A New Ministry of Love and Hope

By Brad McEwen

Rebecca C was just 18 the first time she smoked rock cocaine.

Barely old enough to be considered an adult—and at an age where most of her peers were still worrying about a prom dresses—and already she had graduated from the narcotic pain pills her doctor had first prescribed to her at 15, following a surgery, to smoking crack.

In short order, she’d move on to meth before finding her way to needles filled with heroin and ultimately to a string of broken relationships and jail cells.

By the time she recently sent a letter to the offices of the Anchorage faith-based recovery ministry in Lee County, Rebecca had been in and out of jails and rehabs, suffered through a failed marriage and lost legal custody of her daughter.

She had reached the end of her rope. And was slowing losing her hope.

In her February letter, sent “To whom it May Concern,” she wrote:

“I know I need help in overcoming my addiction problem. I’m tired of living that lifestyle and I cannot afford to continue being involved in the dope game. My future is prison or dying if I do. I’m still young and have my whole life ahead of me. I would be so grateful if you’d consider accepting me into your facility.”

That Rebecca had reached a point where she was willing to seek help for her affliction was an incredibly brave act. For addicts and alcoholics, that’s a critical first step along what is more often than not a hard road of recovery.

Through all the struggle and strife she’d endured to that point, she thankfully had the energy left to reach out.

Sadly, though, when that letter reached Albany, the Anchorage was not in a position to help.

The treatment center was also not in a position to help when Ms. Rosemary reached out a few years ago, looking for help for her granddaughter Gabby, who following the birth of her twins at age 18, became hooked on meth and had endured multiple near-fatal overdoses.

At the time Ms. Rosemary wrote her plea for help, Gabby was at her worst; prompting her grandmother to write:

“It has been an ongoing saga. She is still on meth, and whatever else she can get, and says she needs help, but is not ready to seek it. She feels she is too far gone to be helped. She will probably never get to raise her girls or take of them. We pray constantly and ask God every day what we can do for her.”

That letter was written nearly three years ago, and one can only hope and pray Gabby—and by extension her children and her grandmother—have found the help they so desperately needed.

While Gabby’s present circumstances are unknown to the outstanding men and women who serve on the Anchorage board of directors, what is known is that the stories of Rebecca and Gabby—and the thousands of Rosemaries who care deeply for those struggling under the yoke of addiction—is that they are all too common.

“We get folks calling us all the time,” said Anchorage Executive Director Bob Lynch during a recent Beyond the Bank interview. “We get letters, emails, phone calls all the time. And sometimes you’re talking to somebody on the call about getting somebody in the program, and then when you get about halfway through the call and she says, ‘Well, it’s fore me.” And I have to say, ‘This is a male-only facility.’ That’s tough.

“I don’t know the volume of calls we get, certainly more emails, some letters, but a good bit. Enough really to keep you well aware of the need out there.”

Anchorage board member Deborah Gay, concurred, saying it doesn’t take too much looking around to realize, that the scourge of addiction is alive and well within the female population of our community and beyond.

And she knows firsthand that the options for females seeking recovery is well out of proportion to the growing need. Where a man—thanks to the generosity of countless donors, churches and the better angels in our community—can enter the Anchorage’s four-month program for a mere $40, there is no such options anywhere close to Albany where a woman can seek recovery. And there’s certainly not a women’s facility geared toward reaching recovery through a combination of Bible study, faith-based education and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

"The need is just entirely too great,” Deborah said. “And there’s nowhere, in my opinion, in the state of Georgia or Florida, that’s got this kind of program, which is affordable. Every program that I know of in the state of Georgia is $600 or more a month.”

And sadly Deborah would know.

Much like Ms. Rosemary, Deborah knows the pain of desperately seeking quality and affordable help for a loved one.

“I mean I spent over $700 a month when my daughter was in rehab,” Deborah shared. “Twice, three times actually.

“That’s why when I said there’s nowhere in Georgia, I know exactly what I’m talking about. I literally almost went through my life’s savings to put my daughter through rehab.”

“And you’re one of many,” added fellow board member Ryan Layfield. “Many, many more.”

“The need is great,” added Bob. “And we believe we can help.”

And help is exactly what the Anchorage knows how to do.

Although it is still in the early planning stages, Anchorage leadership—seeing the blessings God has bestowed upon the organization in recent years—is now working toward founding a new women’s ministry that will mirror the faith-based, Christian approach that has proven so powerful for the scores of alcoholic and drug addicted men who have turned to the Anchorage recovery ministry for help for nearly 70 years.

