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2011 Most Influential Women Honoree: Merna Leisure-Eppick

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Merna Leisure-Eppick has built her career on education and recovery from substance abuse, and she brought her knowledge to Springfield when she moved here in 2006.

In the mid-1980s, Leisure-Eppick was in California, where she volunteered with the South Pasadena school district in numerous roles. As her children got older and entered high school, she began her work in addiction recovery as a volunteer van driver at a women’s facility. Later roles included peer advocate, counselor, program coordinator, and eventually, an executive director role for an organization there.

“I first worked as a community volunteer in 1984, and I’ve never been without a position on a board of directors of a nonprofit since then,” says Leisure-Eppick, executive director of Sigma House, a multisite nonprofit agency that provides residential, outpatient and transitional living services for people who are dealing with substance abuse.  

Leisure-Eppick says her background in nonprofit management and substance dependence treatment positioned her well to work with Sigma House, which works with adolescent girls and about 4,000 men and women annually.

Leisure-Eppick joined Sigma House’s board of directors in 2006, and she became executive director in 2010.

“It is gratifying and humbling to help people move past their addictions and into family life and careers as productive and responsible members of society,” she says. “Safe and structured housing is a key component of this success and just one way I make a difference.”

Sigma House has contracts with the drug courts in Greene, Christian, Taney and Stone counties, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Alcohol and Drug Division. Leisure-Eppick is proud of the organization’s solid reputation.

“We have been called upon to pilot programs for the Alcohol and Drug Division and the state Department of Corrections,” she says.

Suzan Gonder, president of the Sigma House Board of Directors, says Leisure-Eppick has brought many changes to the organization as its executive director, including expanding services and improving working conditions for staff.

“The business of drug and alcohol rehabilitation is a tough one, requiring a firm but fair and compassionate leader,” Gonder says. “I don’t know where (her) dedication comes from, but we are lucky to have her as our executive director.”

In 2008, Leisure-Eppick was instrumental in founding the Missouri Continuing Education Consortium, which promotes education about addiction and recovery in southwest Missouri, and she continues to serve as its chairwoman.

Click here for full coverage of the 2011 Most Influential Women.
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