By Barb Pruitt
Meet Valiant Viola
Make no mistake, building a new life for yourself and your children after experiencing a lifetime of violence, abuse, poverty and addiction is not for the faint of heart. It’s an act of persistent bravery, one that requires overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges that would overwhelm anyone.
What most people take for granted and may sometimes consider burdensome, such as paying bills, going to work and juggling childcare, were life-changing achievements for Viola Lynette Horner.
Four years ago Viola would never have imagined herself working as a certified pet groomer with a place to live, a car and a loving relationship with her three children. In 2016 she was a woman with big problems and no idea how to solve them. And she was completely alone.
Drugs kept calling me
Getting addicted to methamphetamine was not on Viola’s list of goals in life. At barely 20 years old, what started as recreational drug use to fit in with others quickly turned into a daily habit. Before long she was mainlining meth and smoking PCP.
“I didn’t know I would get hooked and strung out,” Viola said. “Within a year I wasn’t able to stop. I lost my home and car, couldn’t pay bills or provide for my kids, and was spending money I didn’t have.”
The problems just kept mounting. While battling addiction, she suffered the heartbreak of losing her father, grandmother and mother in just a few years. She still had her children but would drop them off at a friend’s house for days at a time to use. In and out of jail, she started working as a stripper to make money. She had several stays at the Heartland Center for Behavioral Change in Kansas City to detox, but she eventually would relapse.
“Drugs kept calling me,” Viola said. “I was down to 90 pounds, and my friends and family were giving up on me. I tried to commit suicide more than once but ended up in the hospital.”
Finally in 2017, after losing custody of her beloved three children, Viola was ready to get clean and sober.
It takes more than job training
Clean for 8 months, Viola was staying at a transitional living facility that required her to work and/or go to school. But while a living-wage job would help keep Viola on track, she knew she needed help managing all aspects of her life to get her kids back, become the parent she wanted to be and function in the world as a drug-free woman.
Enter The Grooming Project and Case Manager Barbie Daniels, who caringly steered Viola through every step of a complex court system to clear the path to a restored life. Barbie, who had faced similar challenges of her own some years ago, knew exactly what Viola was going through.
“When you are trying to build a life that you have never had before, it’s overwhelming and stressful,” Barbie said, “but I told her that whatever you have to face you are not alone.”
Viola met Barbie when she applied to go through The Grooming Project’s dog grooming training program. Little did Viola know at the time that she was about to meet a group of people who would become family and help her change her life.
“The Grooming Project helped me to achieve and succeed,” Viola said. “Besides the training, they taught me how to deal with my feelings and thinking. To control my attitude and temper. To identify the right people to be around. To pick and choose who I want to be in life. Some people continue to stick with addicts. I want to be a better person.”
The first challenge Viola faced was legal. She had multiple drug charges, warrants for traffic violations and child services issues to resolve. That’s when Barbie stepped in.
“There is no way Viola could have gone to court successfully on her own,” Barbie said. “She would’ve ended up in jail. She needed someone to show the court what she was doing—a credible voice to advocate on her behalf. I can paint the picture of what the client is doing differently for the court and also tell clients what to expect as they go through the process.”
An essential quality Barbie brings to her work is experience. Once addicted to meth herself, she has been through the same process. This, combined with her training as a peer specialist and court advocate, makes Barbie a powerful resource for parents eager to overcome addiction and its inevitable legal consequences. Barbie’s been likened to Mickey, the boxing trainer in the Rocky movies, but with a better sense of humor.
“I spend so much time in courtrooms that people say I should be a lawyer,” Barbie said. “I tell them the courts are just happy to not see me breaking the law anymore.”
Parents going through The Grooming Project “have to face the worst-case scenario and keep moving forward,” Barbie said. That’s a tall order for anyone. “All the baggage of addiction and the warrants and not knowing where you are going to sleep tonight is daunting. You have to see something different than what you are used to.”
While attending classes at The Grooming Project, Viola was fulfilling a number of expectations for Family Court: finishing treatment, submitting to random urine analyses, finding housing, clearing up her warrants and criminal charges, and getting a driver’s license and car – each requiring appointments, money and time. Barbie was with her every step of the way.
“I’m also a certified peer specialist, so not only can I tell someone how to use the bus, I can take the bus with them,” said Barbie. “You walk through this with them, then they can do it on their own.”
All these challenges required Viola to ask for help, something she’s learned to do with gratitude. “It hurts more when you don’t ask for help,” she said.
Living a full life
Viola has good news to report about her life today.
Since graduating with her grooming certificate in 2018, Viola is now working at The Salon, which The Grooming Project opened two years ago. Her goal is to start her own grooming business in 2021.
She has visitation with her two younger kids, now teenagers, and her oldest is an adult. She completed the county drug program, paid her tickets and, with the help of Barbie and her attorney, Craig Divine of the Divine Law Office, had all charges against her dropped. “Craig really fought for Viola,” Barbie said. “He did a great job.” She now owns a car and shares her two-bedroom apartment with two adored dogs of her own named Knight and Maxwell.
“It’s amazing how working with dogs seems to help with PTSD and a history of abuse, and that’s why grooming is such a benefit to our students,” Barbie said. “Viola’s therapist wrote the landlord to say she had to have her dogs live with her for therapeutic reasons.”
For helping her turn her life around, the entire team at The Grooming Project not only has Viola’s gratitude, they have her love. “I just want Natasha, my mentor Meg and everyone at The Grooming Project to know that if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the person I am right now,” Viola said. “I love them so much and appreciate everything they have done for me. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
But it’s Barbie who’s had the biggest impact on Viola, and she continues to empower her clients to take ownership of their future.
“The only person who can stop you is you,” Barbie tells them. “You can be your own worst enemy or your own best friend. Love yourself because you are worth it.”