Claudia Elston doesn't want to just help young women in crisis.
She wants to teach them how to help themselves.
"All I want to do is help ... but I'm not going to pay for your light bill," Elston said. "I'll help teach you how to pay your own light bill."
Elston, creator of the Anniston-based A Way Out Day Program, held a soft opening Saturday for her organization's new location at 902 Noble St. The program, which helps women in need, starts accepting new clients Monday.
A former alcohol and drug addict turned drug counselor, Elston first started the program in Huntsville but decided to bring it to her hometown of Anniston in September as a way to help women the way she was once helped.
The organization, funded by Elston and donations, is mainly for women 18 years old through their early 20s. It offers a collection of different free services, from training for job interviews to setting up doctor appointments and providing transportation. Elston provides drug counseling services and free drug tests. The office is also full of informational brochures for various other local, state and federal programs that provide assistance to women in need.
Since starting here in Anniston, the program has grown in clients and volunteers, Elston said.
"Several of them have gone into the National Guard," Elston said of her clients.
Elston said she now has six volunteers, several of whom are retired military. Elston said the volunteers act as life coaches, assistants and mentors to clients.
"This program is an outlet for women to help them go out and move on with their lives," Elston said.
Volunteer Donna Roberts, retired Army, said she started helping out with the program only a week ago, learning what to do and how to help clients.
Roberts, who is also president of the local Women Army Corps Veterans Association, said volunteering to help with Elston's program was a natural fit.
"I've always tried to help other women, to get them out of rough patches and into the good," Roberts said.
Staff Sgt. Latoya Widham, Elston's daughter, visited the opening event Saturday to speak about her mother and show her support. Widham said she hated her mother for a long time for abandoning her when she was 18 months old. However, she eventually learned to understand and forgive Elston and even support her as she recovered in drug rehab.
"I'm really proud of her," Widham said of her mother’s creation of the program. "She says it's her passion; her ability to help ladies when they get to the point where she was at."
Widham, who is stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, added that she planned to return to Anniston when possible to give motivational speeches and help with the program.
Debbie Godby, an Army veteran, said she volunteered to be a mentor.
"I've always wanted to help people who want to help themselves," she said. "And even if you've helped just one person, you've accomplished something."
For more information about the program, call 256-403-5397 or 256-740-2354.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.