The basics: Audrey Riley, 72, is the founder and executive director of Spirit of Woman, a program that assists in rehabilitating women struggling with substance abuse. Born in Virginia but raised in Ohio, Riley has worked in Fresno for more than 25 years with women and children.
What she does: On a daily basis, Riley can be found working with case managers, checking to see that adequate services are provided for women and children living on the premises, ensuring staff members recognize the needs of each woman, and spending time with each woman in the program to make sure their needs are met.
Why she does it: Riley’s personal struggles with self-esteem first caused her to develop a heart for women struggling with similar issues. “I’m interested in mind, body and spirit. ... I’m interested in working on a person’s spirit to gain their self-worth. The population that we work with has no self-worth and has not been embraced by the system.”
The turning point: When living near the San Francisco Bay Area with her then-husband and three sons, Riley was a victim of domestic violence. “I took my kids and walked away from a five-bedroom home in Walnut Creek, a very upscale neighborhood, and started over again at a motel. If I did not take a stance, regardless of what the outcome was, this individual was responsible for molding the future of my boys.” Riley used this circumstance to motivate her to help other women who did not have any resources or relatives who could help.
Details, details: Originally located near Fresno State, Spirit of Woman moved to its central Fresno location in 2004 after the apartment complex they were initially operating out of became overwhelmed by street drugs. The organization works with women referred by Child Protective Services. Spirit of Woman provides a six-month and a 90-day program to women struggling with substance abuse; most of the women enrolled in the program have children. Both programs offer classes dealing with anger management, drug prevention and various other topics aimed at helping the women better themselves. Women also are encouraged to get involved in their children’s schools. There are professionals on-site to deal with mental and physical trauma caused by substance abuse. Spirit of Health, an office at the organization, specializes in treating the physical trauma caused by years of substance abuse.
What others say: Lorena Perez, Spirit of Woman’s director, credits Audrey Riley for why her drug recovery has been so successful. Perez graduated from the program in 2000. “This is where the seed was planted, from Audrey Riley. She stuck with me even after Spirit of Woman and made it a point to stay in my life to help me change … she always saw the potential in me.”
How you can help: To volunteer, call Spirit of Woman at 559-233-4353. To donate, send a check to 327 West Belmont Ave., Fresno, CA 93728.