Person of the Week: Woman battles decades-long drug addiction to become recovery coach

Posted at 8:42 PM, May 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-26 20:42:24-04

An Ann Arbor social worker has made a name for herself reaching out to those who’ve hit rock bottom.

She’s able to inspire them because she’s been there herself.

Julia Hordge’s life journey is one of tragedy and turn-around.

We caught up with Julia in her element – working at the community outreach division of the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office.

The Certified Peer Support Specialist does everything from holding “Safe Sleep” workshops for low-income moms to finding housing for the homeless.

But much of her time is spent behind bars as a recovery coach for inmates in the jail.


She shared how she was once where they are now.

“I ended up getting caught up with a man who was 33 after my Mom turned me out,” said Hordge. “I was 13, and he was a heroin user. And I got turned.”

She said after he got her hooked on drugs, he trafficked her to New York and forced her into a life of prostitution.
Eventually, she got away and made it back to Detroit.
But the vicious cycle had begun.
And heartbreak followed after she’d had three children.
They were all taken away from her because of her addiction and life on the streets.

“I got high until I was 45. And it stopped when I got my throat cut,” explained Hordge somberly.

She said the attack happened in the early 2000s when prostitutes were being fatally slashed around Detroit. Somehow she survived.

“The one thing that turned me around was that tiny, still voice in my head that told me if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got, Julia,” she said with tears streaming down her face.

And that moment marked the beginning of her new life.


She went through six treatment programs and finally got sober.
She started doing janitorial work in 2014.
Getting involved in a church program to help others like her was also huge.
That lead to an opportunity with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office Community Outreach Division.

“I have to make Julia go home,” said Derrick Jackson with a smile.  He is in charge of the department's Community Outreach program where Hordge works.

He said she came in as a volunteer for some months several years ago, and then she started working part-time.
She’s now the longest-serving outreach worker.

“She’s like the everything in the office," he explained. "If a deputy meets someone on the road who’s really struggling or someone’s in our jail, Julia is just one of those people who can make that connection and then help them get to the resources that they need in our community.”

She even received the Sheriff’s Special Citation – an honor Sheriff Jerry L. Clayton was proud to award.

“It’s one thing for us as officials to reach out to folks in the community who are having challenges. But it’s something else for someone who has been there and done that. They have a different kind of credibility that we think is very impactful,” explained Sheriff Clayton.

And Hordge has continued to shine. 

She had 3 goals.
Get a college degree. Own her own home. And have a relationship with her kids.

Well, check...check...and check!

She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in April of this year.
She became a homeowner through Habitat for Humanity.
And she’s been reconnecting with her children.

Her goal now?

“To show that you can recover from trauma, from [an] abusive household. You can break that cycle of abuse that you went through, but you just got to be passionate. You’ve got to want to break it,” she said tearfully.

Now she’s hoping to get a full-time job doing what she’s passionate about – being a social worker.

Her inspiring actions are why Julia Hordge is this week’s Detroit 2020 Person of the Week.


Do you know somebody who has helped UNIFY people in our community? 

Or someone who has helped INSPIRE others?

Or an individual who has made sure to ACT in positive ways in and around Detroit?

They could be our next Detroit 2020 Person of the Week! 

To nominate someone, please email Alicia Smith at