Meet Chelsea

A young girl with talent and a promising future

I was recently at St Matthew’s House after corresponding with Fawn Volkert, the Director of Development there. She told me there was someone she wanted me to meet and talk to. She “used to play the viola” and having had a discussion about the Gobble Gobble with her and finding out that the Race Director was in the Naples Philharmonic she had reacted with great interest.


Chelsea at St Matthew’s House with Race Director Matthew Sonneborn

I sat down in a chair and was introduced to a beaming, optimistic, charismatic articulate young 27-year-old individual named Chelsea. What happened next I can only begin to describe after I simply invited her to tell her story. Fawn and I were in tears for a good part of the interview. I had no idea how much of her story had direct ties to some of my colleagues and workplace, and what a seemingly bright future she had in front of her. As a member of the Naples Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, she was selected as a soloist and performed with Naples Philharmonic on several occasions.

In addition to having considerable talent as a musician, she was also a ballet dancer and had danced with Miami City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. She also at one point had danced with the Boston Ballet in a summer program.


Things were not completely what they seemed

In her school years, problems were with an eating disorder which she didn’t attribute to the pressures of being a ballerina (which can be considerable) but from a character trait she became aware of later. Her self-esteem and body image issues that she had felt warranted this type of behavior, but early on largely slipped under the radar.

It wasn’t until she graduated with this glimmering bright career ahead of her, already having shown considerable talent in music and dance as a gifted artist that she made her way to her first 6 months of college at Kent State.

“I found myself quickly in relationships that darkened me being betrayed and affecting my self-esteem.The pain was too much and I just wanted to feel numb. I was not the type of drinker that wanted to have one beer or even to enjoy alcohol. I wanted the quickest route to not feeling anything there was and being extremely petite it took very little for me to black out.

That was all it took for what follows in the next part of life to open up a rabbit hole she has been trying to crawl back out of ever since. I wish I could tell you, she slept it off, got up the next day went to school and became the Principal Violist of the Cleveland Orchestra or is now a member of the Juilliard String Quartet on tour in Japan.  Life was not like that.  Try to believe in the possibility of a much better life for Chelsea now, that forgiveness is possible and that these miracles happen for people at St Matthew’s House over and over again.

Things take terrible turns for the worse. Addiction and consequence.

Chelsea was in and out of failed relationships and that lead to binge drinking to numb the pain.
“I found myself driving the wrong way on highway 41 in the rain barely bypassing a lake and cannot remember how I got myself to my boyfriend’s house after at the time.”
As she puts it, “I almost wish I had gotten a DUI then.” Three months later on December 27 of 2009, she had her first tangible consequence as she drove while blacked out trying to numb her pain. Chelsea’s DUI involved nearly killing two pedestrians. It was not only a miracle they lived but that they testified in her defense to not serve a significant prison sentence. She bonded out of jail only to experiment with more drugs. She felt so much shame and humiliation. She couldn’t understand why she didn’t get hurt nor could she remember. As she put it, “I began dissociating and became clinically insane at the moment when using: it was like visiting hell. I didn’t love myself or who I was. I was stuck in a stronghold in a pit.” She couldn’t logically understand why she would want to revisit and keep repeating this process that was making her miserable, but the cycle did just that.

“Not long after, I was caught driving with a suspended license, I faced 17 years in prison, but was able to get out after 9 months with 5 years probation. I became pregnant with my first child. The hardest thing was having my first child in prison. When I left the hospital I called my family who cared for the baby and I just had to leave him. My mom took him and luckily my mom is a nurse anyway.”

Transitioning to freedom with addiction.

Though it was a great start, giving her the freedom after she had done her time was not enough:

I fell into drinking and back into bad habits.I found myself now with a child and another on the way. I went into counseling and got some help. I felt the pregnancy was the reason for me to get straight. I managed through AA and Southwest Florida Counseling to stay sober to have the child in July of 2014. My addiction still proved too difficult to manage with children. I found myself arrested for child neglect. The arrest was a blessing and yet another wake-up call. I had no contact with them. When I was in jail was when I heard about Justin’s Place. It has been the best thing I have ever done. My life is committed to Christ, my kids are back in my life.

Her mother has been caring for them in the meantime. That was back on December 1st of 2014. She will graduate from the program within the next few months. Currently, she is a barista at St Matthew’s House’s M25 Cafe and had prior experience as one in her youth for many years and is helping to train others.

The unwritten chapters that lie ahead..

Her goals now involve getting back to her viola. “I feel I have a God-given talent and that I can inspire others. It is pure joy. Music is eternal. God forgives me. I just want to play for God’s glory.” She hopes to play at the celebration of hope with her sister who is a professional violinist who went to Kent State where Chelsea’s scholarship was.

One of her goals is to someday run in a half marathon and complete it. Running has been one of the most positive things in her recovery. We want to help Chelsea do that. We will be calling on our resources and follow up with her to get her an entry and a training schedule and check in on her progress towards achieving her goal. She has already entered the Gobble Gobble Four Miler with Development Director Fawn Volkert so we look forward to the celebration of seeing them this Thanksgiving together at the race crossing the finish line. We also send regards from members of the viola section of the Naples Philharmonic who send their best wishes and are so proud of her for her efforts in recovery.

The coming chapters are yet to be written. We wish the best for Chelsea knowing that the odds are not necessarily in her favor. It takes the right influences habits and faith that stick a lifetime to complete her journey. At St. Matthew’s House they transform lives.

I can report a happy ending so far for our friend and Justin’s Place graduate Jonathan Hargrove who ran the Gobble Gobble last year and we will check in with him for a full report. Wedding bells, employment, clean and happy is the spoiler alert.

Jonathan and Brittany

Please consider donating to Director Fawn Volkert and Chelsea’s page to raise funds for St Matthew’s House or when you register for the Gobble Gobble.