KOKOMO – Plans are currently underway to build a faith-based addiction recovery center in Howard County that will house recovering addicts for 90 days. AP Image Cross
Kokomo residents Joey and Darcy Bennett are leading the project, along with other members of the community. The Howard County location will be modeled after Home of Grace Addiction Recovery, a Christian-based recovery center in Vancleave, Mississippi that was started 53 years ago.
“I think it will impact Howard County just by offering people hope,” Darcy said. “A chance to have a second chance … [for] freedom from their bondage and freedom from their addiction, but also giving them hope that life can be great, and life can be successful without the use of a drug.”
The center in Mississippi is located along the Gulf Coast, and offers housing and a variety of programs, from classes for patients to earn their GED to transitional housing after they have completed the program.
Home of Grace offers “freedom from addiction through Christ-centered recovery,” according to the center’s mission statement. Since opening in January 1965, there have been over 40,000 alumni of the program.
The idea to bring a similar institution to Kokomo and Howard County was birthed out of a difficult time for the Bennett family. In May 2016, Joey Bennett entered Home of Grace after battling with opioid addiction for three years.
At the time, Joey had reached a pivotal point in his addiction. Feeling a loss of hope, he attempted suicide.
While recovering in the hospital, a friend suggested that he give the Home of Grace a try.
“I kind of created an unhealthy environment for myself getting into the addiction lifestyle, and [it] just created an awareness in me that things had come to a point where I needed to make some changes in my life,” Joey said.
The distance was tough for the Bennett family, but a necessary sacrifice. Joey said traveling to Mississippi for recovery was an essential part of his healing. He could leave the facility when the road to recovery got rough, but he would have a long walk back home to Kokomo, he joked.
As a father of three and a husband, Joey said that the three months he would be away from his family and the affordability of the program were crucial to his success.
“I think I felt selfish kind of fixing me, but I knew the support group that was here (in Kokomo),” Joey said. “I was more appreciative of my family being taken care of, more so than me, because I felt like I was in a good place.”
Most other programs in Indiana did not meet Joey and his family’s needs, he said.
At Home of Grace, Joey’s total cost of attendance was $2,500 for a three-month stay, which was subsidized through a scholarship provided by donations – a key aspect of how the Home of Grace has become affordable to many.
For the Bennetts, Howard County and even recovery agencies in Indianapolis did not offer the same flexibility and affordability as the Home of Grace, which is why they believe a similar program will be beneficial to residents of Howard County and Indiana.
Where it started: Home of Grace
In January 1965, Rev. Bill Barton Sr. opened the Home of Grace Addiction Recovery Center, which sat along a white sandy beach on a creek off the Gulf Coast in Southern Mississippi.
With 10 acres of donated land, a donated trailer and no electricity, Barton Sr. opened the small facility mostly to men battling alcohol addiction. Since then, Home of Grace has expanded to include both a men’s and women’s campus, and has helped thousands along their journey to sobriety.
“So that’s how the Home of Grace began – with no resources, no money, no anything, just a heart to help people,” said Executive Director Josh Barton, grandson of Rev. Bill Barton Sr.
Josh took over as executive director after his father served for 17 years.
In its 53 years, The Home of Grace has grown to a 162-bed facility (120 for men and 42 for women). In the last year, 635 people came through the program. On average, 50 percent of all participants are from out of state.
Roughly 50 applications to enter the program are received each week, Barton said.
But with humble beginnings, Home of Grace has expanded considerably in size and programs over the years.
“Those early days it was a lot more challenging,” Barton said. “They had devotion in the morning; they’d work all day and chapel at night. There wasn’t a lot of programs involved.”
Now, two campuses – located about 15 miles apart – house classrooms, a cafeteria and a medical clinic operated by volunteer medical professionals.
And the recovery center’s growth is not the only change in recent years, as the use of opioid related overdose deaths has increased across the country.
“This year particularly we’ve seen more people dealing with the opioid addiction [and] the heroin addictions that overdosed and died than ever before in our history,” Barton said.
In the 1960s, alcoholism was driving the addiction landscape, Barton noted. And the face of addiction at that time was mostly men in their 40s and 50s.
Today, addiction starts early, taking over the lives of even teenagers.
In May, the Kokomo Tribune reported that in Howard County, overdose deaths in 2017 were on pace to far exceed the total number of deaths from the previous year.
“We’re dealing with third and fourth generations now of individuals whose moms or dads or grandparents were dealing with drugs,” Barton said. “So now kids are experimenting with things younger and younger and younger. Youth are exposed to things much quicker now than they used to.”
With a 40 percent overall success rate, Home of Grace sees at least 10 to 15 percent of its graduates relapse and return to the program a second time.
Valley of Grace
Valley of Grace will be the name of the Howard County-based facility.
The 12 members on the board of directors, including Joey and Darcy Bennett, have begun planning and fundraising efforts with help and guidance from Barton.
On Nov. 10, the kickoff fundraiser for the Valley of Grace will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Kokomo's Celebrations Banquet and Conference Facility, 3437 W. Sycamore St.
There will be a silent and live auction to raise funds for the center.
Since October 2016, the organization has taken steps to become incorporated by the State of Indiana and has officially become a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization.
But there is much more to be done along this journey, the Bennetts said.
The group is hoping to have 30 to 50 acres of land in Howard County donated.
An anonymous donor has offered to match every dollar raised – up to $25,000 – from now until the end of the fundraiser night in November.
And like the Home of Grace, Valley of Grace will be privately funded. Participants also will receive a scholarship that will match their individual costs for admission. However, the total cost per participant of the program has yet to be determined.
The Valley of Grace will open with a men’s facility first, with plans to later expand.
“Because we felt like if we could help the men in the home … if the men can get right as far as making choices that are responsible and healthy, wise [and] spiritual choices, they can lead the rest of their families into following into that as well,” Darcy said.
Since Joey Bennett entered the Home of Grace in May of 2016, his life began to shift.
He has grown in his relationship with Christ and his family. Being able to find new meaning and a new focus by ultimately altering his life with the help of God has given him a second chance, he said.
And it’s Joey’s hope that by offering someone else battling addiction the same opportunity could also result in positive change for the entire community.
“Addiction has a stigma and unfortunately addiction does not discriminate, whether it’s myself or a pro athlete, it doesn’t matter,” Joey said. “A stigma is a stigma, and everybody has their judgment on it and that’s okay. We’re here to kind of help people redeem their lives again.”
Addition not only hurts the addict, Joey added, but everyone around them. And because options are limited in Howard County and throughout Indiana, adding another option is not the worst idea.
Josh Barton added that community support is essential to the success of the recovery center, as well as the overall impact the center will have on the community by helping to change the lives of addicts.
“As this organization here, Valley of Grace, starts coming together, it’s going to be important that the community comes along side it because the Home of Grace from the very beginning requires tons of volunteers, because there’s no way you can perform a really high quality program and keep it affordable for most anybody that needs it without having a community around it," he said.