BY ED GEBERT

Times Bulletin Editor

egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - How does one help people to get away from illegal drugs? That was the question considered by a group of Van Wert County residents. With well over half of court cases heard last year in the county being drug charges, the problem continued to get worse.

"We've got to do something. We can't just put our heads in the sand and pretend it's not there. It's a community issue. It's robbing us in all areas: kids, homes, economy-wise, and these lives," said Rev. Paul Hamrick. Last spring, Jane Schmid, Cheryl Schaffner, and Valerie Schoonover came to me to talk about the drug problem in our county and what we can do because it personally affects each one of us in one way or another."

The result was the decision to begin a new program designed to help people in their struggles with addictions.

Celebrate Recovery began in March with informational meetings and a full startup last June.

This program is a better fit. It's more complete. It's comprehensive, and it's been in existence for 20 years. There are more than 10,000 of them across the United States, and more than a million people have been through the program.

"We meeting on Thursday night," Schmid explained. "It's a two-hour meeting with open sharing, praise and worship, then teaching or testimony based right out of the Celebrate Recovery curriculum. There are very specific guidelines for always keeping the newcomer abreast of what is going on, making them feel welcome. It's very standardized... They want a Celebrate Recovery in Van Wert, Ohio to look just like one in Phoenix, Arizona, which looks like one in Washington, D.C. So, we're careful to do that."

Hamrick added, "The reason we looked at the program is that it is a very effective program, There are 10,000 churches right now across the United States doing it. We're uniquely different though. Most of them are very large churches, and they are an individual church that does it. We are multiple ministries coming together. So we kind of put together a team. The ladies had come to me asking if we could do some things and figure out what we could work with. They started to look at the programs that were available. This seemed to be a good fit. We got a lot of help from Lima. Lima is a couple of years ahead of us. It's one of the few areas where the Catholic Church has one. In Lima, they have six to eight different churches across the city that has the program, but we're the only one that is multi-church, multi-ministry."

The program is a 12-step program that is based on the Bible. The program organizers say they do not try to hide the religious aspect, but at the same time they welcome anyone who wants to take part.

"We say we are a 12-step, and we are like other 12-steps in certain ways, but we are not like them in some ways, and that is the difference," shared Schaffner. "Jesus Christ is the higher power, the Big Book [Bible] is what we are going to encourage you to read and study and learn from. You are welcome to be here. We're not going to try to bang the Bible onto your brain and turn you into something you are not, but you are certainly safe and welcome to be here, and you can engage in the very 12 steps they are doing in AA with their biblical comparisons, along with eight principles that are biblically based. They find a comfort place there."

In a short amount of time, Celebrate Recovery has made a difference in the lives of many people struggling with drug addictions. The main time together is the two-hour open meeting on Thursday nights.

Schmid explained, "The format of Thursday night is praise and worship, teaching or testimony, and then an open share group. The last hour is men and women meeting in small groups to ask questions and share."

Besides the major group meeting, those attending are also urged to become a part of a Step Study.

"It's where we work through four participant guides. If a person is serious about their recovery, they'll be in this small accountability group and work through these. It takes about a year, but that's important for recovery, not just the big group on Thursday nights, but also this," said Schmid.

Discussion groups are divided by gender, allowing other addictions besides drugs to be discussed.

Celebrate Recovery has many fans in the area, including Van Wert County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles D. Steele.

"Judge Steele was excited because, one, it doesn't cost people anything, so we don't charge, plus it is Christ-based. It is a very scripture-based program. We are unashamedly upfront about it, it is. Our higher power is Jesus Christ, there is no question about that," declared Hamrick.

Schmid added, "Judge Steele is very much on board with it. He knows we know that it can't be court-ordered, but it is an option that they give to people who are struggling and in trouble with the court.

In less than nine months of meetings, Celebrate Recovery has caught on. Hamrick stated that the group working with the program have successfully made it a loving community - a safe place.

"We're excited about it. It's really starting to grow," he smiled. "I'm sad to say that in our community there are always new people. That is not stopping. The judge was wanting something that would help people as a program that will help them when they get out of jail or they are in the process of starting to put some things back together. We have accountability group that teach them how to deal, not just with the addiction, but the reason why they have the addiction. The focus of the program is hurts, hangups, and habits, and how those things cause us problems. So it's not just an addiction program. They have programs in different parts of the country for overeating, sexual addictions, anxiety, and anger issues. We have concentrate more on the drug issue because that's where we are getting started, but we are wanting to, as we get more leadership, to go beyond that."

Programs for other groups are on the horizon. Almost ready is a program for children, ages 5-12, called Celebration Station, It helps kids deal with parents struggling with drug issues. A similar program for teens, called The Landing, is also in the works. This will not only feature help for teens dealing with addictions in family members, but also their own addictions.

"We believe the answer is in finding a community where they can be accepted and helped along the way. Most people don't want addicts around, but they are part of our community, and a growing part of our community," noted Hamrick. "We're excited about expanding. I've got some great ladies and men who are working with it. I just feel honored for what they have and what they bring to the table."

Celebrate Recovery works through a number of different churches. Leadership in the program comes from a variety of ministries, and more volunteers are always being sought. Donations also are welcome. Hamrick pointed out that donations can be tax-deductible, and training is ready for anyone wanting to join up.

Often the recovery process is very slow, but Hamrick said it is very worthwhile.

"Some days it's two steps forward and three steps back, but it's a success to see some of these people put their families back together, their lives back together," he commented. "We're starting to see it grow, and it's a lot of work. The investment of time is great. You've got to commit to this for a year, about six hours a week."

For a community with a drug problem, Hamrick, Schmid, Schaffner, and Schoonover, along with many other volunteers are looking to offer a helping hand to those who are struggling.

Hamrick summarized, "We're trying, with a Christian base, to deal with an issue that is sucking the life out of our community, and also give these people some hope."