Path to Progress – Unlikely Journeys Offers Support and Guidance to Hendricks County Kids and Parents

Danielle Burkett understands pain, depression and hopelessness. She’s lived it and come out the other side. After suffering sexual abuse as a young girl, she began acting out and making poor decisions at age 12, and using drugs and alcohol by age 13. Her adolescence included delinquent and criminal acts. Even as she was spiraling, she knew when she grew up that she wanted to find a way to help people like her.

When she was 17 she went to an Outward Bound program, where she volunteered at a soup kitchen. During one of her shifts, a youth came in who was younger than she was. Burkett felt drawn to help. Her passion for helping only deepened from there.

Danielle Burkett

She started working towards earning a degree in social work at 20 years old, but she suffered a setback after giving birth to her first son when doctors sent her home with Vicodin. Back then the dangers of opioid addiction weren’t as widely understood, and she quickly got hooked on pain pills.

On August 15, 2012, Burkett hit rock bottom when she got arrested for shoplifting. Her plan that day was to shoplift items and sell them for heroin so she could complete suicide. Essentially, the arrest saved her life. While it took several weeks to recover from drug withdrawal, once she was clean and sober, she had a fresh perspective. She recognized that she was given a new lease on life. Plus, while incarcerated, she felt things she’d not experienced before.

“I laughed in jail, and I couldn’t ever remember laughing before,” she says.

Behind bars, she felt a sense of belonging because she was surrounded by people who understood.

“I had always been the quiet person who stuffed all my feelings deep down inside,” says Burkett. “I rarely had conversations of substance with anyone because I kept so many secrets about my trauma.”

Burkett’s sentence was modified because she entered a substance abuse treatment program while incarcerated.

unlikely journey

While serving time, she thought about how her oldest son, who was nearly a teenager at the time, had lived most of his life in the shadow of her addiction. She knew that her history with drug use increased the likelihood that he, too, would fall prey to addiction. That realization served as motivation for her to stay clean and sober. It also fueled her desire to find a way to help youth who felt alone and abandoned.

“I have this belief that if we really want to see lasting change, we need to start with kids aged 5, 6, 7 years old, because they may not be learning the skills they need at home,” Burkett says. “Our society needs to adopt the attitude that it takes a village, because it really does.”

In 2017 Burkett became a peer recovery coach. In this role she helps recoverees with a variety of topics, from learning about empathy to providing financial and budgeting skills, to giving tips on cooking. Some recoverees are scared to attend a 12-step program or other recovery meeting for the first time, so she may accompany them for moral support. Sometimes peer coaches provide recoverees with resources. Other times they offer advice on topics like how to earn a GED or suggestions for finding a therapist trained in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

Danielle Burkett“We’re different than therapy,” says Burkett. “We don’t deal with trauma. We stay present-day focused with them, setting goals for the problem at hand.”

Once a month, she volunteers at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Division.

In 2022, Burkett’s life was upended when she suffered a debilitating stroke that left her unable to speak, walk or use her right arm. Over time she had to learn to talk, walk and drive again. However, following the stroke, she was miraculously no longer saddled with the many lifelong insecurities that had previously plagued her. Prior to the stroke, she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. For years she had asked God to improve her mental illness and trauma, so when she awoke from the stroke feeling positive, she took it as an answered prayer.

“I couldn’t explain the positivity I felt but I was grateful because before, I was always frustrated, annoyed, unhappy and suicidal,” she says. “Now I felt only gratitude.”

After the stroke, she had clarity about what she needed to do; in August 2022, she founded Unlikely Journeys, a nonprofit that provides free spaces where youth can meet in a group setting and/or one-on-one to discuss issues related to drug use, mental health and the justice system. Unlikely Journeys provides support for youths aged 12 to 17 in Hendricks County who are experiencing mental health concerns, substance use or justice-related issues. Plus, they visit incarcerated youth on a monthly basis to provide similar support within the facility. They offer free weekly support groups for youth, parents and guardians. In addition, Burkett has the kids engage in community service work to help teach discipline, build community, and foster empathy and gratitude in youth.

“I think this type of service helps youth see that there is more out there,” she says.

Down the line, Burkett hopes to acquire a building for Unlikely Journeys that can be a sanctuary for kids who are suspended, expelled, or need additional educational supports.

“I’d love to provide tutors because for these juvenile justice kiddos, education is a struggle,” she says.

She also hopes to someday provide some healing interventions for youth such as yoga, martial arts and horseback riding.

“The vision is very big,” she says.

The youth support group meets on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Your Venture Church, 7865 North County Road 100 East in Pittsboro. The parent support group meets on Sundays from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Willow Center, 515 North Green Street in Brownsburg.

For more information about Unlikely Journeys, call 317-760-8624, email, or visit

unlikely journey

Comments 1

  1. Karen Fitzgerald says:

    This is a great story of an amazing journey!

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