It was 8 p.m. on a Monday night in April when Sarah Sikich made the phone call that would change her life.
She was in the midst of her recovery steps to get clean from alcoholism, but needed somewhere new to live. Somewhere safe, tucked away, with the tools to help her get sober and stay there.
Oh, and the place had to accept her 4-year-old son.
She called Meadows Depot, a recovery house for mothers in Acampo.
“They didn’t ask if I had money. They didn’t ask where I was in my process. All they asked was what time could I get there, so they could make sure they had someone standing in the driveway to bring me in,” she recalled of her first night at one of the few places in the county offering continuing shelter and support for mothers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
In the months since arriving at Meadows, Sikich has stayed sober, moved forward with her program and found a path to Christianity. She did it all while raising her son, and looking into his eyes every day for inspiration.
“There is no other life for me now. Being here breaks the belief that we aren’t worth it,” she said.
This is the mission of Meadows Depot. It’s a halfway house for women who are homeless or recovering from addiction and looking for a way to get their lives back.
But their matriarch has died, and the depot may close soon unless the community comes forward to help.
The home and the hope
The compound occupies two plots of land off of Highway 99. A long gravel driveway lined with tires runs along a chain-link fence. Inside, a wide yard gives way to three small blue houses lined up in a row. Three giant tractor tires painted pale yellow, pink and blue dot the lawn. A merry-go-round, tetherball pole and climbing gym make up the faded playground.
The big house is the main event. It’s where Paula “Mom” Meadows ran her domain for 23 years.
Right now, about 20 women and five children call Meadows Depot home. But Meadows recently passed away, forcing the women to leave this haven and find another way in a few short weeks, unless money can be raised by Meadows Depot supporters.
The women of the house remember Mom Meadows and her husband, Ken “Dad” Meadows, as everyone’s parents.
The couple served as foster parents for more than 300 children at their rambling house in Acampo, where they also raised nine of their own children, four of whom were adopted.
As a family, they spent years watching children in need cycle through the foster care system while their mothers were in treatment, living in shelters, or in jail.
Paula Meadows knew she could break that cycle, if only the women had a place to learn how to be mothers.
She opened her own home to them in 1989, and called it Meadows Depot.
Dozens of women have stayed there to work through a court-mandated recovery program, or because they knew the structured yet welcoming environment was where they needed to be.
Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous and other substance abuse recovery meetings are held regularly in a large meeting house on-site. Area churches bring self-esteem Bible study classes and prayer circles to the women.
For a long time, Meadows Depot was the place where women came to disappear from the world. To grow stronger until they could make it on their own.
It’s no resort. Women learn to manage household budgets, complete regular chores and care for the lawn, property and one another’s children. They’re grateful for the chance to learn.
“She loved me until I was able to love myself. This place brought my family back,” said Stephanie Tavares, a woman from Stockton who lives at Meadows Depot with her 3-year-old daughter. She has completed her recovery program, but stayed on as a residential mom to help guide other women.
Tavares is mother to four children, but three were born and raised when she was lost in the chaos of addiction. They live on their own now, and with family. But the youngest child is growing up with a sober, stable mom.
Keeping it together
Paula and Ken Meadows paid for the operation out of pocket, using pensions, Social Security and whatever food stamps, welfare or income the women were able to bring to the house. In the past few years, it’s gotten harder and harder to keep Meadows Depot running.
Ken Meadows passed in 2005, and left the house with one fewer set of hands. Since then, Paula Meadows has run the place with the help of her children and volunteers from several area churches. But she suffered from chronic pulmonary disease, which left her with labored breathing and more time resting in bed each day.
Two weeks ago, doctors told “Mom” Meadows there was nothing more they could do. They sent her home with hospice, to the house that raised countless children and helped their mothers. She hung on until she couldn’t do it anymore, and passed away on July 13. She was 70.
Paula and Ken Meadows’ children and grandchildren supported her work, but they aren’t able to keep the house going as it is. The family plans to sell the big house and four smaller homes as soon as possible.
Sikich and the other women are determined to fight for the sprawling compound they call home.
“Her biggest fear was that her life’s work would die with her. We can’t let that happen,” said Sikich.
There is hope on the horizon.
A Woman’s Heart Ministries, based out of Bethel Church in Lodi, wants to purchase the whole lot, over 10 acres of land and five buildings, and keep it operating as a halfway house for these women. Their deadline is Aug. 16.
The cost is high simply to purchase the place, though Sandy Dykema is still waiting on a price. Funding is also needed to pay for operating expenses, should A Woman’s Heart be able to buy the house and land.
The women, both the residents and their supporters from local churches, are desperate for some help.
“People don’t even know such an amazing place exists. Mom and Dad Meadows did so much for the community without the community even knowing. It’s time for the community to give back,” said Sikich.
Some women have made bonds that won’t break even if Meadows Depot cannot continue.
Tavares and Sikich will find an apartment together and raise their children, who are growing up as close as siblings.
“We’re sticking together. My son has lost too many people in his life already,” said Sikich.
Jacqueline Tabaldo of Lathrop just arrived two weeks ago with her 3-year-old daughter. She said Meadows Depot works because she has been allowed to open up at her own pace.
“There’s nothing like Meadows. It’s crazy to take in everything I’ve learned in just two weeks. I’m barely starting to live,” Tabaldo said.
If Meadows Depot closes, she will be forced to move quickly through her path to recovery, or search for a new place to house her small family.
“I’ll have to trust that I have enough recovery. There’s a risk of not being strong enough,” she said.
But Meadows Depot teaches women more than how to make dinner, stick to a budget and stay sober. The women learn how to hope for a better life. That conviction will serve them well in the coming weeks of uncertainty.
“We have the faith and the hope. God has brought up this far. He’s not going to let us fall on our faces,” said Sikich.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.