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CAMEO House celebrates five years

July 15, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN

Every day, Stacia Conway wears a cameo necklace. Given to her when she graduated from CAMEO (Children and Mothers Experiencing Opportunities) House, the blue-and-white necklace shows a mother embracing her child.

"It makes me rethink about being here," she said.

Conway and her then-2-year-old daughter, Amerah, were the first residents of CAMEO House, which celebrated its fifth year of treating addictions Friday afternoon. Conway, 36, celebrated five years of "being clean."

Conway started smoking pot when she was 13, which led to her expulsion from school three months before she was supposed to graduate.

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For years, Conway smoked crack cocaine and did heroin, stopping when she found out she was pregnant because "I didn't want to bring her into the world like that," she said. After Amerah was born, however, Conway was back into drugs.

Conway tried different treatment centers while family cared for her daughter, but treatment didn't work. A counselor at the Hudson Center on the Eastern Shore referred her to CAMEO House.

CAMEO House worked.

"I needed to bond with my child again," Conway said. "I wanted to be the one raising my child. I had to learn how to be a mother."

Conway and Amerah now are living in Baltimore. Amerah just passed second grade and sings in a church choir. Conway works as a geriatric nurse's assistant, takes classes to get her GED, and is "looking to buy a house next year."

Since its inception, 14 other women like Conway have graduated from CAMEO House. Treatment takes nine to 12 months, and when women finish their "treatment goals," the staff actually holds a graduation ceremony, program director Holly Kees said.

CAMEO House works because one of the biggest barriers to women seeking treatment for addiction is finding someone to care for their children, Kees said.

Anne Burriss, 41, brought her 9-year-old son to live at CAMEO House with her last September.

Having started drinking and smoking marijuana at 13, Burriss had completed treatment for alcoholism in a 30-day treatment center, but chose to move to CAMEO because "I needed to make things more secure in my mind as to where I was going," she said.

Burriss now works a regular shift at Burger King and takes classes at Hagerstown Community College. Eventually, Burriss said, she would like to work as an activity director for a retirement community because "old people are a hoot."

She plans to stay at CAMEO House until September, "patching up everything."

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