Julie Sorrels and Tulsa Area United Way President and CEO Mark Graham. Photographer: Alexander Galiano
Julie Sorrels likes to call herself a “goal digger.” Her perseverance and focus on goal achievement has led her to break free from a 12-year addiction, reconnect with family, lose 40 pounds and run her first 5K, rebuild her career, pay off her debt, regain self-sufficiency and buy a home for herself and her teenaged daughter.
But the outlook wasn’t always so rosy for Julie.
In 2010, she was charged with felony drug possession and sentenced to 3 years of probation. Without adequate treatment for her addiction, Julie failed to meet the terms of probation and was picked up on a warrant in October 2011.
What might have first seemed like the worst day of her life turned out to be a turning point for Julie as she was admitted one month later into Family & Children’s Services’ Women in Recovery program (WIR). WIR provides an alternative to incarceration for non-violent female offenders; the program is grounded in long-term treatment for addiction and trauma, and provides education and job training, along with family reunification support and children’s therapy in a unique dual-generational approach.
Two years later, in December 2013, Julie graduated from WIR. In her graduation speech, she quoted adventurer Rick Ridgeway, “The best journeys in life are those that answer questions you never thought to ask.” According to Julie, “That is what WIR did for me. Before WIR, I had lost everything I ever had several times over, and had been homeless for 3 years. My 10 ½ year career as a social worker was over. I had become estranged from everyone I loved. The worst part was that I had lost hope completely. My only purpose in life became to use drugs. I found hope when I was told that I was being considered for the Women in Recovery program! WIR taught me everything I needed to learn to begin a life of recovery, and their aftercare program provides me with a safety net today. My life today is so far removed from what it was before WIR. I look back at the person I was in active addiction, and I don’t even recognize her. I used to hide from this community, now I want to be a part of it and serve others.”
And she does serve others. Julie has become a passionate and eloquent advocate and spokesperson for Women in Recovery, including talking about her experiences at F&CS site tours and donor events, and at TAUW Women’s Leadership Council events to recruit mentors for WIR graduates. As an established mentee herself, Julie and her mentor have been instrumental in holding new, unmatched mentees under their wings until they are matched. She has also made presentations to new WIR participants as part of their orientation, and to graduating ones to help them transition into WIR’s continuing care services.
Today, Julie works as an Administrative Assistant/Project Coordinator for Workforce Tulsa – an organization that once supported her – in order to help others who face barriers to employment. In 2014, she received a Commendation from the Governor and was named the Oklahoma Works Adult Alumni Award recipient for the Workforce Tulsa area. She also serves on the board of Lindsey House and volunteers for her church and a variety of other area nonprofits. She has transformed her life from one of secrecy to one of service, from one of addiction and isolation to one of community and sharing, and she has achieved a long list of personal goals along the way.
When asked what the future holds for her, Julie said, “I want to continue to grow as a person and build on my relationships with my family. Beyond that, I want to give back what was given to me. When I am asked to do anything at all for the people and the programs that helped me become who I am today, my answer is always yes. I want do my part to make sure that the people in my community who struggle with poverty, addiction, homelessness, and hopelessness get the same opportunities that I was given.”