Center of Hope thrift stores fund addiction treatment for the broken
by Sara Milledge
Jun 28, 2013 | 4676 views |  0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Brandy Smith on her job as a secretary at the Center of Hope main office. 
Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
Brandy Smith on her job as a secretary at the Center of Hope main office. Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
Brandy Smith’s life changed nine years ago, when she was 14. She and her sisters found their father dead — he had committed suicide by hanging himself in the family’s home. Later that night, Smith was raped. That’s when she started using drugs, to numb the pain of those 24 hours.

A year later, at 15 years old, she gave birth to her oldest son, Kyle, and got married. At 17, Smith was busted for the possession and manufacturing of methamphetamine. Kyle was present during her arrest, and was taken away from his mother. A year later, she was charged with child endangerment, and by the time she was 19, Smith had been sentenced to her first six-month stay in jail.

After she was released, Smith found herself homeless and pregnant. At the end of her second trimester, Smith’s mother, who lives in LaGrange, Ga., finally relented and allowed her to move home. She had a second son, Brysten, who was also taken from her.

At 21, Smith was facing another six-month jail term.

“I had to put a stop to everything,” she said. “I started crying out to the Lord.”

During her second stay in jail, Smith wrote to several addiction treatment facilities. Anniston’s Center of Hope was the only one that would admit her. She entered the program in February 2012, and graduated a year later.

Now at 23, she works at the same program that gave her hope. Smith is petite, with shoulder-length hair and bright blue eyes. She is happy — and sober.

The Center of Hope’s addiction recovery program, known as Discipleship Training School, began in 2004 as an outreach of the Center of Hope Church. It is one of the area’s largest faith-based rehab programs, currently treating 230 men and women for a variety of addictions.

“It’s not just for drugs and alcohol,” said Pastor Garry Burns, the executive director of the program. “It’s for folks bound in any kind of bondage … We had this guy, his nickname was Gameboy. He played those games to the point where he’d secluded himself.”

Burns said the center also works with a number of people who have gambling addictions.

“It’s not this thing or that thing,” he said. “It’s sin.”

The Center of Hope also visits women in the Clay County Jail and the homeless in downtown Anniston, as well as at-risk youth in area high schools. The Discipleship Training Program partners with Gadsden State University to ensure all of its graduates have earned their GED. Some even attend technical classes at the college.

Burn said about 95 percent of the Center of Hope’s instructors are graduates of the program, which helps them relate to those currently enrolled.

Smith is one of those graduates. She teaches a “Moving Forward” class for the addiction program, serves as a house mother in one of the ladies’ dormitories and works in the church’s front office.

To fund the program, the Center of Hope operates three thrift stores in the area: the Super Thrift Store on U.S. 78 in Oxford, one on U.S. 431 and a Mini Thrift Store in Anniston. It also runs the COH Express Oil and Tire on Greenbrier Dear Road. The stores also employ the program’s participants, who are refered to as students.

Applicants to the program are asked to pay a $200 entry fee to help cover books, meals, clothes, housing and hygiene supplies for the 12- to 18-month program. But Burns said only about 30 to 35 percent of the program’s students are able to pay the fee. Because the program receives only a small amount of money from entry fees and does not receive any state or federal funding, the Center of Hope is entirely dependent on the stores.

Sherry Sears manages the Super Thrift Store in Oxford. She credits the community with funding the program through their donations to the thrift stores. She compares the donation of clothing and other items to lighting a match and starting a wildfire.

“It’s not that one life you’re changing,” she said. “He or she may go out later and help children, and then the children grow up and help the South and then it just spreads … It’s a win-win. It helps those who can’t afford to shop at the malls, and it helps us.”

The Center of Hope is in the process of moving its thrift store on U.S. 431 to a new building across the highway from the Winn-Dixie in Saks.

Adam Montgomery is a manager of the 431 location, and went through the program himself in 2008.

“My life was destroyed. My marriage was over. DHR had taken my children,” he recalls. “God has restored my life through having a place like this to just be still. He has repaired my marriage and restored my home.”

The thrift stores and oil change center employ students and graduates of the program. Willie Blue, 55, is in his fourth month in the Discipleship Training Program. He works as the janitor at the Super Thrift Store. An addiction to cocaine that began in his early 20s has followed him for three decades.

Blue attended Tennessee State University on a football scholarship and played defensive back for four years. He began receiving recruiting letters from professional football teams, and that’s when he was introduced to cocaine.

“I was working out with professional football players and they had what looked like a baby food jar boiling over a stove. That was the first time I was ever exposed to — what they called it at that time — freebasing,” he said. “The first thing I said was, ‘Let me do it again.’”

After Blue severely injured the ligaments in his left knee, his chances of playing pro ball were over. His addiction, however, held strong. He bounced around between treatment facilities and 12-step programs for years.

“I was clean one time for seven years, and while clean, I worked as a drug treatment counselor at two different facilities,” Blue said.

But when a bad relationship left him broken-hearted and desperate, he turned back to cocaine and was soon involved in petty theft.

“I ended up not using any of the tools that I learned at the treatment facilities and ended up going back to using,” he explained.

Blue still has several more months before he can call himself a Center of Hope graduate, but he says he has hopes and goals for the first time in years. The first thing he wants to do is make amends with his family.

“My parents are still living,” he said. “Today, they are happier than they’ve ever been because they say they’ve got their son back.”

Dana Starr, who graduated from the program five years ago, also works at the Super Thrift Store. The Wellborn native is 29 years old, but looks more like 18.

“I really had a chaotic and crazy life growing up,” she said, explaining that both her parents were drug addicts and prone to domestic violence. “When I was about 16 years old, I got with the first guy that gave me any attention.”

She got married and had three children. When she was 22 and separated from her husband, Starr said she got involved in the club scene and began doing meth.

“I started doing Ice on the weekends. That stuff is the devil,” she said.

After a while, Starr said she wanted to get high all the time. She began to lose weight, and liked the attention she was getting. Eventually, she walked out on her three children. But after a few years, the party lifestyle began to wear on her.

“After almost two years of being homeless and on drugs, I begged Pastor Garry to let me in,” she said. “I chose to be delivered … I was done. I knew nobody was going to give me a life. If I was going to live, I was going to have to do it myself.”

Two years after finishing the program, Starr regained custody of her children. Now, she has remarried, and she and her husband recently bought their own home.

“God gave me my babies back after years of not seeing them,” she said. “I’m able to see girls every single day be reunited with their children.”

With role models like Starr and the help of the Center of Hope, Smith hopes that day might not be too far away for her.

“Sometimes I do get anxious,” she said. “But I’ll get them back on God’s time … I used to have hate and anger. Now it’s just joy.”
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Center of Hope thrift stores fund addiction treatment for the broken by Sara Milledge

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