Farmington Hills volunteer gives hope to addicts seeking help

Lesa Ferencz admits to being a little nervous about her first Hope Not Handcuffs call.

The Farmington Hills resident is among the first group of local volunteers for the program, through which anyone who is addicted can walk into a police department and get help. She took training offered at Farmington Hills City Hall and knew she’d be working with a team.

But that’s not the same as facing a person in trouble.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Ferencz said. “Am I going to do this correctly and help this person?”

Through the training, which will be offered again on August 29, volunteers learn about the program’s history and go through interaction examples so they know what to expect. “Then they tell you that you don’t have to remember any of this, because it’s all laid out for you, and that’s true,” Ferencz said.

Lesa Ferencz Hope Not Handcuffs
Farmington Hills resident Lesa Ferencz stays close to Farmington Public Safety and Farmington Hills Police Departments during her Hope Not Handcuffs shifts.

Police departments keep a Hope Not Handcuffs bin filled with healthful snacks, water, a blanket, and other comfort items for the participant, plus a binder with carefully laid out instructions for the volunteer. Ferencz said she collects the information required to get participants into a treatment program.

“It’s about sitting down with the person and being kind,” she explained. “You find out what’s going on with them, what kind of drugs they take, do they have a home. Having someone face-to-face, I think, is why the program works. It helps to have somebody beside you, telling you that you can do this.”

Ferencz said she also feels supported, with a Hope Not Handcuffs team “in nonstop contact on the phone. It becomes a group effort to place this one participant, which is amazing. As a volunteer, I’m getting kind and compassionate help.”

The last thing a volunteer does is put the participant in a ride-share or taxi headed for a treatment facility. Volunteers are not allowed to provide the ride.

Hope Not Handcuffs

Two types of participants are not eligible for the program: Those who express suicidal thoughts receive mental health treatment, and police take those with outstanding warrants for violent crimes into custody.

Volunteering is a four-hour commitment, two or three times each month. Ideally, the “on call” volunteer remains fairly close to the police department, because the sooner they arrive, the better. People who are addicted begin to suffer physical symptoms of withdrawal or may lose their nerve as time passes.

Ferencz said the program prepares volunteers to deal with people who may be homeless, may have neglected self-care for a long time. So far, she has helped two people, one who was homeless and the other who had a home and loving family. Both were kind and very grateful.

“They want to be there. They walked into a police department and asked for help,” she said. “What it must take for someone who has been addicted for years… that’s a bravery and that’s a conviction that I think makes a difference in what we’re doing.”

Ferencz volunteers in Zone 2, which includes Farmington Hills, Farmington, South Lyon, and Wixom police departments. Novi is expected to join soon. The program was created by Families Against Narcotics, an organization launched in 2007 after two teenagers died of overdoses in Fraser.

The Wednesday, August 29 training will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at New Hudson United Methodist Church. For more information or to sign up for Angel training, visit familiesagainstnarcotics.org/hopenothandcuffs.