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Week 46: McShin Foundation

Dear Batter Up friends, meet the men and women behind the McShin Foundation, an organization that helps people struggling with addiction find the path to recovery.

The McShin Foundation was nominated by Jackie Brown who had this to say in her nomination email:

“The folks over at The McShin Foundation, in the basement of Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church, absolutely deserve to get battered! John, David, Honesty, and Mike, as well as all the other peer counselors and interns do incredible work helping their peers find and stay on the path to recovery from substance abuse in their peer to peer recovery program. They work 24/7/365, care about everyone who enters their facility as if they’re family, and are absolutely changing and saving lives every day over there. Including the life of my significant other who has been sober for 36 days now and given our family a new, healthy, beautiful, happy life! Please consider them for your next cake!”

(Just as a side note, this nomination was sent to me back in March. As of the delivery date, Jackie’s significant other was on the cusp of hitting his 90-day milestone. YES!)

I am betting that the majority of you have never heard of this organization—I know I hadn’t until I got Jackie’s email. It’s not surprising that this organization lies in the shadows considering addiction is a disease that is misunderstood, sensationalized as taboo, and punished for merely existing. Traditional media tends to focus on the dramatic negativity of addiction—exploding meth labs, violent attacks resulting from the newest drug cocktail, tragic car accidents killing innocent families, and Lindsey Lohan’s latest shenanigans. You hear the worst of the worst which is exaggerated for the sake of an engaging headline and a compelling story. Unfortunately, you rarely hear about the successes of recovery. You don’t hear about people overcoming alcohol dependency, against all odds, to turn their lives around and find their place in the world. You don’t hear about the crack addicts who become successful functioning members of society. The celebrities who stand up against industries that foster destructive behavior often remain silenced. And the loved ones who get their family members back from the depths of darkness allowing them to feel whole again do so in a hushed manner. You don’t hear about these people because they are expected to live their lives cloaked in anonymity. Admitting who they are, what they have done, and what they’re overcoming in life is limited to concrete basements with folding chairs and the smell of cheap coffee in the air.

Enter the McShin Foundation.

McShin is a Recovery Community Organization that was started by John Shinholser and Carol McDaid. It provides resources such as halfway houses, transitional recovery houses, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, substance abuse treatment and aftercare, and, most importantly, a safe supportive environment for individuals to start on a path to recovery. Their success is largely due to their Peer to Peer Recovery Support Services model which employs recovering addicts and alcoholics to educate, mentor, and spread the message of recovery to people new in sobriety. They have a 4200 square foot recovery community center located at Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church, large meetings rooms, computers with internet, living accommodations in the form of rental houses surrounding the facility and a regimented schedule coupled with an unforgiving set of rules aimed at teaching responsibility and accountability. This facility, and the results that come out of it, are impressive. But they aren’t what makes McShin special. It’s the advocacy and call for change that sets this organization apart from so many others.

John Shinholser is mad with passion. If you hear him speak, you’ll hear what I’m talking about—and I have to say I agree with him. People dying of cancer are embraced and lifted up by the millions of supporters fighting for a cure. People living with diabetes day-in and day-out have billions of dollars pumped into research to develop resources aimed at battling their disease. In the meantime, people fighting addiction are being sent to jail. So, John and his team implemented the Men in Recovery program into the Richmond City jail system. The goal is to bring the regimented peer-to-peer program found at the facility center into the jail system to help inmates find a path to recovery and stop the vicious addiction/incarceration cycle. A study conducted by the VCU School of Public Policy found that people who stayed in the Men in Recovery program for at least six months were 18% less likely to go back to jail. Not only has the program decreased recidivism, but over the last several years it has saved the City of Richmond upwards of $10 million dollars. These numbers are indisputable and John and his team know it. Punishing people for the disease of addiction does not work. Period.

This fight to replace social exile with rehabilitation has to be resolved with policy change, but it can’t happen until the social stigma surrounding addiction dissolves. In his mission to bring about change in both the court of law as well as the court of public opinion, John and his team are working to buck the myth that addicts should live in secrecy. Anonymity flames the addiction fire—a fact that is brought to light in a recent documentary called The Anonymous People. You’ll find John and the McShin Foundation featured in the film, fighting alongside many others trying to bring about positive change in the understanding of this consuming disease. If you’re interested in seeing it, you can find it streaming on Netflix.

It was an honor and a privilege to learn about these people. A simple cake hardly seems enough of an acknowledgement for the thankless work they do every day to change the lives of others, but I hope that it brought a smile to their faces for, at the very least, a few indulgent moments.

And now a little bit about this week’s cake! It was a Sour Cream Strawberry Cake. I’m afraid I don’t have a link to a recipe for you. It has been in my family for 40+ years and is extremely versatile. You can do just about anything with it. We sometimes do rings of cocoa and pecans through the center, we’ve filled it with cranberries and blueberries, and we’ve made them in all sizes and shapes. In this case, I made some hefty layers and slathered them with cream cheese icing and strawberry jam. Yum! It may be a simple cake, but it is rich in history and love with my family which is why I thought it would be the perfect choice to share with the folks at McShin—an organization with family at the heart of its mission.