COLUMBIA — Tanya Teegarden is driving circles around Columbia trying to help Bob McCollum find a job. The first stop is the Central Missouri Food Bank, where McCollum enters, excited to drop off a job application.
The pair continues to the Social Security Office. Next they’re off to Christian Fellowship Church to get money for an ID, which McCollum needs to get a job. McCollum nervously paces at the Missouri Department of Revenue, as Teegarden waits with him. His eyes light up and his grin widens when his name is called and he receives his state identification card.
Running errands for others is a large part of what Teegarden does for Next Step. Eight months out of prison and striving to turn her life around, Teegarden developed the program to reach out and help other people in similar situations move forward.
At the license bureau, Teegarden is excited that she and McCollum have accomplished so much in only an hour. It’s a Catch-22, she notes, that someone who lacks the $11 it takes to get a state ID must obtain one anyway before he or she can get a job.
“I have been needing to do that for a long time, and that is kinda what kept me (from) applying for other places,” McCollum said.
Christian Fellowship Church oversees Next Step. Administrative Assistant Rebecca LeGrand said Columbia has a strong need for this type of program.
“I think it is really valuable,” LeGrand said. “People are released from incarceration, and they are just out there. And they really need someone to guide them on what to do next so they don’t return to poor choices they have made in the past.”
Influenced by drug and alcohol addictions and a troubled family background, Teegarden was arrested in 2004 for selling marijuana and spent two years in prison beginning in 2005. Once she was back on her feet following her release, she decided the best way to give back to others was to use her upbeat personality to help people in similar straits. That idea gave birth to Next Step, a free Christian-based program intended to help people become more self-sufficient during transitional phases of their lives.
Teegarden spent 18 months at the Chillicothe Correctional Center, then six months in the Gateway Behavior Modification Program in Vandalia, which helps people get ready to be released from prison.
Released on March 19, Teegarden had two good friends, Jane Williams and Libby Grantham, waiting to help her. Williams, director of benevolence ministries at Christian Fellowship, had set up numerous appointments for Teegarden before she was released to help ease her back into normal life. These included an appointment at Burrell Behavioral Health, one at Moberly Area Community College and helping her get her own ID. Grantham offered Teegarden a place to stay.
Despite the help, when Teegarden was fresh out of prison she feared what used to be routine activities.
“What scared me the most was driving,” she said. “I was scared I had forgotten how since it has been so long since I had drove. That and being around my family, because for so long there were no visits and no letters and nothing except for my baby brother.”
Williams and Grantham weren’t alone in helping Teegarden. She said she had eight people supporting her, helping her out and driving her around.
“I needed to fit it into other people’s schedules, but generally when I called for a ride, someone was there to pick me up,” she said.
Teegarden refers to her difficult past as her “wilderness” or “roller coaster” years.
“My roller coaster ride was more than 20 years,” Teegarden, now 39, said. “When I was sent to prison that is what saved my life, and there was no doubt about it. I didn’t have to take on the problems of other people’s lives and turmoil. I could work on what needed to be worked on. I dug down deep. I had no choice but to turn to God.”
On Dec. 23, Teegarden will celebrate her third year of sobriety. Mike Acock, assistant pastor at Christian Fellowship, which Teegarden attends, recognizes the challenges she has overcome.
“I just think Tanya is a great example of long, enduring patience on her behalf as well as on the behalf of those people she has connected with in the church,” Acock said.
While in prison, Teegarden spent a lot of time in the spiritual library, in church and working through a workbook, “Walking the Twelve Steps with Jesus Christ.” She’s training to become a facilitator of the program, in which step 12 calls for bringing the message to others. Teegarden is working to do just that.
Squire Logan is among the first to benefit from Next Step. Released in 2002 after 32 years in prison for robberies, he met Teegarden when she spoke at the New Life Hope House, where he stays. Logan is familiar with Columbia and didn’t ask for much help. A polite man with formal manners, he escorted his wife to the transitional housing potluck dinner wearing a white suit jacket.
