Restoration House Ministries aids women in recovery

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Nov. 2, 2012 at 6:02 a.m.

Yanet Zaragoza is a former resident of the Restoration House Ministries, a home where young women like Zaragoza can begin to reconstruct their lives with guidance from volunteers.

Yanet Zaragoza is a former resident of the Restoration House Ministries, a home where young women like Zaragoza can begin to reconstruct their lives with guidance from volunteers.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

Yanet Zaragoza lifted her cellphone from her lap and scanned the touchscreen face for a link to MySpace.

"There's a photo of me from a few years ago on here. It's weird for me to look at it because it just doesn't look like me anymore," said Zaragoza, 18, searching her photo albums on the website.

Locating the picture, she tapped the photo to enlarge it to full screen.

"Wow. It's just so weird. When I look at this picture, I just see how broken I was. I see somebody cold-hearted," she said, staring at a photo of her 14-year-old self, just before she entered a faith-based rehabilitation program at Restoration House Ministries. "I just don't recognize myself when I look at this picture."

Zaragoza - a former drug and alcohol abuser and frequent resident at the Victoria juvenile detention center - graduated Restoration's program in August 2011.

Three years after entering the home for women, she is a changed woman, she said. She's a born-again Christian and student at Victoria College with aspirations of entering the medical field. She's also a wife, mother and Restoration House volunteer.

"I know the reason for my success is my relationship with God. Without him, I wouldn't have been able to make the changes that I've made and stuck to them."

Zaragoza admits her entry to Restoration House, a Victoria-based nonprofit that aids women in spiritual, emotional and physical recoveries, was not an easy transition.

Her life before the home was troubled by addiction and out-of-control behavior. She was a victim of physical abuse by a family member, she said, which led to drinking and drug use by age 14. She was also a frequent runaway.

"I didn't want to be at home. I wanted to be on probation, so I would deliberately try to get locked up so I could get out of the house," she said, mentioning she'd been arrested or put on probation more than 10 times before she was 15 years old. "Being in jail was better than being at home."

Zaragoza said while she endured the family member's physical abuse and her mother's dismissal of the events, her understanding of marriage, family relationships and ideas of God became twisted.

"I didn't understand why God would let that happen to me," she said. "So, I thought that's how things were."

With tears streaming down her face, Zaragoza recalled the last lawbreaking incident that led to a court-ordered, six-month residency at Restoration House.

With a few friends, she confessed to burglarizing an office in the Wells Fargo building in downtown Victoria.

"It's not something I'm proud of," she said. "It's just something I did."

Zaragoza was 15 when she moved into the home. She was spiritually empty and angry at her family and life circumstances. She was also two months pregnant.

"To be honest, I hated it there. I wasn't used to getting up early. I didn't want to listen to praise and worship music. I wanted to sleep all day," she said. "I didn't want to be there. And it's weird, but I missed my family."

About three months into the program, Zaragoza said her heart started changing, and her outlook on life became hopeful. She attended church twice weekly, read the Bible every day, performed chores at the house and began working on creating life goals to ready herself for motherhood.

Her minimum six-month stay extended to a year and a half, she said.

"In time, I felt different. I was baptized when I was pregnant, and I just knew I had been washed away from everything," she said. "Every day that went by, I made an effort to become kinder."

Restoration House founder and president Theresa Klacman said Zaragoza's recovery is one the greatest success stories of the program.

The angry and troubled girl who first came to live at the home is long gone, transitioning instead, into a woman of Christ. Today, she's a volunteer at the home and a mentor to the new girls.

"When she first came here, she was depressed and pregnant," Klacman said. "But she began to open herself up to the teachings of God, and she started to realize she wanted to see change in her life."

Klacman said she has formed a lifelong bond with Zaragoza, and hopes to continue serving and assisting in her success as long as she's able.

"I just think her change is all God. Many of these girls have been in rehab. They've been in jail and other controlled environments and it didn't change them at all," Klacman said. "The controlled environment at the house helps, but that's not the element that changes them. I truly believe it's God - all of it."

Zaragoza married the father of her son, Isaiah, who was born during Zaragoza's residency at the home. She's working at Goodwill to support her family, while attending classes at Victoria College.

And even though the circumstances of her life have been challenging, she said she now thanks God for all the pain she has endured and trials she's walked through.

"If none of that would have happened, I wouldn't have a testimony to tell people," she said. "I'm proud that I'm not abusive to my child. I'm proud that I'm the first one going to college in my family. I know now that no matter what life throws at you, you'll get through it, especially if you have a relationship with God."



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