To a casual stranger, Sherry Rodgers looks like any other mom, shepherding her four children along their life’s journey. But it wasn’t that long ago when Rodgers, 28, hit rock bottom, facing prison time and the possibility of losing her children. Rodgers was young and thought she was in love. She had her first child two weeks before she turned 17. Four kids and eight years later, she decided to leave an abusive relationship. “I didn’t know who I was,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my life.” 

Sherry Rodgers enjoys a moment with her children, from left, Kenneth Hartfield, 7, Michael Rodgers, 9, Heath Schultz, 10, and Abigail Schultz, 11, at Lighthouse Rescue Mission in Hattiesburg on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.
Sherry Rodgers enjoys a moment with her children, from left, Kenneth, Michael, Heath and Abigail at Lighthouse Rescue Mission in Hattiesburg on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.
(Photo: Lici Beveridge/Hattiesburg American)

Drugs eased pain, but kids weren’t in mom’s life

Not knowing what to do next, she turned to drugs for comfort. She remained an active addict for three years, and was eventually arrested on felony charges. Rodgers’ children were living with family members. She saw her children occasionally over the three years she was doing drugs. While living in active addiction, Rodgers would try to stay in touch with her children, sending them cards, drawings and small gifts when she could.

“I did anything I could to send love to my kids,” she said. But Mom wasn’t always around for the holidays since the drugs took precedence. “I can’t really tell you what their Christmas was, because I wasn’t there,” she said. “I had been gone on and off for three years in active drug addiction. I’m sure they were given some things from the family members that they were with.”

Today is a different story. “The Christmas that we spent here (at Lighthouse) was unbelievable,” she said. “If God hadn’t put this as part of our path on my road to recovery, I’m not sure I would have been able to provide them with any Christmas at all.

“I was still trying to maintain my sobriety, was looking for work at that time, but the donors that provided the gifts for the kids as well as for the ladies here, they were so sentimental. They weren’t just random toys, they were toys that were chosen for each child and what they liked. It was definitely a reminder of what family is, what the true meaning of Christmas is — love.”

Children not only receive presents, they learn to give back

That was in 2016. Now, she is able to provide Christmas gifts for her children and tries to help make other families’ Christmas merry and bright.

And it’s a lesson she teaches her children. Each are allowed to choose three friends to give gifts to. “Instead of always being on the receiving end, we were able to give back as well,” she said. “I could not have imagined any of this five years ago in active addiction. I couldn’t.”

Rodgers said in her addiction she believed on several occasions that she would never see her children again. She also believed she didn’t deserve to see them. “From time to time I’d think about the kids and it would hurt,” she said. “But I also made myself believe they were better off without me. Seeing myself now? God’s not done yet. God’s not done.”

Rodgers, who is from Temple, Texas, eventually landed in jail in Pearl River County, where she spent several months before she was offered an opportunity that changed her life.

Finding God helped Rodgers push through her addiction

Instead of being sent to prison, Rodgers was able to get in the drug court program in Mississippi’s 15th Circuit. She also was referred to Lighthouse Rescue Mission in Hattiesburg, where she was able to reconnect with her faith in God.

“I was saved when I was 12,” she said. “They didn’t teach us that it was a daily walk with him, obeying him, following his word. That didn’t hit me until I was sitting in jail and God spoke to me. He told me he had better plans for me.” As Rodgers struggled to overcome her battle with drugs, she would think of her daughter, 11-year-old Abigail Schultz, and it made her more determined to succeed.

“The thought of my daughter growing up without her mom, I would always push forward,” she said. “I had to. Because if she didn’t have me, she didn’t have anybody. I didn’t know how to get out of the addiction I was in, but I had to keep moving forward.”

Rodgers said Lighthouse Rescue Mission helped her learn to be a parent again while focusing on her own recovery. “They helped raise me up to raise my kids up in the way that they should go,” she said, “with structure, which is something that I knew nothing about.”

‘She went above and beyond what she needed to do’

The mentoring she received in both drug court and at Lighthouse helped her find the tools she needed to stay off drugs and take care of her family, which also includes three sons: 10-year-old Heath Schultz, 9-year-old Michael Rodgers, and 7-year-old Kenneth Hartfield.

“They didn’t do it for us,” she said. “They gave us the tools to get those things done on our own.” Lighthouse Co-director Kenneth Thronson said the mission helps women and children get a fresh start by providing a safe and a stable environment, but the program is immersive and takes a lot of work. “We’re extremely proud of Sherry,” he said. “Even when she was here she went above and beyond what she needed to do.”

There are four phases of the program, and on successful completion Thronson and his wife Kim, also co-director, said the participants should be prepared to start new lives. “The new beginnings are up to them,” Thronson said. “We’re just here to guide them through the process.”

“It’s always encouraging to see mothers really working to be a mom,” Thronson said. “We give them the tools and teach them to parent soberly; we’re one of the few places that moms can come and heal with their children.”

Rodgers has maintained her sobriety for four years. Her children go to Dixie Attendance Center, and the family are members of Hardy Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg. “It’s all part of God’s plan,” she said. “He created me, He created them for something good.”

Before finding sobriety, Rodgers said there were times she thought she wasn’t going to make it. “I’ve been there,” she said. “And God brought me out.”

Drug court gave Rodgers a second chance, new outlook

15th District Circuit Judge Prentiss Harrell, who oversees the drug court program Rodgers attended, said it is encouraging to see how far Rodgers has come since her drug court days. 

Harrell said drug courts have been proven to be successful in helping addicts get back on a forward-moving path. The recidivism rate for drug court graduates is less than 15%. “Sherry did a good job,” he said. “I was very proud of her. I feel wonderful. I feel a sense of accomplishment — not for me, but for her.”

Rodgers had so many challenges to work through in addition to addiction and being charged with a felony. “I didn’t have any family here in Mississippi,” she said. “I was not only in recovery and learning to become a mom again. I was also homeless.”

She and her children stayed at Lighthouse Rescue Mission for nine months while going through the mission’s program and transitioning into assisted living before getting into a home of their own. The drug court program takes about three years to complete. It has a lot of criteria participants must meet before they can graduate, including getting a GED and a job. 

Rodgers is now general manager at Firehouse Subs in Hattiesburg, where she has worked more than two years. Her children are back in her care and are celebrating Christmas this year with presents under the tree. 

When given an opportunity or a window or a hand, take it — and use it. Really use it.

Her advice to others struggling with addiction? “When given an opportunity or a window or a hand, take it — and use it. Really use it,” she said.

How to help

The Thronsons say Lighthouse Rescue Mission’s biggest need is prayer — for the program and the participants. In addition, the mission needs volunteers, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, infant and children supplies and more. Financial contributions also help Lighthouse continue its mission. For more information, visit lighthouserescuemission.org/volunteer.

Drug court programs also have a few needs, especially in jobs for their participants. To help with your local drug court program, call 601-796-8510 in Lamar, Marion, Pearl River, Lawrence and Jefferson Davis counties. To help Forrest and Perry county drug court, call 601-545-1321.

For the full story, visit www.hattiesburgamerican.com.