Hall watched “Hope Village” for the first time during the June 13 screening at Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.
When she was 6, Hall’s oldest sister, Marsha, told her their mother was gone while the Beatles’ music filled the air.
“She started screaming and yelling and to this day I hate that song: ‘Whisper words of wisdom, let it be’ because that was the song playing,” Hall said. “You know how sometimes there’s a smell or a song … I don’t like that song to this day because it floods me with those memories. That was when my mom died.”
Now, Hall is celebrating 29 years in recovery and 23 years as the founder of the Mary Hall Freedom House. Director Ri-Karlo Handy reached out to Hall when he felt helpless because of his father's addiction.
Handy realized that people know how to dial 911 in a medical emergency and to contact AAA when a car breaks down, but so many people don’t know where to turn when a family member is sick and using drugs.
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“Hope Village” follows Hall’s story of recovery and aims to change the conversation around drugs to focus on the power of recovery.
For a woman who is rarely speechless, Hall said after the screening the film took her breath away. She fought to stay composed as she addressed the audience of women whose stories were included in the film. She smiled through intense emotion as she searched for words to describe what she felt watching her life story on the big screen.
“I just want other people to know there are many paths and many roads to get there and Mary Hall is one,” she said.
The youngest of seven children, Hall learned she was pregnant the day she was arrested for shoplifting. At the time, she didn’t know enough about addiction to know to lie to her probation officer about having done drugs.
She didn’t know if she was going to die from the disease, as her mother did, and leave her daughter, Mary, without her mother. That was Hall’s biggest fear as she started to get sober.
Now, Hall works with women who don’t understand they haven’t done anything wrong in becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. They feel guilty for their illness and often get treated like they’ve committed a crime. Hall hopes to change that, reverse the stigma and show families how recovery works long term.
Hall became a substance abuse counselor in upstate New York and in 1994 visited family in Georgia for the first time.
“In January folks were wearing jackets and back in New York we were up to here in snow,” Hall said. “I knew then my life was getting ready to go someplace else.”
By September of that year Hall moved to the Atlanta area and took a job working with CHRIS Kids, where she quickly learned women often needed a place to go in the middle of the night and couldn’t find one.
Hall soon became that resource for women who needed help at all hours. She rented apartments for $650 or $750 a month and helped women pool their money to have a safe place to sleep.
Now, the Donna Center in Atlanta accepts women 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
“I remember the first woman who rented me an apartment,” Hall said. “I told her what I wanted to do: ‘I want to help women and put a couple in the apartment’ – she didn’t have a problem. Within six months, I went from six women to 24 women and eventually rented 90 apartments in the area.”
There weren’t any problems before the city of Sandy Springs incorporated, but when Mary Hall Freedom House switched from renting to buying more than 30 units in Reserve of Dunwoody in 2017, trouble came in the form of claims of “personal care homes” and code violations.
In response, the nonprofit filed a federal lawsuit claiming housing discrimination against its clients, which was dropped in a settlement earlier this year.
“I don’t think they realized the power of God behind Mary Hall Freedom House,” she said. “If they did have their way, we’d be gone.”
They settled in April and Sandy Springs said in a statement that its concerns about the organization were related to violations of the city’s zoning ordinance. It said Mary Hall Freedom House had agreed to separate their services from the residential units, which Hall said had already been done.
After 23 years, Hall isn’t doing much differently. Mary Hall Freedom House has helped more than 10,000 people by providing addiction, housing and mental health services to women and children in need. With “Hope Village,” they believe they will help another 10,000 more.
Sunwise Media will be embarking on a film festival run and educational college screening tour for the film later this year.