Fritz’s Story: Second Chances

As a high school freshman, Fritz was a 4.0 student. During the next year, however, things took a turn for the worst.

Fritz recently spoke at a bill signing event at Ember Recovery, sharing his story and supporting legislation that realigns Iowa’s system for funding mental health services.

He was introduced to marijuana by his half-brother and began skipping school. Even though he sobered up for a while, he was still struggling. Breaking up with his girlfriend sent him back down the path of addiction—and this time, he stopped coming home. He wasn’t taking care of himself.

When he was charged with possession, Fritz was sentenced to probation and outpatient therapy, but he showed up high to therapy sessions. Nothing was getting better.

Fritz’s mom is a recovering addict herself. She knew that unless Fritz confronted what was causing him to use, this would become an endless cycle. She felt strongly that the next step should be a residential treatment facility, one that had a program longer than 30 days. After doing her research, she found Ember Recovery’s program in Ames.

Immediately, she knew this was a good place for her son. For Fritz, he figured he could do anything for 90 days and then resume his life.

However, somewhere around day 45, his counselors called him out—and for the first time, he listened. Things began to get better that day. Ember Recovery staff taught him how to identify and manage the anxieties that caused him to turn to addiction.

Now 10 months sober, Fritz is back in high school, taking a college-level course and looking at what the future might hold. He attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings and outpatient therapy, and he wants to help others.

Fritz is grateful. He is grateful for his life, his mom, and his family.

He is grateful for Ember Recovery.

Holly’s Story: Overcoming Generational Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, genetics can account for about 50% of a person’s risk for addiction, while environmental factors—such as home and family—also play a role. Holly experienced both.

Growing up, Holly’s parents didn’t hide their frequent partying and substance use. “I knew the signs that someone was going to go do something,” she says. “They would go into another room, something smelled funny, and people started to act differently. I’ve been around it my entire life.”

Unfortunately, this was not an occasional occurrence for Holly; it became an everyday reality. While her parents fueled their addiction, Holly got her first job at 14 and took on the parental role for her youngest brother—even buying diapers and formula for him.

But being around continuous substance use took a toll, and Holly began to use drugs, too. As an adult, she continued the generational cycle, fighting addiction as she raised her own children and navigated through a divorce. With “manipulative influences” and triggers all around her, Holly experienced a parent’s worst nightmare: losing custody of her children. She realized then she needed help.

Holly’s rehabilitation helped her understand the negative impact of the people in her life, and she learned the importance of a support system. After years of growth, Holly finally found peace in her life with a steady job and healthy friendships.

However, just as Holly was taking steps forward, the struggles of substance use found another member of the family: her son, Kyler. “He was skipping school, school staff smelled marijuana on him, and I got called to the office after they searched him and found empty containers that had contained marijuana,” she says.

Kyler began treatment, and for a while, it seemed his path was on an upward slope. Holly enlisted the help of a friend, who works for Ember Recovery of Marshall County, to regain full custody of her children. “She went to bat for me,” Holly explains. “She helped me through the DHS system and fought to get my kids back.”

But Kyler’s problems weren’t over. He relapsed after hanging out with friends who didn’t support his journey to sobriety. Holly saw him fall back down the path of addiction and knew the next step was Ember Recovery’s Residential Addiction Treatment program.

Kyler’s 99-day stay with Ember Recovery helped him finally get clean. Holly says Ember Recovery’s emphasis on family made the biggest difference and strengthened their relationship as mother and son. “Our first group therapy helped us deal with both of our addictions in the same room,” she says. “I told him I will support him and see him through his journey.”

Family involvement is one of the things that makes Ember Recovery unique. Families are integrated into treatment through visits, family therapy, virtual parent information sessions, and the Strengthening Families Weekend, which invites family members to join youth for in-person, evidence-based skills training. Ember Recovery also provides resources and teaches parents to become nurturing caregivers through bonding, setting boundaries, and monitoring.

“The Ember Recovery staff were great,” Holly explains. “It was real talk. They talked to me like I was a real person.”
Ember Recovery gave Holly and Kyler a chance at a new life. As she is approaching her 12-year sobriety anniversary, Holly wants to tell her story so other families—especially those affected by the trauma of generational addiction—realize they are not alone. “Being where I was and knowing what I have gone through—I know I am more than this,” Holly says.

Jazmin’s Story: Rediscovering her Motivation

Many addicts hit rock bottom before they seek help. For Jazmin Melo, rock bottom was waking up in the hospital after a six-month bender, not knowing how she got there.

A first-generation American, Jazmin grew up pushing herself to be the best in school and activities. She thrived on making herself proud but struggled to cope when she fell short. At age 11, Jazmin first recognized signs of mental health issues.

“As I got older, it became clearer that these mental disorders were not something I would eventually grow out of,” Jazmin says. “Still, I was optimistic and motivated to reach my goals.”

But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Schools closed, and activities were canceled. At the time, Jazmin was living with her older sister, and—bored at home, with little to keep her accountable—she began drinking. Her sister also struggled with substance use, and they enabled each other.

Jazmin explains she didn’t fear alcohol like she did “harder drugs,” which fueled her self-assurance that she was not an addict.

“I thought I was just being a teenager; I saw my friends doing it,” she says. But then Jazmin noticed things slipping away: her motivation, her goals. School had always been a point of pride, but now she was missing assignments and failing classes.

Everything culminated one night when she blacked out. After finding herself in the hospital, Jazmin had her first moment of clarity in a long time. She knew she needed help.

