It’s difficult to overstate the impact our volunteers have on the vitality of our program and the recovery that we help to introduce into our clients’ lives. Volunteering at MARR has been something of a tradition for the Willingham Family. Across the span of 40 years, multiple generations of Willingham’s have been active partners with MARR, providing volunteer and financial support, and building lasting relationships with MARR clients and alumni from MARR’s earliest days up until the present.
Spiritual Life Groups are groups hosted by MARR Addiction Treatment Centers throughout the Atlanta area. The groups bring together current MARR clients, MARR alumni, and community volunteers to connect on a general spiritual basis and support one another in the process of spiritual growth.
Willingham’s involvement with MARR began back in 1981 when Jean Willingham started as one of the original members of MARR’s very first Spiritual Life Groups. Jean remained a very active participant throughout the rest of her life. Her regular Wednesday night Spiritual Life Group was permanently etched into her schedule. In fact, the family would schedule vacations around Wednesday night to ensure her regular attendance. Jean also served for several years as a board member on MARR’s Board of Directors. She remained an active presence and valued member of the MARR family until her death in 2001.
“Jean was very committed to MARR and recovery in general,” said Doug Brush, a family friend of the Willingham’s. “She would never miss a group, and she even recruited other members of her church to become volunteers as well.”
Jean and her husband, Tom Willingham II, a well-respected businessman in the Atlanta community, were also generous financial partners, supporting MARR throughout the years. Tom II became personally involved as a volunteer later in his life after his wife’s death, regularly attending a Spiritual Life Group for a year until declining health prevented him from continuing to attend. (Tom II passed away in January 2020.)
The second generation of Willingham’s, Tom Willingham III and his wife Beth, carry on the tradition, remaining active MARR community members to this very day.
Influenced by the enthusiasm of her mother-in-law, Jean, Beth began volunteering in a Spiritual Life Group in 2010. Like Jean, Beth never misses a group and even increased her participation as a volunteer to twice a week. When asked about the importance of the groups in her life, Beth responded:
“The Spiritual Life Groups provide me with a community. The groups certainly do more for me than I do for the groups. I’ve learned that we all have the same problems, we just handle them differently. Being in a room with people who are being raw and real and sharing their struggles—it’s just very powerful.”
Like the earlier generation of Willingham’s, Tom III and Beth have also been faithful financial partners. They began regularly giving to MARR in 2002, with gifts supporting various parts of MARR including all three of MARR’s programs, as well as MARR’s scholarships for clients that require financial assistance.
Tom III and Beth also remain connected to MARR as regular attendees of a Twelve-Step Sunday school class at St. John’s United Methodist Church, started by Doug Brush and another MARR volunteer Brent Woodruff. Like the Spiritual Life Groups at MARR, this class focuses on the spiritual principles of the Steps but by looking at specific Bible passages. The class discusses how the 12 Steps apply to their daily lives, and through this class, Tom III and Beth remain connected to alumni who also attend and they get to continue to watch the miracle of recovery unfold.
When asked to describe why he supports MARR, Tom III said:
“Who doesn’t love watching lives transform? You see these guys come in and, if they do the work, their lives are completely transformed. Lives are restored and families are reunited. It’s almost like watching a good movie, but so much better.”