised of nine people, including an attorney, probation workers and nurses.
The recovery home might be running smoothly, but everyone said that they missed Livingston. The day she was sentenced, the BreakAway residents were shocked, Campbell said.
“Casey, what’s going to happen to us?” one girl asked.
“I’m like, ‘what do you mean what’s going to happen to you?” Campbell said. “You’re going to stay here and you’re going to recover, and you’re going to do exactly what Lisa told you to do.”
Christi Guernsey, a BreakAway resident who has lived at the home since it opened, said that Livingston’s loss has been traumatic.
“I didn’t realize it would hurt as bad,” Guernsey said. “…Then it really hit me. Like, she’s really gone.”
Bridget Snelling-Growe, the chair of the BreakAway’s board of directors and Nicole Snelling’s mother, said she has picked up her phone five times since Monday to call Livingston. Each time, she said, it’s hurt her heart. Livingston was her “go-to” person about all things BreakAway.
“There were many times that something would come up, and I would think maybe we should do this or maybe we should do that, and Lisa was always the first person I would communicate with,” she said.
But it’s not just Livingston’s spirit that’s alive. Campbell said that they’d still be involving her as much as possible, maybe through conference calls at board meetings.
And Campbell is a “go-to” type of person, too, Barnett said.
“Being here by myself most of the day, that’s who I call,” she said. “When I make a decision, that’s who I call.”
And next month, the first three girls will be graduating from the BreakAway.
Guernsey will be one of them. When she entered the recovery home, she didn’t have a home, a car, her children and herself. She’ll be leaving with all that and more, Guernsey said.