Mother’s Day can be a difficult holiday for many women, especially those who have lost custody of their children. However, their biggest hope is to celebrate the day and put “Mom” back in Mother’s Day. Staff at Hand UP for Women say one of the main motivators women participate in the program is to regain custody and a relationship with their children.

When Amanda Hankins thinks of Mother’s Day, the holiday does not invoke fond memories, as a daughter or as a mother. The 36-year-old is a recovering drug addict and a current participant in Hand UP for Women. She began participating in the year-long program in September 2022.

“It’s really allowed me to grow and forgive a parental figure in my life,” Hankins said. Her mother was addicted to drugs as well and lost her life to an overdose in 2018.

“Nobody protected me from my mom’s drug addiction,” she explained.

Hand UP for Women has helped her to forgive herself. Hankins has two sons, aged 15 and 13, whom she has not seen in almost two years. She’s been clean and sober since mid-October 2020 and hopes to regain custody of her boys, who live with her ex-husband.

The last time she saw them was Christmas of 2021 and that was the first time she had seen them in almost seven years. Her youngest was excited to see her, but she can’t say the same for her eldest.

“He knows I’ve changed, and he doesn’t care,” Hankins said.

Hankins explained her older boy really struggled when she left.

Before Hand UP Hankins was addicted to drugs. Her addiction began when she was a teenager. She said she was looking to escape and become numb. As she got older, she felt she did not prioritize her mental health and she self-medicated until it almost killed her. The last time she overdosed she was on a ventilator for three days. Doctors didn’t think she would wake up.

Her turning point was when she landed in prison. From there, she was sent to a substance abuse treatment center, but she had been to rehab so many unsuccessful times, she didn’t have much hope. Hankins decided to pray on this last time and let the wall fall that stood between her and God. In finding Him, she found she could start anew. Even if it was not easy, she knew sobriety was better than the life she lived before.

“I love it. If there were ever angels in this world it’s the staff and volunteers and my mentor, Betty Lou,” Hankins said of Hand UP for Women.

Now, she is working to see her boys again. “I’ve been trying this whole time I’ve been clean.”

Her older son struggles to speak to her, which is challenging for Hankins because “we used to be really close.” She said she understands where he is coming from since her mom was an addict and never clean.

But Hand UP for Women is giving her just that, a hand up not a handout.

“It’s teaching me about my value, how to set boundaries, to have those women behind you with God you’re bulletproof, you can do anything,” Hankins said.

Sometimes she feels there is no hope, then she meets other women who have been in her shoes and finds hope once again. One of those women is Amanda Townsend.

Townsend graduated from Hand UP for Women in 2015. The Heiskell native was on methamphetamine for 13 years. She began using drugs at 15 years old and her addiction escalated to using meth when she was around 18. When she ended up in jail in 2012, she quit.

“I got saved in jail. I was watching the same girls come in and out and that opened my eyes…it was hard,” Townsend said.

While in jail for three months, her three daughters were removed from her care. Her mom cared for them until she got out. When she was released, the judge gave her a list of things she had to do including going to an outpatient recovery center, earning her license back, obtaining a job and finding a place to live. Her visits with her daughters who were 5, 4 and 2 years old were all supervised.

“I felt like I was an animal not allowed to be with my kids by myself. It hurt bad,” Townsend said about supervised visits.

Less than a year after getting out of jail she found Hand UP for Women. Like Hankins, her main motivator for joining the program was to be a better mom for her kids.

She followed everything the judge ordered and in four months got her girls back right before she began Hand UP for Women.

“I was the fastest person the judge had ever seen to fight to get my kids back,” Townsend said about her big accomplishment.

Then becoming a Hand UP for Women participant helped her to follow the Lord to grow spiritually, overcome her past and budget her time and money.

“They taught me by showing me and welcoming me, the staff, volunteers and mentors, demonstrated love and family,” Townsend explained, “They taught me patience through that too. Day to day set small goals so you can achieve big goals over time.”

This advice is meaningful for Hankins.

“Hand UP is giving me the tools to not only grow closer to God but become whom God says I am. Hand UP teaches me compassion, acceptance and self-love. It’s more than classes and life lessons. They show me how to be a family. It’s just amazing,” Hankins said, “There’s no judgment and I think that’s how parents should be.”

Hankins plans to try to see her sons this summer.

If there’s one thing she wants her sons to know it’s: “I not only love you now, but I will always love you.”

Townsend is now more than 10 years clean and sober. She is married and has nine children.

To learn more about how Hand UP for Women helps East Tennessee women who want to change their lives, click here.