Jackson woman helps others take life one day at a time

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 By Jo Mathis

Legal News
 
Kelly Bannister says that when she was 13 and ran away from a dysfunctional family that included mental, emotional, and physical abuse, it was the best move she ever made.
Not only did she initially experience an unfamiliar sense of freedom and importance on the street, but it ultimately brought her to Jackson and new life that includes a solid family, sobriety, and a determination to help others.
“It’s a miracle. Literally a miracle,” said the native Detroiter, who recently accepted a full-time position in the LifeWays Community Mental Health/Central Michigan 2-1-1 Call Center in Jackson. “There’s no way you can doubt the existence of a higher being from the way my life went. I shouldn’t be alive.” 
 “I never thought I’d make it!” added the Jackson resident with a laugh.
Bannister is a classic success story of someone helped at a time when she was ready to turn her life around and then determined to spend the rest of her life helping those in similar situations.
Two years after she left home, Bannister moved into the Florence Crittenton Home in Jackson, where she got back in school and started to learn new life skills.
Bannister moved back to Detroit after giving birth to her first child in 1987, and soon became addicted to hard drugs. 
She moved back to Jackson in 1989 after her mother died of leukemia. 
“I knew that I would die if I stayed in Detroit,” recalled Bannister, who was pregnant with her second child at the time, and would soon have a third child.
But her addictions—and accompanying problems—continued.
When Child Protective Services removed her children and placed them in foster homes in 1992, she realized she had hit bottom. So she entered a recovery program. 
Success wasn’t immediate.
“It’s hard to explain how recovery works because it works differently for everybody,” she said. “But when I look at it rationally from where I came from, I had to get taught things brand new on how to live and how to address things and how to deal with things without running away from them. That was a long process.
“I learned you take it one day at a time.”
After a two-day relapse in 2004 during a difficult situation involving her ex-husband, she returned to recovery meetings and regained her spiritual focus. 
Bannister met her husband, Christopher, while attending 12-step recovery meetings. They started dating, and to support him, she began attending the Jackson County Recovery Court Sessions.
“I sat in Recovery Court watching the process and I loved it,” said Bannister, who at a youthful 49 has been married eight years. 
Even after her husband graduated from the program, she stuck around to become one of the most enthusiastic supporters of women in the program.
Jackson County Recovery Court case manager/life coach Newell Turpel says Bannister was hired because she could relate so well to new female participants to the court.
“She was able to make their transition into sober life easier because of her own personal experiences,” he said. “Kelly was able to reach and connect with people at a personal level and is a terrific role model and mentor.”
When a part-time job opened as a recovery coach at Home of New Vision/ Jackson Recovery Resource Center in 2012, she happily accepted, only leaving when the fulltime job at LifeWays Community Mental Health opened this summer.
On her new job, she takes calls from residents of nine counties who are in crisis for one reason or another. She may refer them to a professional who can help, direct them to a free meal, or help them calm down and talk through the situation.
While her husband is working on his master’s degree in social work, Bannister is also taking a biology class at Spring Arbor University, and a sociology class at Jackson College, en route to her bachelor’s degree in social work.  Last year, she completed an associate’s degree in business from Baker College. 
The Bannisters have raised six children together and will welcome their sixth grandchild in 2015.   
“Everybody in the recovery community called us the Brady Bunch,” said Bannister, whose fifth grandchild is on the way.
In December, Bannister will celebrate 10 alcohol- and drug-free years.
She continues to volunteer with HNV and support the Recovery Court and their participants. Honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness are keys to sobriety, she said.
 “I just want to give back,” said Bannister, who believes the keys to recovery are honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. “I feel like I can never repay the life that I’ve been given now. And I just want others to know that they can get through anything.”

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