By Laurie Everette
Chuck Keel said he didn’t get to Fellowship House in Lebanon by accident. This respite and place of redemption helps addicts get on the straight and narrow, and, it keeps its residents accountable.
Keel is the director of operations of Fellowship House now. Ten years ago, beer took away his spirit. Four failed marriages and dozens of jobs had gone bad. Keel was a train wreck in the worst degree.
“I had gone as far as I could go,” he said. “I could not pay the rent. I was not working. I loved the beer better than jobs and four wives.” He said he had 15 seconds of a lapse in judgement and swallowed a handful of pills to end his misery. But, he had a epiphany two seconds afterward, and called 911 to save his own life.
From that day forth he never had a drink again. It was the ultimate “hit bottom” moment. And now he runs the house – and who better to uplift and steer-straight addicts than a reformed addict who has been down that road and can support and uplift? He’s been there and done that. The near-death experience made him sober, but, he remained sober with the help of Fellowship House.
“I became involved in their daily Bible study and that is what kept me on track,” he said.
Now, Keel mentors Fellowship House clients in his role at the house. He helps men from the abyss of addiction and guides, restores and supports them so they can live full lives; free from alcohol and drugs.
Currently, there are more than a half-dozen men in residence.
“The coffee pot is always on,” said Keel. “We are open from 5:30-9:30, 365 days a year. Anyone is welcome to come as long as they behave. The men who live here have rules they have to follow. They are given a guide – a structure that will, if they adhere to the rules, in many cases, lead them back to a real life; a clean, productive and sober life.”
Lebanon attorney Gloria Jean Evins is very aware of Fellowship House. Her husband, the late Eddie Evins of Cracker Barrel fame, was instrumental in the start of Fellowship House.
On April 24, 1992, the College Street Fellowship House was turned into a 501c. Since that time, Fellowship House has been used as a “half-way house” for those in recovery from addictions to alcohol and other drugs.
Today, modest rent is charged to those who come to live just out of treatment or jail. They have access to a kitchen, living room, shower and their own bed. They are required to attend daily recovery meetings, stay clean and sober and get a job. They also must agree to random drug tests. There’s a curfew.
“Lives are transformed at Fellowship House,” said Keel. “It can change you if you take it seriously. For me also with the help of Christ.”
Though not officially connected to Alcoholics Anonymous, Fellowship House hosts daily meetings at their place and these are mandatory for their residents.
David Denney is the current Fellowship House chairman of the board. He got sober in 1984.
“I got into trouble,” he explained.
He had three DUI’s and one ended in a vehicle homicide. He knew that was his ultimate bottom. Now, he nurtures Fellowship House residents, and, is a role model of sobriety.
Fellowship House holds 22 meetings each week and there is a daily Bible Study in the morning. An important component is “Chicken Church” on Sunday that starts at 10:30 a.m. During church, residents learn lessons about living life on life’s terms.
Denny said Fellowship House has a good history of reforming residents.
“I’m proud of it, it saved my life,” he said. “I have a wonderful life, a son and two grandchildren.”
A resident’s story
Larry Garner, 62, is a current resident at Fellowship House. He had a good living as an electrician. In 2009, he had a work accident and his ribs and collarbone and back were hurt.
“They put me on pain meds,” he said.
In 2010, he had an automobile accident and broke both legs. It was a disaster in the making. He was put on disability and was addicted to drugs.
“But, my primary drug was alcohol,” he said.
“One was too many and 1,000 not enough.”
He had three DUI’s in some months. Spent time in jail. His driver’s license was taken away.
“I was depressed and angry and full of self-pity,” he said.
One day he went to an AA meeting and saw a guy without legs, and another guy with cancer, and another guy blind.
“I realized how blessed I was,” he said.
He said Fellowship House has helped him believe how blessed he is. He is now working, and, working out.
“I’m building a bridge,” said Garner.
Denney said it’s these transformation that solidify the work at Fellowship House.
“On the surface,” said Denney. “We provide a bed, clean living space, hot showers and the necessities of living. But actually, we provide a lot more. We encourage work on the spiritual side as well as the physical side. So many of the men coming in here, have nothing. They are financially, physically and often spiritually bankrupt. Our job is to get them started on the road back – the right road. Without that, most return to the streets and continue to be a financial drain on the community and the county.”
In October, Fellowship House held its 5th annual fundraising dinner at the fairgrounds. It was a catfish and chicken dinner and dedicated in the memory of Dr. Larry Locke, who was the founder of the dinner and former chairman of the board at Fellowship House.
Denney said the outreach needs money to possibly expand, but will continue to focus on serving the community and provide a safe, structured environment for men who have nowhere else to go, outside of the streets and a life of addiction.
Fellowship House is located at 206 South College Street in Lebanon.