We have all done it. We have looked at the weekly church attender and assumed that they had it all together, that their life behind the scenes was perfect, and their past spotless. Then we have looked upon the addict and the incarcerated with either pity or disdain. The Friends of Sinners Ministry was established on the belief that, regardless of one’s past, “we are all equal at the feet of Jesus.”
Friends of Sinners uses the lives of those who have overcome addiction, along with Biblical principles and discipleship, to come alongside those that have been consumed by drug and alcohol addiction. While most of the participants come directly from jail and are court-ordered to enroll in a recovery program, there is a set of detailed criteria and a structured evaluation process that each candidate must meet. In order to be considered for the program, candidates may not be violent or sexual offenders, and must complete a thorough application and interview process. The staff and board then pray about the candidates to ensure that they are committed to change and recovery and are not simply “going through the motions.”
Born from a dream that founder Roger Chilton experienced over five years ago, Friends of Sinners functions more as a recovery center rather than a treatment center, as it has no certified counselors on staff. Instead, participants commit to a twelve-month residential program along with six months of aftercare. Rather than assign counselors, one of the real strengths of the program is that participants are paired with a recovered addict as well as a disciple of Christ, with whom they spend no less than an hour a week. Although the original vision for the program included having homes for both men and women, when the program was conceived in 2009, there were initially only homes for male participants. There are now four men’s houses in operation on Clay Street. In 2011, the first women’s house was established. The small, two-bedroom, one bath home is situated on West 11th Street and houses five women. Friends of Sinners brings a wealth of hope to the men and women of our community in that it offers an over 70% success rate in one year in comparison to traditional recovery programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), which typically boast annual success rates in the first year of 30% at best. Their success is so evident in fact that “community leaders from other areas want to replicate what we are doing,” says Chilton.
A large part of the success of Friends of Sinners is due to those individuals that have successfully overcome addiction and have felt called to become part of the ministry. Cindy Hensley, a former addict who spent twenty-three years in and out of various recovery programs, is a testament to everything the program stands for. After experiencing multiple setbacks and enduring trials of great measure, Cindy did not feel truly healed and transformed until she experienced the Celebrate Recovery program (a faith-based version of the 12 Step Program) six years ago. Where the 12 Step Program believes that there is a higher power that one should seek, Celebrate Recovery teaches that Jesus is the only higher power. Following her recovery, Cindy felt an immediate pull to the Friends of Sinners ministry. At the time, there was no FOS women’s ministry, so Cindy began making and delivering food to the men in recovery. Then in 2011, she left her position in car sales to become the women’s ministry director. One of the many blessings Cindy has experienced in her almost 6 years of recovery is that of reconnecting with her 26-year old daughter, who now occupies a small closet-sized bedroom in the women’s house in order to provide 24-hour support and supervision. Cindy has an incredible heart for the women that reside in the house as she understands so many of the struggles they are going through. Many of these women come from “generational addiction,” where a lifestyle of addiction is all they know. They do not know how to be a loving parent, were not taught how to balance a checkbook, pay their bills on time, or how to properly cook a meal. Friends of Sinners provides these women (and men) with those skills and so much more. Recently a resident was able to acquire her first driver’s license and, while visiting the house, I was able to see the smile beaming from one of the women’s faces as she proudly shared that she had learned how to mow the lawn for the first time. Cindy takes great pride in the fact that they are doing “more than teaching them how to live without drugs, (they are) teaching them how to live period.”
Although the establishment of the women’s house has been incredibly successful, the biggest concern now is space. When five women are residing in the house, they are all bunked together in one bedroom. Just try to envision two sets of bunk beds, one twin bed, one armoire, and multiple plastic drawers all compacted into one bedroom of your home. Now imagine five grown women sharing that space. Even though the ladies seem to make the best of their circumstances, as it is so much better than other alternatives, “women have different needs than men…they are nesters (and) they take pride in their personal space.” The ministry has looked at homes all over the city that would be appropriate for the women and provide more space. However, by the time the work was put in to renovate these properties in order to ensure that they were ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, the total cost would just be too high.
Recently, the ministry received an incredible answer to prayer. A generous family in the community donated three adjacent lots located across from the Wendall Foster Center to serve as the location for the new women’s house. Tentative plans have been designed to build a two-story house with four bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, and an open living and dining area downstairs. This open concept would allow families and children to gather and visit comfortably. Where the current house can tightly occupy five women, the new house will be licensed to accommodate twelve. However, it will initially begin with six residents and offer a transitional room, as well. A home of this size will greatly increase the current capacity of healing that this ministry provides, but a build of this magnitude cannot be accomplished without tremendous support from the community and compassionate individuals. This type of support has been the key all along to enabling the ministry to aid those who had been labeled as “potential hazards to society” and helping to transform them into “productive members of society.” According to Carol Adkins, a faithful supporter and former board member of the ministry, “Recovered addicts are very passionate people, especially when they find God.” And there is nothing like “seeing someone’s life transformed, seeing them get custody back, homes, jobs…their whole countenance changes.”
[tw-divider]What you can do to help[/tw-divider]
The approximate cost of construction and completion on the new Friends of Sinners’ Women’s House is an anticipated $250,000.
Since the ministry receives no state or federal funding, and depends solely on community and local church support, monetary donations are greatly needed and appreciated. There will be several upcoming fundraisers, including a “Purchase a Brick Paver” project. However, there are many other ways that you can support this meaningful endeavor. The following items and services are needed for donation:
- Construction supplies, such as: lumber, paint, materials, etc.
- Labor: Plumbers, contractors, electricians
- New furniture
- New appliances
- New carpet
Although a general contractor has generously offered to volunteer his time to oversee the project, there is still a need for experienced individuals that are willing to donate their time and labor to assist with construction and installation.
If you are able to donate or help to reduce the cost of any of these items, or provide labor, please contact Cindy Hensley at (270)683-7007.