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Recovery Champion: Beth Johns

Beth and Eric Johns are best known by visiting their artfully restored log cabin house in New Almaden, a former quicksilver mining town during the California Gold Rush and now a hidden gem just south of San Jose.

“Eric, my art space, our dogs, and the sanctuary we’ve created there are really what my recovery is all about,” Beth said.

It’s clear the couple love giving tours of their home. They begin in the front yard, which features native plants and stones from the old mines nearby. The large deck in back looks over a sloping yard with groomed paths that meander toward the creek below.

Inside the house, the center of the living room belongs to a hand-made Amish “settle,” or wooden sofa. Beth’s watercolor paintings adorn the walls of the house and her art studio next door. Her portraits of dogs are highly detailed and cheerful.

“I start with their eyes,” she said of man’s best friend. “That is where they show their souls.”

She is a petite and fit woman with short, wavy blond hair. She looks and sounds perfectly at ease talking about both her hobby — and her recovery.

“An important piece for me is that my art has been a thread that’s run through my life,” she says. “When I was finally able to reconnect and channel my creative energy, I’ve been able to achieve a better, healthier balance that has contributed to my recovery.”

In her early childhood, Johns was a typical military brat whose Air Force family was stationed in Panama and moved several times within the United States. The family finally settled in Denair, a small farming town in the Central Valley.

Living in Denair during her senior year, Johns said she “never felt like she fit in” at high school. Even so, she won a full scholarship to study drama at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Her future looked stellar.

“All of that went away when I got married.”

She had met her husband when she was 16, married him when she was only 19, and was pregnant one month later. Her husband, she said, turned out to be a brute, and she was too afraid to report him to the authorities.

Six years and two children later, she suffered a severe breakdown one unbearable night. Her husband, she said, dropped her off at her grandparents’ house and drove away.

“I shut down after that,” Johns said.

She was hospitalized shortly after that breakdown and eventually lost custody of her two sons for five years to their father and his parents. Around 1989, and by then diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Johns entered the Crestwood Manor residential treatment center for seven months. Her luck finally turned. That’s where she met another consumer and her future husband, Eric.

He encouraged her to work hard together toward recovery: “We’re going to get out of here and get your kids back!”

They did, and later married. Her good work in a training program at Goodwill Industries impressed staffers at Momentum. They hired her first to answer telephones for six hours a week. That was 26 years ago. Several promotions followed over the years.

Today, Johns heads Momentum’s employment services department. Essentially, she finds jobs for current consumers and graduates. That often means speaking face to face or to large groups of employers willing but still skittish about hiring people with mental illness.

“I tell them my own story all the time,” Johns said. “I know what it was like for me. It’s just one part of who I am now.”