When the doors opened at the original location in 1991, Dena A Coy was the very first residential program in the United States for pregnant women with addictions.
In 1993, it became the first to allow toddlers to live with their mothers in treatment.
Alaska has long had the highest rate of babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the nation. But the rates are falling, especially among Alaska Natives. According to a 2010 study from the state Department of Epidemiology, the rate of Alaska Native children born with FAS declined 49 percent between 1996 and 2002. Some experts say those numbers are inflated, and it’s unclear how Dena A Coy’s services might have impacted them.
On Monday, founders said they’d served more than 800 pregnant women over the years.
What hasn’t changed is the demand for the services, says Kuka-Hindin..
There’s a lengthy waiting list at Dena A Coy, which can accommodate up to 18 residents at a time. Women are referred by OCS, the Department of Corrections and hospital emergency rooms.
And they also call themselves.
Kassie Keel, a receptionist, says she gets upwards of 30 calls per day from women who want to get into treatment.
“Sometimes I leave my desk for 10 minutes and I come back to 10 missed calls,” she says.
There’s room for 18 women at the 10,000 sq. foot facility – the location is kept secret to safeguard mothers and protect them from the stigma that comes with addiction.
Dena A Coy is supposed to feel like a home, not an institution. Many women stay there for their entire pregnancies and up to six months afterward.
Women can bring their children, too: There are six spots for toddlers aged 3 and under to live at Dena A Coy while their mothers are in treatment.
For many women, Kuka-Hindin says, leaving their children was a reason not to go to treatment.
“Removing that barrier, we have more women who are interested in making the changes in their lives,” she said.
There’s playground equipment outside, a spacious kitchen and a light-filled room where group counseling and support sessions are held. A nursery painted baby-blue is full of books, toys and a hand-stitched quilt made by a volunteer. On the walls, posters remind residents that a baby’s brain and spine begin to form at five weeks, when the fetus is the size of an apple seed.
Not all the residents, referred to as “customers” by the staff, are pregnant.
Ravin Brightwater started drinking at 14, and later used drugs while she was pregnant with her son Dameon.
As a newborn he tested positive for THC.
“That’s when I realized I had a problem,” she said.
Dameon is now a cherubic 3-year-old with shaggy hair and a love of dogs, trucks and cupcakes.
Brightwater says she checked in to Dena A Coy because she knew she needed help staying sober.
“(Women) come in broken,” says receptionist Keel, who has worked there since 2010. “They leave with the building blocks to be healed and live a good life for their children.”
That’s exactly what Brightwater hopes to do.
“It’s a blessing to be where I am today,” she said.