Roma is certain of one thing.
“If it wasn’t for Sawēyihtotān, I would be dead. No question,” she said without hesitation.
Roma is confident that would be the case after looking back on where she has come from. Sitting in a small meeting room inside the colourful facility on Avenue K in Saskatoon Roma was open and upfront about the very difficult journey she has endured.
The member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation battled alcohol addiction for most of her adult life. In the summer of 2021 after being hospitalized for 3 months due to alcohol-related complications Roma heard the words that would change her life.
“The social worker asked where I was going to go when they discharged me. I didn’t have a place, I was homeless. She asked if I would want to go to Sawēyihtotān, and to be honest I didn’t know what that was but I said yes. I was done with this way of life and had to change.”
Roma was welcomed into the Sawēyihtotān transitional homes where she remained for 5 months and during her stay focused hard on making the change with the help of the programs that were offered. During her stay, she maintained her sobriety and attended programs including 158 smudge and sharing circles, cultural programming, addiction counseling as well as AA meetings. Life skill classes helped set her up for the next stage in life while appointments with elders and knowledge keepers helped keep her on the path she desired.
“This is a special place, it’s like a community, a home and I miss it,” Roma said with a smile.
She misses it because, in December of 2021, Roma graduated from the program and moved into her own home. At the same time, STC offered her employment as an administrative professional. She was outstanding in that role before she decided to move into cooking at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge. From there she looked to regain something alcohol had robbed her of up until this point and that is finishing high school. Roma decided to return to school and is currently a full-time student working towards the coveted diploma.
Roma isn’t alone on her journey. Her longtime partner Ryan witnessed her illness firsthand.
“I am extremely proud of her. She was very sick and is an inspiration to me and others,” Ryan added.
Ryan though was battling his own demons at the same time.
“I was lost, I was addicted to morphine and cocaine. I was always an alcoholic. One year I was picked up off the street almost 40 times by paramedics blacked out drunk,” Ryan recalls. “We were homeless off and on. We would try and stop but always ended up going back to alcohol.”
When Roma had entered STH Ryan was already taking steps to tackle his addictions. He was staying in a supportive living environment for men. Once the STH determined that he was sober and a positive support and that his involvement was not hindering Roma’s growth in any way, he was invited to attend all STH programming alongside the relatives who live in the home.
“Without this programming, I agree with Roma I would be slowly dying or dead,” he said bluntly.
Ryan joined Roma every day for sharing circles, and AA meetings at STH. He now has been sober for almost 3 years.
Saraih- Dawn Matthews the project manager for Sawēyihtotān was beaming and overcome with emotion listening to the impact that she and her staff have had.
“I am so proud of the two of you”. She exclaimed while wiping away tears. “You have made such a difference in so many lives because you touch the lives of the relatives. Just hearing this – wow, I knew we had an impact but this is huge,” Saraih-Dawn added.
Roma and Ryan’s connection to STH didn’t stop once they graduated instead the couple returned to become peer support workers to help new relatives.
Ryan also worked as a cook before being offered employment as a peacekeeper at Kotawān. Ryan is now a leader at Kotawān who trains new peacekeepers.
Going to work and accomplishing something, actually looking forward to something, this is amazing. I would tell anyone, that you deserve to have a good life. I never thought I would have a good life but I do,” Ryan said.
The couple is proof that the program at Kotawān is changing lives.
“It is usually unheard of to have a couple go through addictions and become sober. They usually don’t make it. I am very proud,” Ryan said with a smile.