For Jeff Andrews, the search for a purpose in life was elusive, painful, ugly and destructive.
His personal journey took him from the athletic fields of a Christian school in Taylor to a string of jobs, a few bucks, a car, post-high school party houses, drug addiction, stealing, dope dealing and despair.
He drifted in and out of short-term “rehab” centers for part of a decade, “taking vacations from my addiction,” he says – only to return to heroin and other drugs.
When he hit bottom in 2015, he landed in a unique, nurturing Pontiac neighborhood called “Grace.”
While there and enrolled in a church-sponsored, one-year rehabilitation program that offers help and expects accountability, Andrews found a purpose to life and an appreciation for all that goes with it: Faith, confidence, a loving wife, a baby, a family and a job that matters.
Most of all, he says, he learned the benefit of caring for someone other than himself.
“It has been amazing,” said Andrews, 32, a graduate of the now-closed Light and Life Christian high school.
“I found God and a satisfaction in life that took the place of my addiction.”
Andrews is among the successful graduates of the Life Skills Program and Aftercare Program operated by the Grace Centers of Hope. Operating from a well-worn neighborhood being transformed into a campus of caring, Grace offers counseling, training and other support to the homeless, addicted and abandoned.
On any given day, the organization reports, Grace Centers of Hope assists as many as 200 men, women and children with meals, clothing, emergency shelter, skills instruction and religious values shared by the Grace Gospel Fellowship Church.
Participants who graduate from the one-year skills program are eligible for the Aftercare Program, which offers housing in “Little Grace Village” – a growing cluster of properties owned and renovated by the nonprofit center.
Jeff and his wife, Shannon, live in Little Grace with her daughter, Emma-Jean, and their newborn son, Carter. Their three-bedroom Pontiac house – renovated over five months by volunteers – is the 50th dedicated by Grace Centers and is the first home for the Andrews family.
A familiar story
The couple met at Grace, where each was battling drug addiction.
Shannon, 28, a native of Lapeer, had been addicted to heroin for a decade, had overdosed and had lost custody of her daughter before landing in jail and ultimately coming to Grace.
Jeff was in a downward spiral that included stealing and selling drugs. Among his scams, he said, was to shoplift from hardware stores, exchange the goods for gift cards and then sell the cards to drug dealers for “80 cents on the dollar.”
Jeff – a three-sport athlete in high school – had been in several rehabilitation centers for short periods of treatment. None of it worked, he said, and his drug dependency embraced opioids, including prescription drugs and heroin.
Looking back, he said, he was living a life with little meaning and even less concern for others.
The one-year commitment demanded by Grace upon enrollment upon was a godsend. Meeting Shannon helped, as well, although such relationships often end badly and sadly for couples in the recovery community.
“Grace is a long-term program that is 100 percent free,” he said. “When I got here, I was 100 percent helpless. I was still thinking that I could manage my addition, which, of course, I couldn’t.
“The additional time at Grace helped me. I found myself listening. I found myself slowly getting better and enjoying life again. It was like a switch flipped.”
The Rev. Kent Clark, chief executive of Grace Centers, said the couple proved to be “truly gifted and very special” — even if they did violate one of the center’s main beliefs.
Clark said Grace does not encourage participants to become couples, acknowledging how recovery could be at risk when addictive personalities involved.
“For us, it works,” Jeff said. “We are good together and individually. I know it’s not just my life that is important.”
Clark said the couple’s relationship was special – powerful and positive – as they progressed through the Grace program. There were setbacks to be sure, including a now-amusing episode when Grace officials essentially suspended the couple for fraternizing.
“We were in the penalty box,” Shannon recalls, with a chuckle.
A new battle
Love won out, though, she said. She regained custody of her daughter. The couple married a year and a half ago. They faced a family crisis in July when their son was born prematurely at 1 pound, 4 ounces.
Jeff said his little boy is stronger every day, supported by outstanding medical care at Beaumont Hospital, prayer and unfailing attention by Shannon and himself. By the time of the baby’s first Thanksgiving, he had come home and had grown to more than 8 pounds.
“I’ve learned that you cannot be selfish, and it’s made for a better life,” Jeff said.
Clark said the couple’s growing sense of sharing and caring has benefited the Grace center.
“They are an outstanding couple,” he says. “They are examples of how to change from the inside out. They have learned the benefit of living to give back to others.”
These days, Jeff and Shannon volunteer as leaders of the youth group organized at Grace. Shannon was managing a coffee shop until her son’s condition required her full attention. Jeff was recently promoted to a sales and logistics position with a supply company near their home.
And the house in Little Grace Village has become a safe haven, Shannon said.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s so perfect. It’s a miracle.”
Her husband said their time together has helped the couple redefine what living truly is.
“We know what it’s like to have some bad times,” he said. “Now, we know what life is really about.”
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