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Freedom from drugs is center's mission

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jennifer and Jered Jackson, pictured above, run the faith-based drug and alcohol intervention program at Freedom Dream Center in rural Aurora. The 12-month program teaches faith and better living habits to the 23 men and women currently residing at the center. [Times Photo by Melonie Roberts]
A faith-based treatment program in Aurora is helping area addicts get clean.

The Freedom Dream Center began its mission about six years ago, under the direction of Pastor Tony Swillum, and dealt with one woman at that time.

The 12-month program is geared toward detoxing the body of noxious substances , like drugs and alcohol, and replacing them with better living habits and a belief in the transforming power of God. The center is now home to 16 men and seven women of varying ages.

The not-for-profit mission is funded through partnerships and donations. Those who reside there typically pay tuition of about $400 per month, which can be paid by the resident's family or through scholarships.

Dream Center Administrator Jered Jackson is familiar with addictions, having been a long-time drug user.

"My brother died a month before I took this job," Jered said. "He was a youth minister in Joplin, and he was a good guy. He was out walking the walk of faith while I was sticking a needle in my arm. When he died, I vowed to pick up that torch and run with it.

"I quit a good paying job to come here, and I have to raise my own funds for this place," he continued. "But here I am."

The center's residents range in age from 17 to 52, and all are fighting to regain control of their lives.

"This is not a lock-down facility," added Jennifer Jackson, Jered's wife, who is also a former drug user. "It usually takes about two weeks for a person to get over that hump where they are not using drugs or alcohol. After that, it gets better."

"They put you in this bubble," said Nathan Smith, a teenager who was once on Lawrence County Sheriff Department's most wanted list. "You hate it, but then it becomes your comfort shell and you don't want to leave."

"It's about shedding the old skin, like a snake, and growing a new one in Christ," added Angela Hartkopp, also a resident and now a dorm advisor for the girls. "You have to shed those old beliefs and old ways of doing things."

Residents in the program have a strict schedule they adhere to every day of the week.

"The guys need sternness," Jered said. "They have structure. They don't just twiddle their thumbs. They're learning life skills, financial management and fighting the battlefield of the mind -- all those negative thoughts that plague them. They are active in the Journey to Recovery addiction program."

Residents also participate in parenting classes, marriage classes and regular Bible study. No secular music, books or television are allowed.

"We find that secular music often reminds residents of places or people that they used to be around and who they got into trouble with," said Jennifer. "We surround them with Christian music, uplifting messages, because who we were is not who we are now. We show them a new direction."

Additionally, the residents are expected to minister to others in need after some time in recovery.

"Helping others empowers our residents," Angela said. "It keeps them focused on other people and not on themselves."

"We minister to the homeless in Springfield," Jered said. "We can go into their environment with our tattoos and an understanding of what those people are going through and be accepted by them. A guy in a suit, they wouldn't be able to relate to him, or he to them. They aren't on the same level."

Nathan would rather minister to the homeless than confront some of his former associates in Lawrence County.

"I was a drug dealer," he said. "It scares me when I see those people now. My attitude has changed, and I don't know how to talk to them now. I don't know how to be around them.

"It took years for me to get to where I was around them," Nathan continued. "It's going to take a long time to get out of it. I know I have to completely renew my mind to everything. You leave one door open, it leads to another and another. I was living that and hating it."

Angela had her own demons driving her decisions.

"I was shooting dope by the time I was 14," she said. "I spent seven years in prison. And even there, if I wanted to get high, no one was going to stop me."

Angela had no real incentive to leave prison.

"I got healthy, I got medical care, my teeth were fixed free of charge, and I got a college degree, all while I was in prison," she said. "But as soon as I got out, I went back to it. I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired."

That's when she found the Freedom Dream Center.

"I had no foundation on what it is to live the right life," Angela said. "In the world, there are all these things: money, drugs and material things. But there was still something missing. The only thing that changed my life was God."

Residents are encouraged to find employment in the community, and many local business owners are happy to have them.

"In this program you can't fake it and make it," said Jennifer. "We've all been there. We know the cons.

"And a fresh start for our residents is important," added Jered. "What was your weakness can become your strength. You've got to work at it."

"Five years ago I was not a nice person," said Jennifer. "Now, I see people hurting and ask myself 'How dare I walk past someone and not give them hope? How dare I walk away and leave them hurting?' There is hope. For all of us."

Coming from a broken home with not a lot of supervision, Nathan said it was easy to get into trouble and feels it would be a pattern easy to fall back into.

"But there is something more for me out there," he said. "I want to go to college, and I want to help people. I never thought I would amount to much. But I have no limitations. I can do anything I want to do."

Jered believes this growing ministry is much like the ripples on the surface of the pond.

"For many of our residents, this is the first positive life experience they have had," he said. "Love and forgiveness. Those are the two things that make us or break us here."

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Thank you for the awesome work you are doing. I do volunteer work at watered Gardens in joplin and they are trying to get a program started like yours. I praise God for people who care for others who are hurting.

-- Posted by carcar shears on Tue, Mar 29, 2011, at 5:24 PM

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