“Welcome home” are the first words a woman hears when she walks into Hope Manor for the first time. For some of the women it is the first positive welcome they have had in a very long time. Hope Manor sober living homes in Bismarck are the only sober living homes in North Dakota. The homes were started by Judith Roberts to help women suffering from alcoholism and addiction.
Roberts grew up in Australia. Her mother, from North Dakota, met her father at college in Chicago. They married and moved back to Australia. Roberts came to North Dakota when she was 18 to visit her mom’s side of the family. She fell in love with the state, as well as a local farmer. After 10 years, her marriage and life as a farmwife ended, so she moved to Bismarck and got an AA in journalism from Bismarck State College, followed by a teaching degree from University of Mary. She taught at Bismarck High School for several years.
In 2001, Roberts went to law school at UND and right before graduation was offered a job working on the reservations in South Dakota. “I absolutely loved my work on the reservations and providing legal representation for those communities,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience I will always treasure.”
Roberts then worked for the Chief Justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court as his legal counsel and lobbyist for a number of years before moving back to Bismarck in 2011, to be the Deputy State Director for a US Congressman.
Once that job ended, she was contracted through the state to be the public defender in McKenzie County (Watford City). The case load was challenging due to the oil boom and dramatic spike in population. “Most of the crimes being committed were because of alcoholism and/or drug addiction as well as the lifestyle of crime that often accompanies the illness,” Roberts explained. “As part of plea agreements, the prosecutor was very willing to allow the defendants to seek help, but finding the right fit for people in an overloaded system was a grave challenge. It was discouraging to continue filling our jails with people who were battling alcoholism and addiction.”
There was more than just a professional motivation for Roberts in helping people suffering from alcoholism and addiction. “I am an alcoholic. I am a person who is in recovery and I do my very best to work the Twelve Steps on a daily basis. With the help of a few key people the Steps are what saved my life and continue to make recovery possible for me.”
Since beginning her own personal journey in recovery, Roberts has been heavily involved in working with other women and has an intense desire to help others. “I now try to live my life asking ‘how can I help?’
She would soon find out.
While attending a recovery conference in South Dakota, Roberts met Karl Moris, one of the conference speakers and the owner and administrator of Puente House in Covina, CA. He introduced Roberts to the concept of sober living homes. She was skeptical at first, but Moris was convinced she was the perfect person to bring sober living homes to North Dakota.
Moris arranged for Roberts to travel to California, visit his homes (two for men, one for women) and attend training on how to open and operate a sober living home. In addition to the training, she thoroughly researched all aspects of the house: spending days in the women’s Puente House sober living home, working alongside Moris in his office, observing his managers, talking to the residents and interviewing alumni. “I was absolutely blown away by what I saw,” said Roberts. “People’s lives were being saved – transformed. I became convinced we needed this resource in North Dakota and I needed to do everything I could to make it happen.”
Roberts soon realized that making it happen was easier said than done. “I was working as a public defender, so it’s not like I had a lot of money,” she said.
It was easy to find a house that fit all the requirements she was looking for, but how to purchase it? She bought her personal house in 2011, just as the housing market was on the upswing, Roberts inquired at her bank and found out if she refinanced her personal home there was just the right amount of equity to make the 20% down payment on the house she had spotted. The bank loaned her the rest, making it possible to purchase the house.
Roberts took possession of the house on January 1, 2014, and named it Hope Manor. She began to spread the word on Facebook and the support was immediate and overwhelming. People from the community, as well as across the state and country, were touched by the effort to help women battling alcoholism and addiction.
Every item needed to furnish the house was donated – silverware, pots and pans, dishes, garbage cans, furniture – as well as ‘sponsorships’ to buy the beds she needed. “There was a wonderful group of women from the community, as well as several people from South Dakota and Colorado, who came to help paint, clean, remodel and get everything ready,” Roberts said.
“It was phenomenal. I opened the door early on New Year’s Day and people started showing up to help,” Roberts explained. “Every day there was a crew who showed up to work. I still get overwhelmed thinking about it.”
Hope Manor was ready for opening day on January 15, 2014.
The house was soon full and Roberts started a waiting list. In July, she got a call from a girl who was an alcoholic, homeless and had been raped the night before. As the girl sobbed on the phone and told her tragic story, Roberts was heartbroken that she couldn’t help. She pleaded with the young woman to report the crime and call back the next day, but the girl said, ‘I won’t last that long,’ and hung up. “I was devastated,” Roberts said.
Not long after, she happened to drive by a house with a ‘For Sale by Owner’ sign in the yard. It was a big house with a great location, but Roberts didn’t have any money. She went to the bank to see if she had any more equity, and she did not. The bank did offer her a (high interest) revolving line of credit which was exactly 20% of the down payment on the house. The bank borrowed her the rest. “I mortgaged myself to the hilt. I closed on August 1st, 2014 and again the outpouring of donations was overwhelming.”
