A fresh start: DeKalb Association to open residential recovery ministry in Fort Payne

A fresh start: DeKalb Association to open residential recovery ministry in Fort Payne

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Drugs took me down a downward spiral path. I’ve lost everything I had, including myself. I lost God first and foremost. It’s just been bad. There’s nothing good that has (come) from it.”

Stories like this one are common from the women incarcerated at the DeKalb County Jail. Sherriff Jimmy Harris estimates that 90 percent of women arrested in DeKalb County are jailed for drug-related offenses. Most leave the jail hoping never to return, but within months, many are arrested again.

Spiritual guidance

“The only place they have to go is the same place they came from, either the drug house they came from or the abuser they were with. They need a place to go where they can get some spiritual guidance,” Harris said.

Jail ministry volunteers are hoping to provide just that at The Summit. Once the legal paperwork is in order, The Summit will become a residential recovery home for women who are recovering from addiction or seeking to leave abusive situations. The program will be an independent 501c3 organization but will fall under the umbrella of DeKalb Baptist Association, according to the association’s Director of Missions Ken Allen. At least in the beginning, most of these women will come straight from the DeKalb County Jail.

“It is super exciting when you begin to think about the freedom from sin and the fresh start that so many of these women are going to be able to get as a result of this ministry,” Allen said.

For many years, there have been residential recovery options for men but no place for women. Ministry volunteers began to look for options and when The Summit in Fort Payne was listed for sale, they saw an opportunity.

The Summit property has a storied history. Built by Teddy Gentry of the Fort Payne-based musical group Alabama, the 96-acre property includes one large house and two smaller homes. Most recently the property was owned by Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, who died in 2014, and operated as a special events and retreat venue.

Allen and other leaders in DeKalb Association, along with Harris, jail ministry volunteers and community leaders put together a proposal asking the Chick-fil-A Foundation to donate the property to be used as a recovery center. At a meeting in August, representatives of the Foundation met with the local team to hear their presentation. After the presentation, the Chick-fil-A representatives agreed to donate the property.

“You could see the hand of God on the process,” Allen said. “Everyone, including the men from Atlanta, was choked up. One of them wanted to pray, but he couldn’t speak. We could all sense the presence of God in that room.”

The handover of the property will officially take place once tax-exempt status is gained from the IRS, said Debbie Garner, an addiction recovery specialist and long-time jail ministry volunteer who will direct the program.

The ministry will be known as The Summit of Fort Payne: God’s Sanctuary for Hope and Healing.

Transitioning from jail

In the beginning, Garner hopes to house 25–30 women transitioning from the jail. Women will commit to the program for 12 months, which is an essential part of the recovery process.

“They need to learn how to change every part of their lives,” Garner said. “These women are dealing with life-controlling problems, whether it’s drugs and alcohol or abuse. They have to exchange the false god of drugs for the living God or they won’t make it.”

To help the women rebuild their lives, the program will include training in spiritual foundations, coping skills, job preparedness and GED classes, nutrition and exercise, parenting, personal finances and budgeting and social skills.

More importantly, the women will be away from the outside influences that increase their chances of recidivism, Garner said. Even though many inmates begin a real relationship with Christ while in the jail, most have been so ingrained in a lifestyle of abuse and addiction they have trouble living their faith outside of prison. Often they feel too ashamed to go to church and become isolated from Christian influences.

“These women need to learn to repent and how to keep their lives clean,” she said. “They need an opportunity to get away from those outside influences long enough to establish new habits. God gave us a miracle on behalf of these women who He loves so much and who so desperately need to be healed and have whole lives.”

Garner said she is already getting calls from people who want to see their loved ones admitted to the program, as well as from people in the community who want to give time and money to the ministry.

Harris and Allen credit the support of the community and churches to what has taken place in DeKalb County already and what will be accomplished in the future, but they gave God the glory for this step forward.

“Without Him, this would not have been possible,” Harris said.