Claudia Elston is director and founder of A Way Out day program, which helps troubled young women with job placements, higher education opportunities, transportation to job interviews and medical appointments and information on applying to a variety of programs like Job Corps and Youth Success. Elston created the program after becoming clean and sober, which she has been for 10 years now.
Why did you start A Way Out?
After I got clean and sober from crack and alcohol, I wanted to pay it forward.
What caused you to become clean and sober?
My mom walked into my house and told me she had breast cancer and was not going to get surgery or chemo; you know what the end result of that is. I wanted her to see me clean and sober. I called everybody in the phonebook, and Self Discovery took me to Huntsville. I told God if he would keep my mom alive long enough for her to see me clean and sober, I would do anything. He did, and one day, I woke up at 4 in the morning and started writing this program.
Who does your program help?
Young ladies who are 16-24 years old. Our young ladies come to A Way Out Day Program from detention, foster care, group homes, courts, probation, community service, human trafficking, and we also serve runaways.
Why did you see a need for A Way Out in our community?
At 18, the state says you are an adult, so you age out of foster care and detention centers. That is the time you start making all these crazy decisions and mistakes: falling in love, staying out all night and doing the wrong things. Suddenly you wake up, and you are 21 and you realize you dropped out of high school, you did not go to college and you do not have a job. Where do you go then? That is why I started this program.
What happens to the women after they complete your program?
We have sent young ladies to the National Guard, Gadsden State, Jacksonville State, and some become certified nursing assistants.
What activities do the participants do?
They come in and use the computer to find jobs. There is a life coach who talks to them about different resources in town. They also do arts and crafts. A woman from Mary Kay comes in to do makeovers for them. We have a room set up where they can get clothes and shoes for themselves and their children at no cost; we even have scrubs available for the young ladies who go on to be certified nursing assistants. We feed them breakfast and lunch; it is not much, but they do not go hungry. These might be the only meals they get.
Is this program free?
Yes, this program is completely free for these young ladies.
How many participants has A Way Out helped?
180 young ladies have come to us, and 62 of them have been successful.
What items does A Way Out need?
Personal hygiene items, especially feminine products, Band-Aids, water, sodas, paper towels, ramen noodles and granola bars. Two things we would love to have are Pampers and milk. I want these young ladies to be able to get those items for their babies. I do not go around begging and borrowing and taking loans, but donations are always accepted. If I ask for something, I need it.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would really like to open a house to have a residential portion of this program. I have been working on getting a house for over a year, but every time I present one to the city, they say there is one issue or another. I have something in the works, but I do not want to give too much away. I would love for churches and other organizations to call me to ask how they can help make the house happen.
A Way Out day program, located at 902 Noble St., Anniston, is open for girls and women ages 16-24, Monday-Wednesday from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. For more information, contact the office at 256-403-5397.
Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.