Cissy Garner

When patients come to Cornerstone of Recovery for drug and alcohol treatment, they’re not their best selves.

Cornerstone familyWhether they come of their own accord or they’re forced to seek help because of employers or family members, they frequently arrive on what they believe at the time is the worst day of their lives. It’s not, of course; if they surrender to the process and find within themselves the willingness to take advantage of the treatment that Cornerstone offers, many one day look back and regard it as one of the best.

But in those moments … after they’ve gone through the Admissions process, after they’ve done their Assessment and Orientation intake, after they’ve received their first dose of comfort medication in Medical Detox … the weight of it all sets in. And often, it’s the housekeepers like Cissy Garner who find themselves able to offer words of comfort in those dark moments.

“We don’t interact a lot with the patients, but we do listen to them, if they need someone to talk to,” says Cissy, who took time out from cleaning one of the rooms on the Medical Detox floor on Thursday. “They’ll say things like, ‘It’s really tough,’ or, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ I just tell them to take it one day at a time, or sometimes I’ll suggest they pray about it. Even the ones I’ve seen come back, I tell them I have faith that they can do this. It’s just amazing, seeing what Cornerstone can do for so many people we see come through the doors. It’s just great here, and I really love it.”

Cissy Garner: Family ties

You may know Cissy as the wife of Mark Garner, the Team Leader of Transportation at Cornerstone … or as the mother of Adam (Zach) Price, one of the Sober Living Facility therapeutic assistants who’s a familiar fixture at the Polly Bales Building. She’s been at Cornerstone for two years now, having applied for a job here when Mark saw how the commute from her home in Maryville’s Eagleton Village to NHC HealthCare in Farragut — her former employer — was wearing her down.

“Mark kept telling me, ‘You should come over here,’ and at first I thought, ‘I’m too old for change!’” she says with a laugh. “But I prayed about it, and I really believe God led me here. This is where the Lord wants me to be.”

She’s a woman of strong faith, having been born in North Carolina and raised in East Tennessee since she was an infant. Together, she and Mark have a blended family including another son, Josh, and two foster children they hope to adopt — a 13-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy.

“They’ve been our blessings from God,” she says.

While COVID-19 has kept them close to the house, in normal times they enjoy movies, the mountains an Dollywood, she adds, and while church has shifted to virtual services in wake of the pandemic, they worship every Sunday with the congregation at Central Point Baptist Church in rural Blount County.

Her routine may seem simple on the surface, but the housekeepers are the unsung heroes of an organization like Cornerstone of Recovery, especially given the added precautions mandated for health care facilities because of COVID-19. Not that it’s been a tremendous amount of extra work, she says — she and her fellow employees, under the watchful eye of Housekeeping Manager Gail Lawrence, went above and beyond to clean and sanitize even before COVID-19.

“Gail is fantastic, and she bends over backwards for us,” Cissy says. “We’ve got a great boss. Our overall goal is cleanliness, as it should be, because that’s what helps keep the patients happy. To me, my bed and my house are clean at home, so I want the patients’ beds and rooms to be clean as well, and I try my best to make sure that happens. We’re doing a lot of sanitizing these days, but we’ve always worked hard to make sure everything was cleaned good before.”

And that can make all the difference. For many new arrivals at Cornerstone, their first time at a drug and alcohol treatment center comes with a great deal of anxiety and misconceptions. When they’re shown to their rooms for the first time and find a sparkling sink and shower and a freshly made bed with tight corners, they’re often struck by how much the reality doesn’t match what they envisioned before they arrived.

And if they find themselves frightened of the new future that awaits them, they’ll always get a smile and a few minutes of Cissy’s time.

“I really love it here — the staff and the patients,” she says. “There are days when we’re tired from working so hard, but I really enjoy what I do. I’ve been doing it for years, and I enjoy making the patients happy. Ever since I came here two years ago, it was the right decision.”