“These People Are My Family”
Getting by with a little help from some friends
Maria Kestner has an infectious smile and is quick to dispense hugs to everyone at Feeding America Southwest Virginia in Abingdon, where she volunteers. “These people are my family,” she says.
Her FASWVA family helped her through a very challenging experience – the Washington County Drug Court program.
Drugs had been a part of Kestner’s life since she was a teenager. At almost two years clean, she doesn’t like to venture back to the past much, but she says going to jail and entering the drug court program “saved” her.
The Drug Court program lasts one to two years and participants are required to undergo intensive substance abuse treatment and equally intensive probation supervision and monitoring.
As part of the program, Kestner was assigned to spend 20 hours each week volunteering in FASWVA’s Harvest Home Community kitchen. She was nervous at first, often asking if she was doing things right. But she learned quickly and discovered that giving out meals through the kitchen gave her a special sense of joy. “It’s different,” she says, “seeing how happy people are to get meals – I love it.”
During her volunteer service, Kestner developed close friendships with other kitchen volunteers and FASWVA staff, giving her a crucial emotional support system. “It really helped, because drug court was so hard at the beginning,” she says. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
But she did make it. On September 23, 2016, Maria Kestner graduated from the Washington County Drug Court program. Staff from FASWVA attended her graduation ceremony, as did Virginia Delegates Israel O’Quinn and Todd Pillion, who presented her with certificates from the Legislature of Virginia.
Drug Court is behind her, now, but she continues to volunteer in the Harvest Home Community Kitchen whenever she can. Of her continuing volunteerism she says simply, “I’m happy when I’m here.”