A healing mission

Union Gospel Mission helps North Idaho women overcome poverty, addiction, abuse


JoAnn Zajicek has dedicated her life to healing hearts.

First as a nurse in a cardiac unit saving lives, and today as the director of the Union Gospel Mission Center for Women and Children in Coeur d'Alene, helping women overcome poverty, addiction and abuse.

“My passion for helping women comes from my own hurt,” says Zajicek. “My mother had an addiction and it created a sensitivity to other women who are hurting. I can identify with them and what they're going through.”

About 35 women and 25 children from North Idaho are attempting to reboot their lives at the center through an 18-24 month, faith-based program that includes counseling, education and life skills training.

“We see women from every walk of life, every age group, every cultural background,” says Zajicek. “They all have wounds that need to be healed.”

The Union Gospel Mission's Center for Women and Children is celebrating its fifth anniversary in Kootenai County in September.  Zajicek has been its director since the recovery center opened its doors in 2012.

“There is a tremendous need in Kootenai County,” says Zajicek. “In some ways it's overwhelming.”

The idea for building a center started back in 2010, when several members of the Kootenai County community approached UGM about expanding into North Idaho with a long-term recovery program for women with children. One reason: Women with Department of Correction restrictions were unable to cross the state line to access services in Spokane.

 Today, it's hard to imagine what life would be like without Union Gospel Mission. The women's center is staffed by 21 employees and 175 volunteers. All of UGM's ministries rely on donations, as well as proceeds from donated auto sales and its thrift stores.

“We have an amazing team that has grown together over the last five years and we're now at the point of looking at how to improve things and do the best we possibly can,” she says. “Our volunteers play a significant role. They average four hours a week, but many donate hours and hours to help these women.”

The Coeur d'Alene center serves as part of a network helping women with every aspect of recovery, collaborating with other local resources such as Heritage Health, ICARE and child welfare services. It provides women and their children with food, shelter and clothing. The campus at 196 W. Haycraft has a medical clinic. Residents receive one-on-one and group therapy, as well as attending Bible studies and life skills classes. The center helps women earn their GEDs and receive vocational training.

While there are many resources available, helping women turn their lives around takes time, patience, and love, says Zajicek.

“They're dealing with false beliefs. They've been told over and over again that they're worthless, so much that it's part of their core values and belief system,” she says. “Showing them that it's a false belief is essential to the healing process.”

The demographics of those living at the center are evolving. Zajicek notes that she's seeing more, younger women with children enter the program than ever before.

“It's alarming that these young girls are coming in with children,” Zajicek says. “Many of them are coming out of the jail system, and they're hoping for a better life.”

Breaking the cycle of addiction is hard — especially when it's a learned behavior.

“We're seeing third generational drug use,” she says. “Grandma, mother and daughter are all using illegal substances. It makes treating the addiction that much harder because the family support system is broken. We've found that these women need parenting classes as well.”

The most troubling part of addiction and abuse is the damage done to innocent children, says Zajicek.

“Our goal is to increase the counseling and case management for the children,” she says. “Many times the children have been hurt and they need help dealing with their emotions.”

Since 1951, Union Gospel Mission has been providing food, shelter and clothing to people in crisis. The nonprofit seeks to address the underlying issues of homelessness and lead individuals toward lasting life change. Union Gospel Mission partners with individuals and organizations across the Inland Northwest to reach the poor with the love and power of the gospel so they may become God-dependent, contributing members of society.

 Union Gospel Mission holds a commencement ceremony every June for women completing the program.  It's a highlight of the year for Zajicek. She is proud of how much the women have overcome and knows it is only the beginning for them.

 “There is a transformation that occurs,” says Zajicek. “It's not just emotional, it's physical as well. There's a hardness that disappears over their time with us; it's amazing. It touches you that you've helped them find a new life for themselves.”

--Written  by Marc Stewart, Director of Sponsored Content

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