In December 2022, The GateHouse celebrated its 50th year of offering people a meaningful path to recovery. As part of this celebration, we are spotlighting prominent staff, leaders, and alumni and sharing their stories of their time at The GateHouse.
This month, we’re putting a spotlight on the late Janice Potter, a beloved Recovery Program Supervisor and one-time resident of The GateHouse, who passed away in 2022.
A Free and Compassionate Spirit
Before she became part of the team at The GateHouse, Janice Potter was a resident here. One of her best friends, Irene Mouchlizis, vividly remembers her arrival in 2000.
“She was a hot mess,” Irene said with a chuckle. “She was always fun … just a bit all over the place. She struggled to pay attention and had difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors, both of which made it difficult for her to focus on any one task.”
Despite this challenge, Janice displayed courage and determination through her early recovery.
“She worked really hard on being a better version of herself,” Irene said. “She knew that we are always a work in progress, so she never thought that she had reached a point where she had ‘arrived.’ She knew there was always more work to be done.”
Due to an unfortunate false positive on a drug test caused by an approved medication, Janice was let go from The GateHouse program a month early despite being clean. After her discharge, she was loathe to return to her hometown out of fear of getting caught up with her old crowd, so she moved in with Irene.
“Janice was just the type of person that you just felt comfortable to be yourself with,” Irene said. “She wasn’t judgmental; she was accepting of everyone, and she never held a grudge. She would help anyone in need however she could.”
As roommates, the two formed a tight bond.
“We called each other sisters,” Irene said. “She was my other half.”
A Selfless Life and a Lasting Legacy
Despite her early release from the program, Janice returned to The GateHouse several years later—this time as an employee and mentor. Having found a sense of inner peace thanks to the work she had done in recovery, she was better able to assist others on their own recovery journeys.
“Every year in recovery brought an increased self-awareness and the changes that come along with that,” Irene said. “Her faith became a big focus of her life.”
Jodi O’Reilly, who now serves as executive director of The GateHouse, said Janice was in a much different place when she returned: equally free-spirited, but much more grounded.
“This is something she really cultivated in recovery,” Jodi said. “She did a lot of work on herself in preparation to serve others.”
Janice felt drawn to The GateHouse, Jodi said, because of how much the program had helped her and Irene. Janice also knew her words could empower people during their recovery journey and was eager to offer a space of no judgment. She eventually worked her way up to Recovery Program Supervisor, Jodi said.
“She treated everyone with the same dignity, respect, tenderness, and empathy,” Jodi said, recalling Janice’s immense impact on women in recovery. “She was an advocate for every woman at The GateHouse and spoke the truth, even when it was tough.”
No matter how difficult the client, Jodi said Janice always approached them from a place of compassion. She recognized how crucial this was to eradicate the shame held by so many residents entering the program.
“These are wounded women,” Janice would often say. “They deserve a chance to be understood.”
“Every training we sent her to, she was the best in the room,” Jodi recalled. “I’ve never run into an employee who is optimistic in every situation. Most folks struggle at some point, but Janice never wavered.”
A Life Defined by Commitment, Community, and Character
Janice wanted to give back what was given to her and help others enjoy the freedom that recovery brings, Irene said.
The tragic personal losses she had suffered in life – her mother and sister both dying of cancer and her brother being taken by a heart attack – compelled her to create her own chosen family, which included her surviving sister. Janice’s infectious enthusiasm, her carefree spirit, and her zest for life naturally attracted people to her, Irene and Jodi said.
“She was 40, but she acted like she was 22,” Irene said. “Even in her 50s, she was the same fun-loving person. She loved to see people smile. She had a way of making you forget about your troubles and learn to laugh.”
Throughout her life, Janice remained close to the people she connected with, including Irene’s children, with whom she would often visit, spend time, and post TikTok videos.
“It was hard not to consider her a part of your family,” Irene said.
Janice cultivated her close-knit network by regularly attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and events, another touch point that connected her with others in recovery.
“Connection was her lifeline,” Irene said. “She got so much joy out of watching people ‘grow up’ in recovery and start to live better lives. She was always available to anyone in need, whether it was via text, a phone call, or in person. It didn’t matter the time of day; she was there if you needed her.”
The Lessons Janice Left
If there are any lessons Janice left behind, it would be her compassion and her deep reverence for every human being. She created a safe space for everyone to be seen, heard, and understood. It may sound simple, but her capacity for empathy had a profound effect on the people around her and it truly changed people’s lives.
The inner peace and sense of faith Janice had found in recovery stayed with her even in her final moments.
“She had found peace with God,” Irene said. “Even in the last months of her life, there was no fear. She knew that God was by her side.”
The example she set and the way she lived her life impacted many people at The GateHouse and beyond, Jodi and Irene said.
“Her legacy will continue to live on,” Jodi said. “She was a light in everybody’s life.”