As Leslie Stickney gives a box of food and bottled water to a man in the Orchard Park neighborhood, a big smile lights up her face.
“With my drug addiction, I stole, I lied, I did all that. This is just a way for me to give back,” she said.
Stickney, 42, is part of the Jesus House’s Adopt-A-Block initiative. The three-year-old project sends a group of people enrolled in the homeless shelter’s sobriety program out of the shelter on Saturday mornings and into the nearby neighborhoods of Orchard Park and Westlawn Gardens, formerly known as Mulligan Flats.
There in the heart of the neighborhoods, the Jesus House residents mow lawns for handicapped, elderly and impoverished families.
They give out emergency food and cases of bottled water.
They hand out box fans to residents living in homes with inadequate or no air-conditioning.
Rick Denny, the shelter’s executive director, said the initiative is the shelter’s way of being neighborly — fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:31).”
“Loving our neighbors is what we are about, and when our people, many who were in crisis themselves, want to pitch in, our mission at Jesus House really comes to life, ” Denny said.
Stickney and others in the shelter’s Transitional Goals program are homeless and battling addiction.
Mike Bateman, the Jesus House’s outreach manager, said the program is designed to get them on the path to sobriety and recovery, employment and permanent housing.
Bateman said the Adopt-A-Block initiative has multiple benefits for the participants who volunteer for it.
He said each spring, the group goes door-to-door through the neighborhoods near the shelter to find out who might need and welcome assistance.
On a recent Saturday, the Adopt-A-Block volunteers mowed lawns, gave out food and water and also passed out sack lunches to more than a few people walking along the streets on a morning already sizzling with the searing July heat.
“For them, this is therapeutic to go out into the community and serve,” Bateman said of the volunteers.
“They are not focused on just them; they are focused on other things.”
Sometimes, homeless shelters don’t have the greatest reputation as good neighbors but this initiative hopes to change that.
Seeking sobriety, serving others
Watching Jesus House resident Josh Bibb’s easy laugh and friendly grin, one might think he knew just about everyone he met as he handed out lunch sacks and water to people during a recent Adopt-A-Block outing.
Turns out Bibb, 26, didn’t know them at all — he said he once was them. In other words, the familiarity came not from personal friendship but because he could identify with their plight.
“I’ve been where those people are,” Bibb said.
“It really helps me out to help them. It builds my faith more than anything.”
Theresa McIntyre, another Jesus House resident, said she has been battling addiction for about five years and when she was out on the street, she didn’t want to ask for help.
Like Bibb, McIntyre, 35, said offering people on the street food and water through Adopt-A-Block reminds her of the importance of second chances and “how forgiving God really is.”
Stickney said she left the Transitional Goals program for about three weeks and returned to her addiction and the streets. She said she realized that she had been in a program that was working and found her way back to it in early June.
She said for most of the program participants, the weekdays are filled with AA meetings, counseling sessions, doctor’s visits and other program-related activities.
Stickney said the group has more freedom on the weekends, but “that’s when that door (out of the shelter) is calling your name.”
“Going out and helping people gives us something to do. It sets my week.”
Richard Williams, 48, another Adopt-A-Block volunteer, said he has a home in Westlawn Gardens and he graduated from the shelter’s sobriety program about 14 months ago.
He said he recently returned to the Jesus House after he began drinking again and a close relative relapsed on methamphetamine.
“There was some violence. I came back here because it scared me. I didn’t want to fall back into the old life and the old behaviors,” Williams said.
He said he volunteered to be a part of the the Adopt-A-Block outreach group because the lawn care and other service opportunities fit with his aim for recovery.
“Part of the spirituality of recovery is to give back,” Williams said.
“We carry the spirit of the Jesus House out into the community. It’s helps keep us sober and it helps the community so it’s a win-win.”