Annual chili supper brings addiction recovery resources together

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

When you or a loved one is battling addiction, it’s easy to feel like help is out of reach, but there are resources locally to turn to for help and encouragement during a difficult time.

Every February, regional resources gather together for the Living Free chili supper, one of the only fundraisers the local organization has. Living Free began about 20 years ago to help battle the rising tide of addiction in the community.

“You’d think, in that length of time, we’d have made some headway, but the need is just as great now as it was in the beginning,” said Bruce Stephenson, director of Living Free Community of Washington County.

LFWC provides information and support groups to help people understand addiction better and how to overcome it. They host a resource list on their website that’s eight pages long and counting. Living Free organizes transportation for people who need to get to treatment facilities.

“Years ago, when we started, I went to West Virginia so often, I didn’t need a map,” said Stephenson. “I could just go on up there, and I know there’s a stretch out there you don’t want to run out of gas on. It’s dark at night and nobody’s home. We did that and we continue to do that.”

They offer college scholarships for students in situations impacted by addiction. Stephenson said they have helped two students so far from Washington County.

“The money is out there if you know how to navigate the system,” he said. “It’s not playing the system; you just need to know what door to knock on. The last fellow we sponsored is at Purdue and we sponsored him for $1,000 per semester. $1,000 and Aunt Sarah [Leach, who is instrumental as a liaison between Living Free and schools and works one-on-one with the scholarship recipients]. Aunt Sarah comes with $1,000, and she’s worth a whole lot more than cash money. After the first  year, he didn’t need help with finances. He just needed someone to encourage him, tell him he’s doing well and going strong.”

Living Free also provides scholarships to Christian camps, like Wonder Valley, for children in the area who may be living in a home impacted by addiction.

Stephenson said those who reach out to Living Free aren’t reaching out to a conglomerate or a computer. They’re reaching out to people who want to help.

“We try to do whatever is needed at the moment,” said Stephenson. “We can’t do everything, but we do have a number they can call. We keep it in the newspaper and I answer the phone. People leave messages, and I call them back. It’s just an opportunity to get in touch with someone who maybe has a direction, maybe has a word of hope and a word of encouragement. There have been times I’ve talked to folks on the phone and didn’t do a thing for them other than the phone call, but they’ve always been very appreciative of the time, very appreciative of the listening ear. If I can’t do anything else, I can listen.”

Wonder Valley Christian Camp’s Dan Owsley said Wonder Valley, founded in 1946, is a place where children could come to get away from the world.

“You wouldn’t think of 1946 as being that bad of a world, but still, they needed a place they could get away and concentrate on time alone with the Lord,” he said. “Time to renew their faith or maybe accept their faith for the first time.”

The first year saw about 70 children. This past year saw 1,085.

Owsley said those interested in what’s happening at Wonder Valley can attend the camp’s Family Adventure Day, held the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., for a free lunch, activities and an opportunity to register campers for the coming summer. They can also hear about scholarship opportunities — the camp is able to give about $73,000 in scholarships every year.

“It costs about $250 for a normal week of camp for a child,” Owsley said. “All of our campers are on scholarships, whether they know it or not. Through 40-plus churches and individuals who donate regularly through ministry, we’re able to keep our costs low. If you’ve got a teenaged boy, you can’t keep them at home and feed them for $250. That’s way less than what it would cost if we charged full price … We’re commanded, as believers, to teach children. To teach them about God and what children mean to Him.”

Donna Wesner spoke on the organization she helms, Choices (formerly CARE Pregnancy Center).

“Amazing things are happening,” she said.

Choices Life Resource Center in Salem joins its sister facilities in New Albany and Corydon and offers expectant mothers of all ages and income levels information, classes, assistance and more to equip people to be parents. Wesner added the facility has recently acquired an ultrasound machine.

“That helps further our cause to save more babies,” she said.

CARE/Choices served 175 clients last year, with children prenatal to 5 years old.

“We know the love of Jesus is something we all need in our lives and we want to share that with others,” said Wesner.

Those in attendance heard from Bobby Shepherd of the Scott County-based New Creation ministry. The program started in jails to provide hope to inmates.

“When people find themselves in jail, that’s often the most hopeless place they find themselves,” said Shepherd.

New Creation holds recovery-focused Bible studies in multiple jails in the area, including Washington County.

“A lot of these men’s problems are generational,” said Shepherd. “They’ve been taught this way by the past two generations. It’s hard to pick up a new way of life, but we tell them they can break the cycle and create a better life for themselves and their children.”

He said he hopes the legal system will begin focusing more on rehabilitation than prison time.

“I understand when there’s been a crime committed, there has to be punishment, but when you’ve got a guy who, for two or three generations has been impacted by addiction, maybe you need to take a chance on somebody and try to help them into a new way of life instead of writing them off as a lost cause,” he said. “… We need to think about the potential sitting in these jails, with no hope and no one to help them.”

Freed From Within’s John Roberts talked about his work in Corydon. His faith-based transitional living facility works with men leaving prison for six months to two years, teaching life skills, recovery skills, mentoring and more.

“It’s not hard, but it is intense,” he said. “No man who stays there for two years will have the same class twice.”

Men are given free dental and eye care and are enrolled in HIP 2.0 healthcare. They pay rent and are required to attend church. The men are vetted and interviewed by staff to see if they will make a good fit for the program before they are released from jail.

“In the past year, we’ve seen most men staying more than a year,” said Roberts. “At first, we could barely get men to stay for six months. Men who have graduated are coming back to help out as mentors.”

Roberts’ wife, Tracy, leads a class for women on Monday evenings and Roberts said they’re working to rebuild bridges between parents and children and create functioning families once more or even for the first time.

Other organizations like Childplace, an agency offering treatment options for abandoned, abused and/or neglected children and adolescents in need in Jeffersonville, The Center for Women’s Ministries in Salem and Celebrate Recovery, offering support group meetings and resources for those in and around addiction, also in Washington County, were mentioned as well. Stephenson’s daughter, Tracy Weaver, said organizations Grace House (near Marengo) and Jacob’s Well (in Greenville, where the Stone Rest Inn is located) wanted to be there that night, but were needed at other events that evening. They are both transitional living facilities for women in the region.

“In our nearly 20-year history, when we first began, the reason we started was because there were no places for people to go,” she said. “There’s a reason my dad was driving to West Virginia to take young men to Teen Challenge. There was nothing within 100 miles of us. Praise the Lord, I had two ministries that were too busy to be here. I am finding out about new transitional living facilities all the time. The resources we have on our website is not complete by any means. It’s eight pages and it’s not even close to the resources we have, and I’m so glad we have this many resources … It just amazes me that, on one hand, we look at this and think, ‘This is such an awful thing for the addiction epidemic to be hitting our community and country so hard,’ but it’s only in the hard times that the common people come together and decide to do what they can do. It’s amazing to see how God’s raising up an army.”

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