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Below is an article written by Laurel Wilson of the Bowling Green Daily News:
Hope House Ministries helps inmates in Warren County Regional Jail prepare for life once they’re released, but some still struggle to re-enter the outside world without returning to the path that landed them in jail in the first place.
“We just heard this common theme from the men that they were afraid to get released, because unless they found a stable place, they were going to go back into the same environment,” said Bryan Lewis, executive director of Hope House, a nonprofit that aims to alleviate spiritual and physical poverty through “gospel restoration.”
During the last two years, dozens of inmates have gone through Jobs for Life, an eight-week class that uses biblical references to teach key work principles to help people overcome obstacles to getting a job. However, the class hasn’t always led inmates to stability upon their release, especially for addicts, Lewis said.
“Usually, if they have a job, that’s a ticket to use,” he said. “Sometimes, a job for someone with substance abuse can be the worst thing for them.”
Unless addicts in jail have a structured environment that keeps them accountable upon release, they are less likely to overcome their addiction, making them more prone to reoffend, he said.
According to Warren County Jailer Jackie Strode, nearly 75 percent of inmates are reoffenders. The parole office reported to Hope House that 40 percent of parolees reoffend.
Hope House wants to change those statistics, but Lewis realizes it will take more than helping former inmates find jobs. He believes they need a stable environment where they can live for a year and receive help to grow spiritually, mentally, physically and academically.
To create such an environment, Hope House plans to open a program living facility within six months, which seems like a natural next step in the organization’s ministry, Lewis said.
“What we came to see was there was no Christian-based program living environment for men to go to to get the Christian-based recovery we believe in,” he said.
In his experience, women are better able to find stability and support through existing resources, so for now Hope House is focusing on men for its program living facility, but the door is open to serve women in the future.
For the first year of the program, up to seven men will live with an on-site manager and go through curriculum and counseling to help them become viable citizens, employees, husbands and fathers through the power of the gospel.
“Our premise here is not to try and fix anybody,” Lewis said. “Our premise is to help men encounter the love of the heavenly father in a structured environment and gain an understanding about how Jesus can make everything new.
“At the end of the day, we’re all bent toward being addicted to something, whether it’s our job, our social life or a bottle,” he said. “Jesus is the one who can help us overcome anything we believe can satisfy us. Ultimately, substance abuse is just a problem of our heart and Jesus is the only one who can satisfy our emptiness.”
Hope House isn’t looking to just give participants a certificate, Lewis said. “We want to see them paying their child support, being a good worker and a leader in their church,” he said.
To give them work experience, men will be trained in woodworking so they can make furniture to sell at Hope House’s community store, which will provide them with a savings account when they finish the program.
“We think it’s a good incentive,” Lewis said. “When they work, they’re working for their future.
“At the end of the day, we’re not doing it for us,” he said. “We want to see God’s kingdom grow. We want to see people coming to Christ. We want to invest in their life. We’re tired of seeing people with substance abuse be characterized as something of little value. We think they have great value.”
Hope House is in the process of hiring staff for the facility and is three to six months away from opening, but getting to this point hasn’t been without bumps in the road, Lewis said.
When Hope House first started pursuing program living, it was as if God was orchestrating it because the organization received a $100,000 donation to help launch the facility, he said.
“It was almost like the Lord just laid this in our lap,” he said.
However, finding a space to build a facility proved difficult.
“Pretty much what we found out is if we did build, we would delay by 18 to 24 months,” Lewis said. “Every option that we pursued, we were running into roadblocks.”
Knowing donors were anxious for Hope House to start program living, the organization’s board of directors voted to lease a downtown house this fall so the program can get underway until plans for a larger, permanent facility come to fruition.
Lewis felt God at work again when he found an ideal house on Adams Street that’s already set up as a halfway house. Owners Greg and LeAnn Powell of Auburn bought the house in the fall and opened it as a halfway house in January, but operating it hasn’t gone according to plan.
“It’s been a little bit more than me and my wife thought it would be,” Greg Powell said. “A lot of the guys that have been here, the addiction is so strong that they come in saying they want to get clean, but most of them can’t make it more than a month.”
When he met Lewis at a Hope House event and heard about the planned program living facility, the two realized their goals were similar and the Powells agreed to let Hope House lease their property.
“It’s almost like we bought it and remodeled it so Bryan could use it,” Greg Powell said. “It’s like God had a plan that we didn’t know about. I think it was more of God’s big plan that this is the way it was supposed to go. It just kind of all seemed to fall into place.”
He believes Hope House can be successful when he and his wife were not because Hope House already has a relationship with many of the men likely to participate, and the organization is planning a much more structured program than the Powells offered.
“Program living is different than a halfway house because with program living, you have staff that give 24/7 care for the student residents,” Lewis said. “Any time you go out of the house, it’s with staff. Program living is more accountable, more structured.”
Strode believes the environment Hope House is developing could help inmates successfully re-enter society.
“I think you would see a difference,” he said. “I think it will be a big factor in helping to keep them from reoffending and helping them get on a positive track in life.”
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