When Mel came to interview as a prospective participant for HUFW, she said, “I know ya’ll are scared of me.” Apparently, she had grown accustomed to people being intimidated by her partially-shaved head, numerous facial and ear piercings, and abundant tattoos. She was dressed in clothing that reflected her long history as part of a motorcycle gang, with some patches on her jacket containing profanity. But what was most obvious was that Mel was a woman in immense pain. She had seen way too much violence and death, and she was longing for people to receive her with love, not fear. That’s what she found at HUFW.

The true irony was how Mel came to know about the program. Her father and mother had been coming to the program every Christmas as Mr. and Mrs. Claus…about as far from a motorcycle gang as they could be! But while they were spreading holiday cheer, Mel had been deep in heroin addiction, and was part of a white supremacist gang. All that she had be involved in and exposed to had taken its toll on her physical and emotional health, and her relationships with her son and parents. But, the most painful thing for her was that she had met a wonderful man who had never been involved with drugs…until he met her. When she first came to HUFW, he was in a long-term treatment program.

Meeting her fellow participants was something that Mel approached with great anxiety. But she found a group of women who seemed to not even notice her appearance. They came with their own pain and everyone was there for the same reason. They needed hope for different life.

Mel embraced every aspect of the program. She opened herself up to new friendships, she slowly shared about the trauma she had witnessed, she fell back in love with the God of her childhood and began reconciling with her family. When her fiance’ completed treatment, he came back to Knoxville, got a good job, and they continued to grow in a clean and sober life together.

In the summer of 2019, she helped her parents launch a new Celebrate Recovery program at their church. She operates her own pet-grooming business, Mel’s Mutt Hut, and says that she will always be a part of Hand UP For Women!