Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Helping out a helping hand

Detroiter leads program that once rescued her

Addicted for at least a third of her life to alcohol, and continuing to battle a bipolar disorder, Shirley Cockrell readily admits she remains an addict.

"This whole thing became my new addiction, but it's a good one," she said.

The "whole thing" is the Go-Getters Program, which gives homeless and mentally ill people a place to spend their days doing arts and crafts, taking field trips, participating in support groups and getting counseling or referrals for other services.

Posted on a wall of the center at 1253 Green St. in southwest Detroit, a sign spells out what Go-Getters stands for: Gently Offers-Getting Everybody Thinking Together Eventually Reserving Sanity.
The center, a part of Southwest Solutions, is open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
"We're always on the go," she said.
As the director of Go-Getters, Cockrell, 64, spends her days helping clients get to doctor's appointments, get prescriptions, apply for Bridge cards and pay their bills. Or she's making lunch or grocery shopping for the center.

"At times it surprises me to see myself doing this when I think where I came from, " Cockrell said.
Cockrell, who grew up in Levering, said she always drank, but says she was a highly functional alcoholic.
In the 1960s, she moved to Brighton and Howell, before settling in Detroit with a former husband in the 1970s.

The couple ran a bar. It was her first taste of entrepreneurship, but it also encouraged her taste for alcohol.
Eventually Cockrell said the marriage ended, but the mother of four opened an arts and crafts store, the What-Not Shop.
"I was really good for many, many years at hiding it," she said of her alcoholism.
When her sister was murdered in 1988, "then my depression came really, really hard. ... It started getting a real hold on me," Cockrell said.

A chance meeting with Cathy Hess, the founder of Go-Getters, introduced Cockrell to therapy and the center. She began volunteering and stopped drinking in 1996.
But when she had a heart attack in 1998, she briefly returned to drinking. And, again, her volunteer work with Go-Getters "was like my salvation."

"It's giving me back my life. ... It keeps me sober," Cockrell said.

Cockrell's not the only former Go-Getters client giving back to the center. Her daughter, Lee Ann Norris, 40, of River Rouge is the Go-Getters assistant director. Another former client drives the center's van.

"If it needs to be done, we do it," she said.

Her dedication to the agency was tested when funding cuts loomed years ago. Go-Getters operates on roughly $175,000 a year with grants, fund-raising and donations.
After getting paid to work 40 hours per week with Go-Getters, she said, she officially cut her hours and salary to part time "to keep the doors open and keep the stuff that we need."

source: Detroit Free Press
author: NAOMI R. PATTON at 313-223-4485 or npatton@freepress.com

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