Residents of the transitional home for women Esther Residence in Saco practice yoga. Courtesy photo

SACO — “They saved my life. If it wasn’t for those women I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

So said Amanda Carey on a recent winter day about her time at Esther Residence and the nuns there who helped her turn her life around.

Carey, 36, of Belmont, New Hampshire, is a former resident of Esther Residence, a transitional home for women leaving jail, prison or a treatment program.

For nearly one year, Carey lived at the Saco home which is a mission of the local Catholic Good Shepherd Parish and staffed by retired nuns of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary-Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.

She credits the nuns and the residence with providing the guidance, encouragement and safe haven to lead her away from addiction and toward a more fulfilling and productive life.

Prior to her incarceration and living at Esther house, “I was an addict,” Carey said. “I got involved (in drugs) at a pretty young age.”

Prior to life at Esther Residence, “all I knew was drugs and how to deal drugs,” she said.

In 2014, Carey had one year left of a seven-year prison sentence when she applied to go to the Esther Residence and was accepted.

They nuns who staff the program provided the help she needed to change her life, Carey said. They provided her with the support she needed and aided her in building her self-confidence, enabling her for perhaps the first time “to lead a normal life while sober,” she said.

“I now lead a positive life,” Carey said.

Today, she has a job, is married, and lives with her husband and children — including a daughter who had previously been taken from her  care and now lives with her full-time.

Esther Residence in Saco is decorated for Christmas. The transitional home for women celebrates its 15th anniversary this month. Courtesy image.Esther Residence celebrates its 15th anniversary this month. It was founded Jan. 1, 2006, and began accepting women into the home in the summer of that year.

Sister Joanne Roy, who helped found the home, said she saw the need for a place like Esther Residence while a social worker in Maine’s drug court — when she witnessed a woman was being released from jail who had nowhere to go.

Roy says the home harkens back to the original mission of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary-Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec. The order was founded in 1850 in Quebec City, Canada, to help run a home for women being released from jail with nowhere else to turn.

The sisters who run Esther Residence volunteer their time and even pay for their own room and board.

They take in about 12 women each year. The amount of time the women stay at the home varies, Roy said, but the average is about six to eight months.

During that time, sisters help the women work on goals and get a job. The women have responsibilities and rules to follow. No alcohol or illegal drugs are allowed, the women take turns preparing meals and doing other chores, go to counseling, and attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The sisters help connect them with dentists, doctors, counseling and other resources. They encourage the women to find new interests, as they often have extra time on their hands that they haven’t had before.

“We provide a home-like atmosphere and help them learn some of those things they hadn’t learned before” about how to lead a normal life, Roy said.

Susan Dame, the chair of the board of Esther Residence, says she is amazed with the program and the nuns who run it.

“The work that is done is unbelievable,” said Dame who started her association with the home as a volunteer four years ago when she moved to the area from New Hampshire after retirement.

“The women come to the sisters directly from jail,” Dame said noting the time she witnessed a woman being dropped off at the home with nothing but the clothes on her back and a “good luck” from the officer who brought her there.

Prior to the drop off, the sisters make sure the room is ready, they provide clothes, pajamas, anything a new resident may need until the woman can begin to provide for herself, she said.

They sisters provide tools and skills, “all those things we take for granted,” Dame said.

“These women,” she said, “many of them have not had a normal life.”

The work of the sisters, who live along side with the residents, “is just lifechanging,” Dame said.

“They are almost surrogate mothers,” she said. “What they give is unconditional love.”

“It is a privilege to be a part of,” Dame said

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