Jazmin was referred to Ember Recovery’s Residential Addiction Treatment Program. The only one in Iowa with a gender-responsive focus, the program helps girls develop coping skills, improve self-esteem and confidence, build healthy relationships, and feel valued. Although scared at first, Jazmin says the staff and other girls were welcoming and immediately made her feel at home.

“The good thing about rehab is you’re forced to think about everything that happened, and you have people there who don’t judge you and are ready to help,” Jazmin says. “I was so sad I had done this to myself, but the feeling soon turned into motivation.”

After completing the program, Jazmin returned home and enrolled at Mercy College in Des Moines. This fall, she became the first-ever recipient of the Ember Recovery Collegiate Recovery Scholarship, which was created by Mary Ann and Jim Black, a long-time Ember Recovery donor and member of the YSS Corporate Board of Directors, to support Ember Recovery alumni as they pursue higher education.

With the help of the scholarship, Jazmin now has financial support as she works toward her goal of becoming a registered nurse.

“I know this feeling of being excited to go to school and accomplish my goals is not something that I ever want to trade,” Jazmin explains. “I want to stay sober, so I can continue to live happily.”

Michael’s Story: Chasing his Dream

Before Michael came to Ember Recovery, he was struggling with substance use, skipping school, and sleeping all day. He entered Ember Recovery’s Residential Addiction Treatment program and learned to manage his stress and anxiety in healthy ways. In June 2021, he successfully completed the program.

“If I hadn’t gone to Ember Recovery, I don’t know where I would be right now,” Michael says. “I’m proud of how far I’ve come.”

While at Ember Recovery Francis Lauer, Michael also caught up on his schoolwork and was able to graduate with his class—something he never thought was possible. He decided to pursue his long-time passion: becoming a barber.

Michael had taught himself how to cut hair from YouTube videos and worked for years to perfect his skills. Barbers often serve as unofficial therapists to their clients, and Michael now shares his personal story whenever he’s working with someone struggling with addiction.

This fall, he enrolled at the Salon Professional Academy in Cedar Falls—and he was named a recipient of Ember Recovery’s Collegiate Recovery Scholarship to support his dreams. His goal is to open his own barbershop.

“I’m excited to start my career and open my own business one day,” Michael says. “Ember Recovery taught me a lot about myself. I know what I’m good at, I know I can stay motivated. I know I can do it.”

Oscar’s Story: Finding Compassion

Born in Honduras, Oscar came to the U.S. alone at age seven and stayed with extended family he had never met until his parents could join him. His transition to life in America was hard; he couldn’t speak English and missed his family back home.

By the time he was a teenager, Oscar was skipping school and dealing drugs to make money. He dealt with bouts of anger and impulsivity, as well as suicidality.

He finally found respite in Ember Recovery’s residential addiction treatment program. Through individual, group, and family therapy, he overcame his trauma responses and learned to show compassion for his family’s experiences—and himself.

Oscar successfully completed the program, maintained a part-time job, and graduated from high school, even winning awards for his academic achievements. His confidence, family relationships, and social skills drastically improved, and he now has hope for the future.

Riley’s Story: A New Path

At 16, Riley was heading down a bad path—smoking weed, and hanging out with older friends. But it wasn’t until she was facing a felony charge that she knew she needed help.

“It scared me,” Riley says. “So one day I texted my dad and said, ‘Hey, I think I want to go to treatment.’”

They began looking at adolescent treatment centers in the Midwest and found Ember Recovery. Riley and her dad visited Ember Recovery, a residential addiction treatment program in Ames, and she checked into the girls’ house that same day.

In less than four months, Riley overcame her obstacles and learned to focus on her well-being. She grew close to the other girls in the house, explored hobbies such as painting and reading, and benefited from individual and group therapy.

“I learned a lot. Day in and day out, all you do is work on yourself,” Riley says. “Plus, I loved bonding with the girls and staff. When I graduated, I didn’t want to leave because they were like my family.”

Today, Riley lives in Florida with her own apartment and a job she loves. Nearly three years clean, she credits Ember Recovery with changing the direction of her life.

“If it weren’t for Ember Recovery, I wouldn’t have finished high school. I would have kept going down the path I was on and probably ended up in jail,” Riley says. “Ember Recovery helped me so much. I’ll always remember it.”

Susie’s Story: A Happy Place

At just 17 years old, Susie was facing adult felony charges, including possession of drugs, intent to deliver, and possession of stolen goods. She was completely estranged from her family, living with her boyfriend and barely making it to school.

Susie was court-ordered to Residential Addiction Treatment at Ember Recovery. As an angry and hurting young woman, she was not happy about it.

At Ember, Susie began working with a therapist individually before adding family counseling to the mix. She also participated in group therapy consisting of a female-responsive curriculum that focused on healthy relationships, family connections, trauma, and pet therapy. Lastly, she took advantage of several skill development groups and ongoing staff support.

After four months of hard work, Susie graduated from the program in February 2020 and returned home. The court agreed to expunge her record if she maintained the positive changes and stayed out of trouble—which she has done.

Since leaving Ember, Susie graduated from high school, got a full-time job, and plans to attend cosmetology school.

“Because of Ember Recovery, we have our daughter back,” Susie’s mom says. “I am so proud of the changes she has made.”

Susie’s little brother says, “Everyone used to fight a lot and I would just hide in my bedroom. But now, home is a happy place, and I like having my sister back.”

Susie reports that she is now able to openly communicate with her family. She has a lot more patience and is better equipped to handle her stress and frustrations without getting angry.

Thanks to Ember Recovery, Susie and her family have hope for the future.