Project WARM opens its doors in Flagler

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  • | 4:00 a.m. May 15, 2013
Chet Bell, CEO of the Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Center, speaks at Project WARM's open house.
Chet Bell, CEO of the Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Center, speaks at Project WARM's open house.
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Before Letisha Smith found Project WARM, she existed; she did not live. She was 29, seven months pregnant and addicted to crack cocaine.

“I did whatever I had to do to make it through the day — whatever I had to do to get the next high,” Smith said. “I was broken in every way possible. I was hopeless, and basically, I had given up on life. I couldn’t see a way out of active addiction. Project WARM introduced me to living.”

Project WARM, a Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Center program that serves pregnant and parenting women with substance abuse problems, formerly operated in a 16-bed facility in Daytona Beach. The program has seen substantial growth since it opened more than two decades ago — it has always had a waiting list for inpatient services — so it is now housed in the former Vince Carter Sanctuary in Bunnell, with 52 beds as well as outpatient mental health and addiction services for adults and children.

The organization held an open house Monday as an opportunity to introduce itself to its new Flagler County community.

Earlier in her life, Smith was a victim of incest molestation, which played a large role in her addiction. She was used to feeling voiceless and trapped. When she finally looked for help at Project WARM, she learned to view herself differently.

“One of the first things they said to me was, ‘We’re going to love you until you love yourself,’” she said. “That was my first step toward surrender.”

Through therapy and addiction services at Project WARM, Smith developed a sense of awareness. She learned to forgive her family for her past and to recognize destructive patterns in herself. She learned to do what she was most afraid of: be vulnerable and honest about her past and her struggles. As she learned to live drug-free, she also learned to be a parent and to feel empowered about her decisions and abilities.

“It was really my first experience with unconditional love,” Smith said. “Project WARM is my family.”

Project WARM’s opening in Flagler County was a monumental moment for Smith. In 2009, she spent nine months in treatment through the organization. After she completed the program, she wanted to keep connected; eventually, she was trained to become a behavioral technician for the program.

Project WARM houses women for six to 12 months for addiction treatment while focusing on needs specific to pregnant women and women with young children. Women attend therapy sessions during the day, and evenings are focused on developing parenting skills. They are also given vocational education. It’s all about empowerment, said Deborah Zeoli, president of the Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Center.

Since completing the program and becoming an employee of Project WARM, Smith has married and reunited with the two children she had prior to checking in to the program for treatment. She’s since had more children with her husband.

“We’re still in the healing process,” Smith said. “But (Project WARM) taught me how to move toward forgiveness.”

Now, when women check in to the program, Smith can relate to the brokenness and fear in their eyes. She can help them because she’s been there. She believes in Project WARM’s methods because she’s seen them work in her life.

“I didn’t have courage, I didn’t have willingness, I didn’t have it in me,” Smith said. “WARM gave me that. WARM gave me a voice; it brought me to where I am today.”



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