“We’ve got a framework,” Bob explained. “It’s not like it’s a start-up. We have a program that works.

“I’m sure we can do this thing and do it well.”

“Because we already do this thing and we do it well,” added Deborah.

“Look, God is in this or it wouldn’t have made it 68 years,” continued Bob.

“Amen,” concluded Deborah.

For Bob and the rest of the board, the notion that God has blessed the Anchorage ministry to a point where it can expand to include a program for females, is clear. There is simply no denying that the Albany area community and beyond, see’s God’s hands in the mission and are willing to support those efforts.

“It is time,” Bob said of the desire to begin the women’s ministry in earnest. “Our finances are better than have ever been. We just had the biggest December in 68 years.

“I always hear, ‘well, it could go bad at any time,’ and I understand that. I know it can, but how many years have you got to finish in the black until people think, ‘well, we can finish in the black this year too.’

“I mean it’s not all just about finances, but that seems to me like an indicator.”

“The Anchorage has got a huge, huge financial support system in this town,” added Deborah.

“You’re right,” Bob continued without missing a beat. “I mean, I can’t brag enough about what peoples’ giving has been to this organization. I mean, it just amazes me.”

And as amazing as that support has been in recent years—enough to allow for a slew of recent upgrades to the Lee County campus, including the construction of the recently completed Ginny Hayman Memorial Chapel—the overriding feeling is that support will only increase when the women’s ministry gets up and running.

According to Bob and Ryan, they’ve encountered numerous people in the community recently who have made comments about a women’s ministry and have even told the pair, that they’d provide additional financial support for it.

“It’s interesting because I’ve ended up getting in touch with people who never really supported this place, but were really, really interested in this,” Bob said. “Like Dawn Jones at Jones Accounting. She does some accounting stuff for us and she’s very interested. She said, ‘when y’all start a women’s program, you let me know.’ There’s a lot of people.”

In fact, the plan moving forward is really for the current Anchorage board and staff to oversee a wholly separate operation that simply mirrors the Anchorage’s current program for men.

“We want to hire people that are committed to developing that program so we don’t have to do everything through here,” Bob said. “You’re running parallel programs. The only thing we’re trying to cut out is the upper level that’s going to boost your budget too much.”

“Right,” Deborah added. “We’ll do separate fundraising for the women’s facility, as we’re doing for the men’s facility. We’ll still continue doing the same things we’ve always done with the men’s facility. All the fundraisers. We’ll just do different fundraisers for the women.”

“I think it’s going to be a big surprise to people because you get a handful of women out there and it’s going to make a difference,” Bob continued. “People will come out to support it.

“All the communication we’re getting, at least all that I’ve gotten, is that I don’t think we’ll have much trouble raising money for women.”

For now, the organization is hoping to start small, first acquiring a piece of property with a 4-plus bedroom house, hopefully with some extra acreage for future expansion, and starting with roughly 8-12 women.

Those women would share rooms in the house and there would be a live-in staffer who would oversee the day-to-day and ensure the women are engaged in the recovery program, which again will mirror what the men are doing.

“I know we’ll have to adapt it a little bit, but it will be chapel two times a day, Bible studies, the AA program, etc.,” Bob said. “It will be just like the men’s program, just administered to women.”

As for when Bob believes the women’s ministry can get off the ground, he said the biggest challenge will be finding the right property. But once that’s settled, he sees no reason they couldn’t welcome their first female clients by year’s end.

“I want it operational this year,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s needed. And I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”

Deborah and Ryan concurred.

“Right,” Ryan said. “The need is just too great for an organization with as much as we have to pass it up. And I mean, I don’t think that Jesus would say, ‘Don’t help those women, just stay focused on the men.’”

“I know it will work,” Deb added. “This has God’s hands all over it. We have an opportunity to continue to make a difference and we need to do it.”

“Yeah,” Bob concluded. “God’s been good to this place. That’s all I can say. I mean it’s amazing what He’s done. If we keep doing what we’re doing, I believe He will continue to bless us. We just need to do what we can.”

And what Bob and the others know can be done by moving forward with the ministry, is helping to make sure that the heartfelt and earnest pleas of all of the mothers, daughters and sisters don’t go unanswered any longer.

To learn more about the Anchorage and its Christian, faith-based approach to recovery, visit the facility’s website at anchorageofalbany.org or on Facebook.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

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