Millions of people across the world have spiraled into the bottomless pit known as substance abuse and have found it difficult to lift themselves out. Emily Reid, a recent Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) graduate, was one of those people.
However, after a series of events helped her reconnect with her spiritual side, Reid conquered her addictions and is now sharing her experiences in hopes of being a light for those descending the dark road of addiction and trauma.
“I grew up with my parents struggling financially, struggling with mental health and substance abuse,” Reid said. “They just had a hard time, but they tried the best they could for me and my sisters.”
Because of her parents’ challenges, Reid’s family moved from North Carolina to Pitman, NJ, to live with her grandmother.
“At this time, I had already gotten into drugs. [I] started drinking, smoking weed and cigarettes all around 12 years old,” she said. “By the time I was 15, I was experimenting with pills and some other things. Then I got addicted to heroin. That changed the course of my life. I ended up homeless … doing whatever I had to do to get my fix.”
For eight years, Reid was constantly getting into trouble running the streets of Camden and piled up multiple felonies on her record. Because of her actions, she was on the verge of going to jail for three to five years. Reid’s public defender was able to get her into the Pretrial Intervention (PTI) program. By participating in PTI, she was able to avoid the possible three-to-five-year sentence and ended up doing six months between the Bergen County Jail and the county jail in Camden, instead.
After serving the six months, Reid was placed on probation. Subsequently, however, she slipped back into the darkness and returned to the streets.
After a few more months of being stuck in the muck of addiction, Reid had enough. Eventually, she found solace and sobriety at Walter Hoving Home in New York. Reid candidly shared a story of how she was guided to the center.
“I had gone to a free detox up at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus. [One day], while I was in there withdrawing in [a] hospital bed, this man came into the room and started talking to me about God. It was such a weird thing because I always believed in God, but I didn’t really have a relationship with God.”
“So, he tells me about [a] women’s home in New York,” she continued, “and asked me if I wanted to go and I just remembered thinking, ‘Why not? What else am I going to do when I leave here? I’m probably going to go right back to what I was doing before because that’s [just] what I did.’
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go.’ I went and they took me in with nothing to my name other than the clothes on my back.”
Reid, 23 years old at the time, utilized the space in the women’s home to become introspective about her situation.
“[It] helped me to really take time to just reflect and take a hard, long look at myself and realize what was going on with me and what needed to happen for me to get better and heal and grow,” she explained. “For me, the most important thing in my growth was a relationship with God.”
“That was really a game changer,” she added. “Once I really had that relationship with God, things just changed for me. My heart started to change; my desires started to change. I had this peace I never had before.”
Reid then spent the next five years donating her time to help others. She volunteered at Heroes on the Water, Habitat for Humanity, and Life Path Christian Ministries.
In 2020, she started a nonprofit organization called Woods-N-Water with her friend, George Daly. Reid is co-founder as well as secretary and treasurer. Woods-N-Water, based in Deerfield, provides free services and activities designed for veterans, active-duty military, first responders, and their families.
The organization organizes therapeutic events including kayaking, camping, hiking, and paintballing. “Sometimes it’s hard to just get up and get out of your house,” Reid said, regarding the people they serve and the traumas they have experienced. “So, [we are] just giving people that free activity. They can come out and feel a part of something. Kind of give that camaraderie and have fun and get your mind off your issues for a little bit. It’s a volunteer thing. We have fun helping people.”
Two years ago, Reid got involved in street ministry work with King James Bible Baptist Church in Camden. Initially, she was leery about returning to the place where she almost succumbed to substance abuse.
“I didn’t know if I ever wanted to go back there again, because, you know—a lot of bad memories out there and drugs everywhere. But I just kept getting this feeling that I had to go back out there … to help pull people out of the abyss.”
About eight months ago, she also began work as an impact specialist at Volunteers of America in Camden. The organization, like others she has volunteered for, helps people get off the streets and supports them in an effort to find them homes, medical treatment, etc.
Reid has found it challenging to assist people who are suffering through addiction and trauma but feels a sense of fulfillment when she’s able to succeed.
“Sadly, most of the time, you come across people who want help and you’ll get them into a place, and they leave and go back to what they were doing,” she said. “But there are those people that do make it through and stick with it and get better. It’s those people that just give you the hope to keep going.
“There’s a [woman] that I helped get off the street. She’s reunited with her family and her son, and I’ve become close friends with her. It’s just so cool to be able to see that transformation in people and just see where they were to where they end up.”
When asked about her thoughts regarding her own transformation, Reid gave a measured response.
“It’s really mind-blowing sometimes to think about where I was and where I am now,” she said. “Because, honestly, for a while, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t think I was going to make it past 24. I really didn’t. There were too many close calls. Too many times I should have been dead.
“It’s wild just to see how my heart has changed. I mean, you know when you’re using drugs, you’re not yourself. Also, I wouldn’t change anything because it [gave] me a different understanding and made me look at [life] differently. I’m grateful for that.
“… for me, it’s a spiritual thing,” she said. “A lot of people make it a religious thing and I think there is a big difference. So, I try to keep my spirit right with God and make sure I stay in that conscious contact with him and just let him guide me every day and show me which way I’m supposed to be going.”
Last May, Reid was a participant in RCSJ–Cumberland’s 4th annual commencement ceremony. She graduated with an associate degree in Social Services while accumulating a 3.7 GPA.
“It was a smart financial decision [to attend RCSJ],” she said. “I started off as a business major, then I realized that’s not what I wanted to do. So, I changed my major to social work and went that route. That’s where my heart is … with helping people.”
Reid plans on earning a master’s degree and opening her own practice, which would mostly focus on addiction and trauma. Add her to the expanding list of RCSJ students who have surmounted impossible obstacles and have positioned themselves to become influential and inspirational leaders in the community.
For information about Rowan College of South Jersey’s Behavioral Science and Law & Social Justice program, visit RCSJ.edu/BehavioralSciencesJustice.
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Emily Reid gives a shout-out to two people who she calls her biggest supporters on the RCSJ campus: Frank Piccioni, director, Dual Enrollment, and Jan Hanselman, dean, Behavioral Science and Law & Social Justice.
“Emily is intelligent, engaging, forthcoming,” Hanselman said, who has worked at the College since 2006. “She’s a courageous young woman. I’m proud of her for her ability to come through what she did and not only get an education with excellent grades but to [continue] to move on to pursue her life’s passion. Emily is a light that shines in the dark and because of her big heart, she’s going to go places. She has a bright future in front of her.”