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Harvey House

Faith-based finalists | Forgetting about yesterday, preparing for the future

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

CHICAGO-Stephen Kuta had a good mind for math, but his beer-drinking, weed-smoking ways left him expelled from two different high schools in Chicago's south suburbs. He graduated instead to cocaine and took to writing bad checks in his grandmother's name to feed his addiction. His step-father banned him from the house, but his mom, after hiding her purse, occasionally snuck him in.

Paychecks from Kuta's union carpentry job didn't last the weekend, so he began robbing drug dealers at gunpoint. Weapons violations and eight battery charges-two against police officers-sent him to the county jail around 20 times. Kuta went to state-run drug recovery centers. At one, a self-examination exercise required him to sit in front of a mirror and speak to his reflection. He punched the mirror.

A 2001 reformation lasted two years but ended when Kuta moved in with a girlfriend and reignited his crack addiction, but cocaine-induced flashbacks scared him into taking the advice of his uncle: He pointed him to drug rehabilitation and then to Harvey House School of Ministry, a 12- to 18-month men's recovery program for former drug addicts and criminals.

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Kuta's story is like that of half a dozen former addicts whom WORLD interviewed at Harvey House, which has 30 on the single floor of an old building in Harvey, Ill., a town 20 miles south of downtown Chicago. Harvey House operates under the umbrella of Restoration Ministries, an organization with a $2.2 million budget and 28 programs aimed at community development, evangelism, and mentoring. For Kuta, now 35, Harvey House was a godsend from the day he arrived in April 2007: "I got saved and accepted the Lord into my life the same evening." For the first time, he said, "I started experiencing peace in my life."

John Sullivan founded Restoration Ministries in 1988 out of frustration with the results of an evangelistic Bible study he and his wife were leading at Branden House, a state-sponsored recovery program in Manteno, Ill. He estimates 12,000 Branden House residents professed Christ over the years, but many relapsed into drug use after returning to city streets. "They just didn't have enough indoctrination in Christianity," said Sullivan, who is 73 and still practices dentistry two days a week.

Sullivan's solution was Harvey House (and later, for women, Tabitha House), which he offers free of charge to willing Branden House graduates: "Let's forget about yesterday, there's nothing you can do about it. What can we do now [is to help you become] a man of God, a man who is responsible for his family, a man who is responsible in a job."

The men at Harvey House attend daily Bible studies where a rotation of pastors, theologians, and even a local judge teach about forgiveness, the commands of Jesus, and helping your brother. They also attend Spirit of God Fellowship, the nondenominational church Sullivan founded and still pastors.

"When you come into Harvey House you come in all broken and without direction in life," said Ray Banks, the executive director of Restoration Ministries and a former resident himself. When new residents minister to others, "all of a sudden you realize your problems are not as big as you thought they were." Banks' goal is to take men "from maintenance to mission" by giving them responsibility.

After 14 months at Harvey House, Kuta relishes his responsibility. "I got keys to million-dollar stuff," he said, pulling a large set out of his pocket while showing off the ministry's 150,000-square-foot warehouse packed with used tables, toys, couches, electronics, exercise bikes, shoes, books, and boxes of used clothing stacked two stories high. Restoration Ministries' two thrift stores sell donated goods in showrooms and on eBay and Amazon.com.

Harvey House residents inspect and organize donations, make local pickups and deliveries, and learn how to interact with customers. Kuta supervises maintenance and landscaping at all of the ministry's buildings-plus Sullivan's church and the private school affiliated with it. Kuta said he's learning to live under authority, but admits, "I'm not perfect. I get mad at my brothers sometimes."

Restoration Ministries recently broke ground for a new 25,000-square-foot facility that will house its offices and the Harvey House men. Besides the thrift stores, Harvey House and Tabitha House residents help run more than two dozen programs, including a food pantry, a prison outreach, seniors banquets, and block parties; for youth they provide homework help, basketball, and chess and boxing clubs.

During a recent practice Harvey House resident Nate Skoda, a former fighter with a Popeye tattoo on his arm and scar tissue on his nose, yelled orders at a group of groaning kids who were balanced on their elbows and toes. "Let's go, Major!" he said to one. "Get your butt up!" Skoda used his foot to lift one boy's knees as other students slumped toward the floor. "I didn't 
say stop!"

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