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PICAYUNE PEOPLE: Paula Mays of Open Door Recovery House

Paula Mays, founder and executive director of Open Door Recovery House in Marble Falls, works six days a week to guide women struggling with substance abuse to the road to recovery. A former addict herself, Mays’ own life experiences help her relate to those under her care. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

Paula Mays witnesses the power of hope each day in her job as executive director of Open Door Recovery House, a residential facility in Marble Falls on a mission to break addictive cycles for women ages 18 and older.

“I just feel like I’m one of many,” she said. “In the absence of light, the darkness will prevail, right? I found the way out of the dark. I just want to share that with others.”

Mays founded the faith-based recovery house in 2010 to serve as an escape for those on the destructive path of addiction. The facility has since helped more than 250 women emerge from the shadows into the light, Mays said.

“They stay here for anywhere from 90 days to a year to rebuild their lives,” she continued. “It’s not about stopping what they’re doing. It’s about learning to live life and stay stopped.”

A former addict herself, Mays has been sober since 2006.

“I was able to step away from the drugs but not the drinking because (alcohol) was legal,” she said. “For me, when I would drink, I’d go to the drugs.”

In 2006, her brother died of kidney cancer. 

“I made some promises to him on his deathbed,” Mays said. “I told him I’d quit smoking, which was the leading cause of his kidney cancer, and I’d quit doing the other stuff I was doing.”

Born in a convent in South Dakota, Mays’ turbulent childhood eventually led to alcohol and hard drugs.

“I had a horribly abusive childhood,” she said. “When I was supposed to be in school learning, I was being locked in closets, trunks of cars.”

After experiencing the crippling effects of addiction followed by the power of recovery, Mays founded Open Door as a place for recovering addicts to find peace.

“I felt like I needed to do something to help these women who were struggling,” she said.

Mays’ personal experience with the darkness of addiction allows her to empathize with those to whom she ministers.

“All the things I’ve tried to hide, like the stuff that happened to me as a child and growing up without social resources, were stuffed down for a long time,” she said. “Now, all of that pain and things I’ve been through can help others. It’s amazing to be able to walk beside these women as they rebuild.”

Mays works with the program six days a week, hosting bible studies, 12-step meetings, and other activities designed to foster recovery.

“We have stipulations, guidelines, and structure, which is what most of them lack their whole life,” she said. “It all goes together, and they learn to love each other and be accepting of others.”

Open Door’s philosophy for battling addiction includes its Give Back Program, which sends women in recovery out into the community to serve at soup kitchens and churches.

“We require a certain number of hours of giving back to the public,” Mays said. “We need to give back to those who are less fortunate. It’s really important to give to others. You can always have it worse.”

The powerful group setting is another important factor on the road to rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction.

“Isolation breeds more addiction,” Mays said. “The darkness, it just increases. Isolation is horrible. (Rehabilitation) needs community. It needs to be a ‘we’ deal. There’s much more progress in a ‘we’ environment.”

Her program appears to work. Between September 2021 and September 2022, the group experienced an 85 percent recidivism rate, crushing the national average of 10 percent.

“It was mind-blowing,” Mays said. “That’s not me. Any hope you see, it’s not me. It’s God who’s remarkable. It’s this community. It’s the outpouring of love in this community, and that comes from God.”

Also, the nonprofit’s success would not be possible without the commitment of each of the women in recovery, Mays said.

“They’re the real heroes here,” she said. “They’re the ones who have the courage to come into this space and do something different that’s totally contrary to what they know. It takes a lot of courage to do that.”

That success rate has led to a growing wait list.

“The (number of) women who want to come here has increased tremendously,” she said. “I have a huge stack of folders on my desk of people who want to be here. It’s horrible that we can’t meet the needs of all those people, but I count on God to give me the discernment.”

Mays said anyone can escape the grips of substance abuse as long as they have hope.

“I feel like my purpose is to carry the message of hope,” she said.

Open Door Recovery House is a privately funded nonprofit that relies on grants and donations to keep its doors open. Its next major fundraiser is a 5K on May 6 through the city of Marble Falls.

Donations can be made online at 

However, money is not everything, according to Mays.

“Our largest need is prayer,” she said. “If we could get everyone to take two seconds out of their day and pray for us, God will bring everything we need. It’s really that simple. It really is.”