“I really haven’t asked for anything except for aid with cosmetics,” including a toothbrush and deodorant, Logan said.
Teegarden, sitting at her large front desk at MorningStar Counseling Center and listening to soothing Christian music in the background, is struggling to get the e-mail program on her computer to behave. Despite the hectic moment, Teegarden said she enjoys the usually calm atmosphere at MorningStar. She is multi-tasking, a skill made necessary by everything she’s trying to accomplish.
Wearing an “iPray” T-shirt, Teegarden calls to check on Logan’s experience at the New Life Hope House. Logan worries because another resident of the house has returned to drinking; Teegarden advises Logan to remember that people depend on him and to avoid falling into the same trap.
“When we live in transitional housing we see people that relapse,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you need to stop being his friend.”
Days later, Teegarden said Logan’s friend was getting treatment.
“I am giving back to people what has been given to me,” she said.
Within a month of her release from prison, Teegarden was working at MorningStar. She attributes her quick rebound to Williams.
“She is my angel from God. I tell her that all the time. I could have never made it as far as I have without Jane Williams.”
The idea for Next Step began when Teegarden enrolled in a 12-week Step Up to Leadership class at Central Missouri Community Action, then applied for a grant from the agency.
“Step Up to Leadership really taught me a lot about what is involved in working for not-for-profit organizations,” Teegarden said.
Jackie Scott helped Teegarden write the grant to Central Missouri Community Action for $500. Scott expects Next Step to create a network in Columbia.
“Tanya and I had lunch, and she just shared her heart about what she was interested in doing,” Scott said. Teegarden also hopes to win a $500 matching grant from Wal-Mart.
“I am almost 100 percent sure I am going to get the grant,” Teegarden said. “They are trying so hard to get it for me.”
Christian Fellowship is serving as an umbrella organization for the program, Acock said. It holds direct oversight of the grant money and will help Teegarden buy a laptop for Next Step.
“Next Step is that kind of ministry where Tanya will be personally involved in walking through life transitions with people, and it takes patience and time,” Acock said.
Williams, who has been involved in jail and prison ministry for more than 30 years, said she has watched Teegarden transform her life during the eight years she’s known her.
“I have rarely seen anyone in such pursuit (of) change as Tanya and so diligent to change her thinking and allow bitterness and wounds and pain to be rooted out of her life so she can finally be free of her compulsions that led to her drug use,” Williams said.
Williams believes Teegarden’s past will help her to help others, and she describes Teegarden as an injection of hope.
“Because she has been there, people receive it from her,” Williams said, “A lot of times the social workers don’t even know the information because they just don’t know the informal resources.”
Because Teegarden has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she works with Amber Servey, a case manager at Burrell Behavioral Health. Servey describes Teegarden as “a go-getter” and thinks Next Step will be a good outlet for her.
“It will be an outlet for her to share those resources with someone who is certainly in need, and whatever she is going to provide with knowledge and experience,” Servey said. Teegarden said Servey keeps her on track.
McCollum recently finished drug treatment and moved into the New Life Hope House. The first day McCollum moved in, Teegarden took him to the Central Missouri Food Bank and gave him a list of helpful numbers.
“I would say Columbia is probably the best place for recovery that I have come across,” McCollum said.
McCollum said he was surprised to learn Teegarden had been out of prison only eight months. He thinks her experiences will help him recover. Williams said the relationships are an important piece of the program.
“I think it is really about relationships. It is connecting a person to a person, not just meeting a need,” Williams said. She also said that Teegarden is in a unique position to help.
“I think anybody in her position should have some kind of background in it, whether it is them or someone in your family, because to truly understand an addict you have to have been down that path.”
Teegarden celebrated the beginning of Next Step at a Nov. 1 ribbon cutting at Christian Fellowship.
“That is why the Next Step has been birthed today, because I need to give back to others,” she said. Teegarden was excited to see business cards with her name on them symbolizing the beginning of Next Step.
“It is so exciting. It is like a baby being born. You have this precious thing, and if you treat it well and with dignity, the community can do nothing but support it and help raise it up,” Teegarden said.