Lauren Havens, 32, struggled with addiction for years and, as a child, “never felt really smart or capable of much.” She is now on her way of becoming a pilot, thanks to the support she found at Blue Monarch and the help of Tullahoma resident Jim Apple.

Blue Monarch is a residential recovery program in rural Coffee County with the stated goal of “helping mothers who are struggling with addiction to find healing and to restore their lives through Christian values.”

 

Finding support at Blue Monarch

Havens, who was born and raised in Alabama, moved with her family to Tennessee when she was 13.

“I come from a really good family,” Havens said.

When she was about 17, her parents’ relationships deteriorated and they divorced. 

“Life was thrown into an uproar for me,” Havens said. “Both of my parents moved and everyone was consumed with their own issues.”

She felt alone.

“I moved out, and from there, I picked up addiction,” Havens said.

She first sought out the help of Blue Monarch when she was 25, but then she “was not serious about the program,” said Havens. 

“I came trying to get my daughter back and to stay out of trouble – I had three probation officers out of three different counties – so it was a way to get out of jail for me,” Havens said.

She “messed up” and Blue Monarch had to discharge her. But she took what she had learned with her, and after she left the organization, Havens stayed sober for four years.

However, she ended up relapsing and finding herself in the vicious circle of addiction again.

She is thankful that Susan Binkley, founder of Blue Monarch, gave her another chance, and 15 months ago, Havens joined the program again.

“I didn’t think they would ever let me come back here,” Havens said. “But they allowed me to come back and bring my babies here.”

Havens has two children – an 11-year-old girl, Cadence, and a 5-year-old boy, Jonah. 

“When we first got here, Cadence was put into the adult position – she had to take care of herself and her brother. Our relationship was super rocky. She couldn’t trust me. She didn’t like me. I couldn’t talk with her without arguing. She didn’t respect me, and she didn’t have a reason to.”

Since they moved to Blue Monarch, their relationship has improved.

“We are much closer now, and she is my favorite person in the world,” Havens said. “I have learned how to listen to Cadence and to respect her.”

Jonah loves being at Blue Monarch, too.

“He is such a good boy – so sweet,” Havens said.

While Jonah loves his mother unconditionally, there is one thing about her he’s most proud of: she can fly an airplane. 

 

Becoming a pilot

“It’s crazy how it started,” Havens said. “I am a little bit of an extremist.”

The idea was born during a work ethics class Binkley taught at Blue Monarch.

“We talked about where you want to go with your life,” Havens said. “Susan Binkley asked me if I had ever thought about aviation. She told me to look up jobs for extreme people. One of the jobs listed was a pilot. I thought that would be so cool.”

Shortly after that conversation, Binkley invited Tullahoma resident Jim Apple, a pilot who owns an airplane, to meet Havens.

“Susan invited him to come and talk with me about aviation, and he didn’t expect me to be so focused,” Havens said.

When Apple saw Havens’ excitement and desire to learn more, he wanted to help. He had an offer for Havens: he would let her use his plane – a Cessna 172 Skyhawk – and pay for other expenses, including fuel and ground school, so she could obtain a private pilot certificate.

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Lauren Havens takes a flight lesson at the Tullahoma Municipal Airport.

Earning a private pilot license requires approximately 40 hours of flight time, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“That’s a big deal,” Havens said. “If you would do it without someone helping you, it could be up to $10,000 just to get a private license,” she said.

Becoming a private pilot is the first step toward Havens’ goal of obtaining a commercial license, which will allow her to have a job in aviation.

“You have to get your private license before you can get a commercial license and make a career out of it,” Havens said.

She has already taken several flight lessons at the Tullahoma Regional Airport.

“I have a certified flight instructor, John Miller, who is a good friend Mr. Jim Apple.”

The lessons were interesting, and being in the air was “a little scary” but thrilling, said Havens.

One of the most exciting moments for Havens was flying over Blue Monarch, where her dream of becoming a pilot was born.

 

“The sky is the limit”

Binkley has witnessed Havens’ transformation with joy.

“I tell everyone who takes my work ethics class to think outside the box, that the sky is the limit,” Binkley said. “Lauren is the first one who took me seriously.”

It has been very touching to see how the community at Blue Monarch has shared Havens’ excitement, Binkley said.

“They run out the door to wave when she flies over our campus,” Binkley said. “It really shows how they lift each other up and celebrate each other’s success.”

It has been a great pleasure to watch Havens’ positive transformation, she said.

“Lauren will be legendary at Blue Monarch for this amazing accomplishment and will inspire women like her for many years to come.”

 

A dream comes true

Apple and his wife, MaryLou, have been interested in Blue Monarch for several years, said Apple.

When Binkley called him and told him about Havens’ interest, he wanted to learn more.

“I went down to Blue Monarch to meet with the two of them not knowing what phase of aviation interested Lauren,” he said. “During our first meeting, I learned she wanted to become a career pilot. I also quickly saw the determination and drive Lauren had.”

He was impressed, but still needed to be convinced she was the “real deal,” said Apple. So he invited Havens and Binkley to the airport and took them for a plane ride.

During this flight, after they were “leveled-out,” he offered the controls to Havens, and she flew the plane for 10 minutes “as calmly and smoothly as I’d ever seen a non-pilot do,” said Apple.

“I was convinced then she was the real deal,” he said.

Later that day, he called his friend Maj. Gen. (Ret) John Miller, who is a certified flight instructor.

“I told John about Lauren, how impressed I was with her and asked him to meet her,” Apple said.

He was so impressed that he agreed to donate his time to give Havens flying lessons at no cost.

“The rest is history,” Apple said. “She’s now on her way to becoming a pilot.”

Apple said he’s excited to have the opportunity to help Havens.

“She’s dedicated, determined and deserves it,” Apple said. “I consider this one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I am only 25 percent of this equation,” Apple said. “Gen. Miller is at least another 25 percent by providing the instruction. But the real ‘investor’ here is Lauren.

“She has come so far in the last couple of years. Now she’s doing this and there is no doubt in my mind she’ll be successful. We’re blessed and excited to be a small part of it.”

 

“I can do it”

Through this experience, Havens has learned she is smart and capable. 

“When I was younger, I never felt really smart at school,” Havens said. “I never felt I was capable of much. Susan helped me figure out that I am smart and I am capable of doing things. Now I know I can do it, and I am going to do it.”

Elena Cawley can be reached via email at ecawley@tullahomanews.com.