News 12 Special Assignment: The Potter's House: Casey's Story

Casey Vanhouten
Casey Vanhouten says the Potter's House has changed her life. (WRDW-TV / May 3, 2012)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Wednesday, May 2, 2012

MILNER, Ga. -- A drug addiction hurts more than just the person using. Often times, there are little victims.

Experts believe 80 to 90 percent of foster care placements have something to do with drug or alcohol abuse. That leaves mothers facing two battles: They fight to beat their addiction, and they fight to get their kids back. There's not a lot of help for mothers like this in our area, but soon, there could be.

"They're my world, " beamed Casey Vanhouten as she held up pictures of her two sons.

She laughed as she pointed to her youngest son, explaining why his hair obvious isn't his natural color.

"This was the night before his 10th birthday, and he said, 'Mom, I want green hair.' I said, 'If you want green hair, it's green hair you got.' His grandmother almost had a fit."

Now his grandmother, and not his mother, is the one raising them.

"When the DFCS lady showed up, I had been awake for three or four days."

Casey was using meth then every single day.

"It was bad. I mean, I always professed I was a good mom no matter what, but you're not a good mom if you don't handle things and make sure your children have a clean place to live and warm water to bathe in every night," she said.

Casey wasn't taking care of herself, either.

"I hadn't had a bath in nine days. I hadn't really ate. I was ready."

Casey was ready to come to the Potter's House for Women and give herself one more chance.

"I just kind of gave up. I was fixin' to kill myself. I said, 'If I can't have my kids, I don't want to live," she said.

She admits, however, she really hasn't been living the last two years.

Meth had taken over her life.

"It stole my soul."

Casey says she now has her soul back. The woman who couldn't put meth down hasn't picked it up in more than five months. Instead, she's picked herself up, and she's working to get her kids back.

No one believes in her more than Cherrie Burdeshaw. The woman who founded the Potter's House in 2000 invited Casey to come live there five months ago. Casey now has 14 housemates.

"Most of them have tried to take their lives before they actually came here," Burdeshaw said. "I'd say 80 percent of them at least."

Burdeshaw is often a last resort and a last hope, but for the first time, something is working.

"She's helped me find me and Jesus Christ. I'll owe her forever for that," Casey said.

But Casey also owes her nothing. Burdeshaw's seven-month program also includes room and board is free. The help, however, is priceless.

Burdeshaw is most proud of the internal transformation these women undergo, but that's not as easy to see as the before and after pics. She takes a photo of the women their second day at the Potter's House. Months later, they get a photo shoot. The change on the inside is reflected on the outside, and for the first time in a long time, when these women look in the mirror, they like what they see. They also like who they see.

Casey calls it "awesome," but Burdeshaw admits, it was accidental.

"I never thought it was going to work into a ministry like this," she said.

About 12 years ago, Burdeshaw bought a house to help women getting out of jail. And now, she's running a successful nonprofit, long-term rehabilitation facility she calls a Christian discipleship program. She's never held a single fundraiser, and it hasn't cost taxpayers a dime.

Augusta leaders and even some judges want to know her secret. She has the one and only Potter's House, but she's helping them get the second in Augusta. Casey, who graduates from the Potter's House in two months, is already getting visitation with her kids and hopes to have custody again soon.

"I think the world would be a better place to have Potter's Houses everywhere," Casey said.

So, what does it take to run a Potter's House? Imagine 15 or more women living under one roof, and it is not like a shelter. Burdeshaw says it has to be a nice house with nice things because it makes you appreciate and take care of what you have. It's about pride.

Again, she's never held a fundraiser. That, itself, is an accomplishment, especially in these economic times when nonprofits are collapsing every single day. News 12 asked her that, and the answer might surprise you. More of our exclusive interview with Burdeshaw is coming up Friday on News 12. Tomorrow, we'll give you a tour. Prepare to be impressed.

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