Eva Moore was only 12 years old when she took her first drink. That drink was soon followed by illegal drugs, homelessness and a stint in a detention center, among other personal tragedies. Moore would often sneak into bars as a teenager, associating herself with an older crowd that encouraged illicit behavior.
“There was an entire list of things I ended up doing,” she confessed. “I was dressing up like I was an adult and getting with the wrong people.”
Moore, who founded the Akron-based nonprofit Freedom House for Women, grew up in a household she refers to as “dysfunctional,” where emotional and physical beatings were routine. Her sister coped with the pain by overeating and later became obese. Moore turned to drugs and alcohol instead, starting herself on a long downward spiral that continued well into adulthood.
As a young mother, Moore’s addiction affected not only her own life, but the lives of her children, as well. She describes that time in her life as being physically present, but not really there.
“I didn’t have a clue about anything they liked to eat or what their favorite color was,” Moore said. “I didn’t know anything about my children.”
Moore was in and out of nearly a dozen treatment centers during that time, but nothing sunk in until one day when she looked into the eyes of her oldest son, Chris, who had nothing to wear to elementary school because she had sold his clothes to buy drugs.
“My son said, ‘Mom, please don’t sell our clothes. Don’t take them. We have to go to school.’ I heard him, but I just couldn’t help myself. That was the last straw,” she said.
Summit County Children Services soon took Moore’s children away from her, giving temporary custody to her mother. In her eyes, this was rock bottom.
“The look on their face – this sadness – it was just like, ‘Wow.’ I’ve got to do something about this.”
Moore entered her 12th – and final – treatment center to get help for her addiction. At the Horizon House in Ravenna, she “lived and breathed” Alcoholics Anonymous, often attending two to three meetings a day to overcome her addiction. Little by little, she began to pick up the pieces of her fragmented life and put them back together one at a time.
At age 30, Moore signed up for night school and earned her high school diploma, graduating as the valedictorian of her class. She went on to the University of Akron and got an associate’s degree in community services, with an emphasis on alcoholism. From there, Moore marched through a bachelor’s degree in technical education and a master’s in counseling. Up next: a Ph.D. in public administration, with an emphasis on urban studies and nonprofits.
“When I dropped out of school (as a teenager), I was disgusted with myself,” she said. “But I believe everything happens the way it’s supposed to. Who would have ever thought a person in a position of homelessness, with kids in the custody of children’s services, would be here now?”
For Moore, “here” is the executive director of Freedom House, a nonprofit that helps single parents with addiction escape homelessness. In 2007, Freedom House teamed up with Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority in an effort to prevent the instant homelessness that results when families are evicted out of AMHA due to illegal drug use.
According to Moore, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act allows public housing agencies to evict anyone at any time if they find evidence of alcohol or drug-related activity. This “one strike, you’re out” law has immediate consequences for single parents and their children, especially when the parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
“Say I have seven kids – which I do. Who would take seven kids (into their home)?” Moore said. “That’s a lot of responsibility to put on family members or non-family members.”
As a result, these families often end up on the streets, and the children are displaced from their home, their friends and their school. Moore’s heart went out to these families, and with the help of a grant from Akron Community Foundation, she established the Adult Supportive Services program at Freedom House.
As part of the program, single-parent families evicted from AMHA can enter Freedom House to get back on their feet while the parent overcomes her addiction. Each client is assigned to a case manager and must take advantage of the organization’s services, which include GED tutoring, alcohol and drug recovery classes, parenting and financial literacy classes, and more.
In 2009, Freedom House served more than 75 people, and its reach is continuing to grow. Moore teaches many of the classes herself and said she loves being able to connect with the clients on a personal basis.
“It’s so fulfilling to see women (go through the program) and keep their housing, go to college, get their kids back and become employed,” she said. “These are things that would not be possible had we not gotten funding from Akron Community Foundation.”
Moore said her personal history provides a powerful connection to the women at Freedom House. Twenty years ago, she never would have imagined she would not only be sober, but helping others get there, too.
“I’m just a regular human being; I’m still capable of making mistakes,” she said. “But the most important thing is to keep moving forward.
“I’m just Eva. It’s that simple.”