Resident Managers help run the houses. They don’t get paid, but do receive a free bed and a few privileges the other residents don’t. Roberts said their privileges are nowhere equal to the responsibility they have.
The houses needs to be self-supporting and should be if they are full. To live in Hope Manor, women need to contribute to the running of the household. They are required to get a job and pay$250 every two weeks. However, they are never full of women that can pay. New residents need time to get a job and get their first paycheck. Sometimes they aren’t getting paid enough to pay the entire $250, if they need to pay court costs, etc.
Roberts oversees both houses and makes sure her managers are accountable. She does the books, tries to build awareness in the community and raise money. The houses are quite old and the infrastructure needs frequent repair. She has formed Hope Manor Foundation to pay scholarships, fund trips to conferences, (she requires four per year) and pay for recovery literature.
When Roberts opened Hope Manor she thought she could continue her law practice and operate Hope Manor, but soon discovered that goal was unrealistic. “I thought I could have my own career and oversee the house,” she explained. “But sober living homes are not known in North Dakota, so it has been a day to day learning experience. In other states where they are popular, there are many resources to draw from and people who can help.”
The demands of running the two homes have required Roberts to end her law career and live month to month with no regular paycheck. “I do a bit of consulting on the side,” she said. “It has increased my faith tremendously. One month there was only $400 in the bank so I called Karl from Puente House in CA in a panic. He asked, ‘do you have enough money until midnight?’ And my answer was ‘yes, of course I have enough to last until midnight.’ Karl then said to me, ‘Ok, good. Call me tomorrow and I will ask the same question.’ Funny thing is, I have always had enough money until midnight. My life used to be about power, prestige and possessions. Now it’s helping God’s kids. What else matters?”
Hope Manor is only for women who want to make recovery their number one priority in life. National statistics for success at sober living homes like Hope Manor is 75%, if the person stays for at least nine months. However, there is no required length of time required and a woman may stay for any length of time if they abide by the house rules. A sober living home gives a person time to get back on their feet again. The residents are required to have a job, they pay bills and taxes, reestablish relationships with children and family members, deal with normal ups and downs in life and most importantly – they develop strong habits in recovery that will last a lifetime. “If a woman stays at Hope Manor for at least nine months, the only thing that should change when they leave is where they are laying their pillow at night,” Roberts explained.
Hope Manor has already saved our community and state tens of thousands of dollars. The residents are no longer ER regulars, their kids are not in foster care, they are no longer a drain on the court system, law enforcement, insurance companies, social services or jails. The residents also volunteer and give back to the community.
Residents of Hope Manor progress through three phases. Phase One is very restrictive and a time for the women to settle in, learn the rules and get to know the other residents. If the woman is doing well with the house requirements and has found a job, they move to Phase Two, a little less restrictive. Phase Three, the final phase, basically requires the resident to stay clean and sober, attend Twelve Step meetings, do their chores and keep nightly curfew. There is zero tolerance for any alcohol use or mind altering drugs and even most over the counter medicine is not allowed in the homes.
“Hope Manor is a safe, supportive, sober environment with a constant message of recovery,” said Roberts. The residents share the common struggle of alcoholism/addiction in a family like environment with the strong support from the other residents. If a resident is having a bad day there is always someone else who can spend time helping them. Roberts adds, “We all speak the same language. We know what the other residents are going through.”
The tools of recovery used at Hope Manor teach the residents a spiritual way of life and how to live with themselves and others. Residents learn how to live without alcohol or drugs and how a Higher Power will remove the mental obsession. Roberts says, “Trust God, Clean House and Help Others is our motto. We learn to clean up the wreckage we’ve created in other people’s lives, to make amends, to be self-supporting, to live by the higher principles and to give back to the next suffering person. However all we can do is lay the tools at their feet. It is up to the woman to pick those tools up.”
In the short time Hope Manor has been in operation, there have been some very difficult moments. “But every day I get to watch miracles happen, said Roberts. “I get to watch women taken off the scrap heap of humanity and set on a new path. They become the daughters, wives, sisters, employees and mothers they should be. It is an absolute privilege to be a small part of watching women get a life.”
Judith Roberts is in recovery. She is giving back. Giving hope.
If you would like Judith to speak to your organization, want to donate or just need more information, check out their facebook page at: facebook.com/NDsoberliving or website: hopemanornd.org. Hope Manor is a 501c3. You can also call Judith at 701.516.2912. Mail a check to: PO Box 1301, Bismarck, ND 58502.