Chanda Santana was separated from her family 13 years ago while receiving treatment to overcome addiction. While in treatment, Santana was hurt by her inability to provide a Christmas experience for her six children at home, she said.
Today, Santana is the founder and executive director of DIVAS Who Win Freedom Center, an organization with the mission to provide support services for women in Athens recovering from addiction, prostitution and sex trafficking.
DIVAS Who Win will host its second annual Athens JOYfest on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 4:30-7:30 p.m.
Santana knew what she felt wasn’t out of the ordinary — other women in rehab were struggling the same way she did. In creating JOYfest, her goal was to create an environment where recovering women could celebrate Christmas free from judgement and stigma, she said.
“This is a very stressful part of the year for everybody, especially for moms in recovery houses,” DIVAS Who Win peer coach Michelle Lackey said. “Some of them don’t have jobs right now, so they’re dependent on other people to get their children Christmas.”
Lackey looks forward to the fellowship and fun she experienced during last year’s JOYfest, and she hopes the event will alleviate some stress for the women who attend. Other women who have had their own experiences in overcoming addiction, prostitution and sex trafficking will be some of the speakers at the event, Santana said.
“We want to encourage hope,” Santana said. “We just want to light up our city with hope and show love.”
From 4:30-5:45 p.m., JOYfest will feature a variety of opportunities for celebration, including games, art and warm holiday drinks. There will also be a professional photographer available to take holiday photos, as well as a professional make-up artist. Children can visit Santa’s Workshop to meet Santa and take part in crafts and games.
At 6 p.m., a keynote speaker and a panel of women will speak to their experiences of recovery.
JOYfest is especially important to Santana because it’s a way to help her community in the same way her family was helped years ago.
“So many agencies have helped our family find the potential that was inside of us all this time,” Santana said. “I can never repay it … This was the arms of Athens for sixteen years wrapping around my family. This is the way until my last breath I will pay it forward.”