35 Years of Hope: Carmelita Woods (Distinguished Alumna Honoree)

Carmelita Woods

When Carmelita Woods entered House of Hope in 1991, she was in an outpatient rehabilitation program for drugs and alcohol. She hated where she was living. A woman who lived at St. Martin de Porres House of Hope with her six kids told Carmelita about the shelter. Carmelita called Sr. Therese the next day. “She convinced me to come in immediately,” Carmelita said. “She knocked out all my excuses. It was so instant and fast. I had to make a decision. It was kind of scary for me. Later, I was able to go back to where I had been living and get my things.”

Both Carmelita and St. Martin de Porres House of Hope were in transition. “While I was there, it got stricter and stricter. It evolved from a shelter into a recovery home,” she says. “Every time someone did something wrong, a new rule was put into place. By the time I left, curfew went from 9 or 10 p.m., and then to dinner. When a problem occurred, the nuns would work on the solution and say, “This is not going to happen again.'”

Sister Connie’s nephew, John Driscoll, was working at the home, establishing a more formal substance abuse counseling program. “Before, we had a priest who tried to help us make good decisions. Then we had a resident come back to sit and talk with the women. She had so much to give because she was living on the outside, going to AA/NA meetings, getting empowered, and bringing that back to us.”

After Carmelita had lived at St. Martin de Porres for nine months, Sr. Therese told Carmelita that she was ready to strike out on her own. “St. Martin de Porres found me an apartment. I had saved close to $3,000 in cash and $1,000 in food stamps. I was afraid, but she knew I could do it.”

Sr. Therese was right. After leaving St. Martin de Porres House of Hope, Carmelita pursued her new-found interest in substance abuse counseling. She took classes at Harold Washington College and led weekly groups as a volunteer at St. Martin de Porres House of Hope. She graduated, landed her first counseling job in 1997, and became certified in 1998.

While working as the Woodlawn Organization substance abuse treatment center, she earned a bachelor’s degree in behavior science from National Lewis University, followed by a master’s degree in social work from Jane Addams College at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Following employment as a social worker for WECAN (Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors), Carmelita now consults with various nonprofit organizations and plans to launch her own recovery home.