by Anna Akins
About the McShin Foundation
In the west wing of a small Baptist church in Richmond sits an addiction treatment center unlike any other. Lining the hallways of the McShin Foundation are old posters and bulletin boards with pictures and various notices. Its rooms are filled with mismatched furniture and even more posters. For a passerby, this looks like your ordinary southern Baptist church wing, but for the participants at McShin, it’s a chance for a new start.
McShin is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2004 by John Shinholser and his wife, Carol. John has been in recovery for over 30 years and he and his wife are Richmond residents. The organization began in the Shinholser’s home, but eventually expanded into a 15,000 square-foot building in one of the wings of Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church as more people starting joining.
McShin currently has 74 beds for recovering addicts, both male and female, and they must be over 18 to live there. Participants who are under 18 are dropped off in the morning and are picked up in the afternoon.
McShin offers a school program for its high school-age participants. While McShin is not religiously affiliated, its participants are encouraged to seek out a higher power of their choosing. Tutors work one-on-one with the participants, helping them complete the same core curriculum that is offered at their high school.
Twenty peer leaders on staff are all recovering addicts or alcoholics. The peer leaders are responsible for educating and mentoring the residents and day participants as they recover from their addictions. As a nonprofit organization, McShin operates predominantly on donations.
Meet our Interviewees
For each of our three interviewees at the McShin Foundation, their stories were the same: They grew up in a loving home and always knew that drugs were bad, but one day, the opportunity to try drugs presented itself. They usually started by experimenting with marijuana and alcohol, but then would seek out things like prescription painkillers, cocaine and heroin to satisfy their need for a better high. None of them intended for their first time use of drugs to turn into a full-fledged addiction, but once they started, there was no going back.
Stas Novitsky, the director of youth and family development at the McShin Foundation, first tried marijuana at 17. Soon after, he started doing cocaine and then heroin.
“My friends started doing heroin and up until that point I was super against heroin and needles,” he said. “Then I tried heroin and my thought became, ‘I don’t like needles unless they have heroin in them.’ That led me down the rabbit hole of addiction even further.”
Novitsky described the “pure rush of dopamine release” that heroin provided, which constantly kept him searching for more.
Joe W., a 16-year-old at McShin’s day program, started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol at 13.
“I was kind of peer pressured into [doing drugs],” said Joe, whose last name is being withheld because he is a minor. “I didn’t want to because my parents raised me right, [and] I knew it was bad.”
Smoking and drinking eventually led Joe to do prescription drugs, like Klonopin and Xanax. While his addiction never led him to try heroin, he experienced and continues to experience the same struggles as Novitsky.
Andrew Nelson is an 18-year-old resident at McShin who started drinking and smoking marijuana at age 12. Once he grew tired of those drugs, he then sought out prescription opioids to achieve a better high.
“Those were hell,” he said. “I started out with just hydrocodones and then eventually progressed into oxys and then roxys. The things I would do to get them…like they turned me into a different person. I wasn’t Andrew anymore.”
For Novitsky, Joe and Nelson, their first time using drugs was all it took to ensnare them in the chains of addiction.
Funding their addiction
Drug addictions come at a high price. Novitsky said that his heroin addiction cost him nearly $100 per day, which forced him to “get creative” in funding his supply. He would steal from his parents, he pawned everything he owned, and he would borrow money from his friends and never pay them back.
His stealing habits sometimes got him into legal trouble, but he felt as though heroin’s euphoric feeling was worth it. While his addiction cost him in the monetary sense, it also cost him the trust of his family and friends.
Similarly, Joe admitted to stealing from his younger sister, his parents and grandparents. He sold drugs for a while and he also stole Benadryl from Kroger; he would do basically anything that would enable him to continue to buy drugs.
His thefts soon cost him the trust of his family and he said that it especially damaged his relationship with his father. It was the same story for Nelson, who said that he stole from his younger brother, his parents and gas stations to get enough money to buy prescription opioids.
“It’s kind of emotional to think about because that’s the person I’ve been running from my whole life,” he said. “Once the drugs are gone, you’re still that person [who] did those things. The drug is just a symptom of the disease.”
Their turnaround and McShin’s role in their recovery
Novitsky, Joe and Nelson continued with their addictions until they finally reached their breaking points. Whether it was an overdose or a relapse after treatment, each had the realization that their drug addiction could kill them and that they needed help. Novitsky came to McShin in 2014 after he relapsed and overdosed.
He detoxed in one of McShin’s recovery rooms and then began teaching classes and leading group sessions with other addicts. Since then, he took on the role of managing the youth department of McShin, where he helps participants aged 14 to 18 on their road to recovery. He said that McShin’s sense of community and togetherness is what drew him in.
“The people here have all gone through the same thing as me,” he said. “Even though we may have done different drugs, we have the same emotions and feeling of neglect or not feeling worth it. It contributes to the overall consensus of the group that we’re all in this together.”
Both Joe’s and Nelson’s parents took them to McShin and they admitted to initially feeling angry at having to be there. However, once they got a feel for the program and met some of the other addicts, they decided to enroll in the program full-time.
“This place is so awesome because everyone is honest and everyone knows what’s going on with each other,” Joe said. “I’m finally happy for the first time and I have meaningful relationships [and] things at home have gotten better. It’s changed my life.” Joe still lives at home and attends the program throughout the day.
Nelson agreed. “Ninety-five percent of the people who work here are recovered addicts, so I can connect to anybody,” he said. “It’s just such a blessing to have this place in my life. It’s been awesome.”
For Novitsky, Joe and Nelson, they are already planning their next move. Within the next five years, Novitsky hopes that the program will expand and outgrow its current building. He said that his goal is to advocate for drug treatment and prevention on a larger scale. On a personal level, Novitsky hopes to have a family and to open his own business.
For Joe, his main goal is to graduate from high school and play soccer in college. For Nelson, his main goal is to finish high school this spring and then to continue tackling his recovery. “I really just [want to] pursue my recovery and then reap the blessings from that,” he said.