The Covenant Recovery Inc. substance abuse recovery center has grown rapidly in the two years that it has been accepting residents at its original location and this week obtained permission from the city to expand.
Covenant Recovery Inc., under its founder and director Jeremy McKenzie, started at 3201 W. Pullen Ave. and is now developing the former Hatcher Construction Company building at 2702 W. Second Ave. Covenant received approval Tuesday from the Pine Bluff Planning Commission to develop the Hatcher Construction Company site.
McKenzie said that the building was donated to Covenant Recovery by Benny Hatcher and his wife Scarlet Hatcher prior to Benny Hatcher’s death last year.
“I am so grateful for their generosity,” McKenzie said. “It was donated to us to be of beneficial use to the city of Pine Bluff. We are turning it into something special.”
McKenzie said that the new facility — expected to open in January 2015 — will allow Covenant to serve more recovering addicts and alcoholics.
“We offer transitional living to those recovering from substance abuse,” McKenzie said. “We have a 50-bed capacity and are always at capacity. Our residents are here anywhere from six months to two years. Many of them are here as a result of the court’s alternate sentencing program. Here, they pay their own way. We help them to find employment and they are all required to participate in our community service program.”
Andi Kerr came to Covenant from Little Rock seven months ago.
“We call each other a family here and that is what we are,” Kerr said of what makes Covenant a special place. “Everyone here helps each other to reach their goals. The staff take the time to listen to our individual issues and concerns.”
Kerr said that she is employed with Wing Stop and is attending Southeast Arkansas College full-time.
“I was the lead in the Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center production of the Emperor’s New Clothes,” Kerr said. “We call each other brothers and sisters here at Covenant and just encourage each other as much as we can.”
Jimbo Carter said that he arrived at Covenant Recovery on March 14, 2012, and hasn’t looked back.
“I had my last drink on the other side of those railroad tracks,” Carter said of his initial arrival at Covenant, which requires the crossing the tracks. “I was an alcoholic and I came here from West Helena. This place has changed my life and I am grateful every day I wake up.”
Carter volunteers at Covenant now and leads group sessions to help those just beginning their journey to sobriety.
“Doing this keeps me sober and gives me some absolution from some of the things I’ve done in the past,” Carter said.
Carter also works full-time at Dee’s Pest Control, which is owned by McKenzie’s friend Matthew Mullikin.
McKenzie said that the Second Avenue location is expected to house 16 recovering addicts and alcoholics.
Each Monday morning the residents clean the trash from Saracen Landing, Regional Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Townsend Park and Brump’s Bayou, McKenzie said.
“We are out there every Monday of the year,” McKenzie said. “We start at 6:30 in the morning and have Saracen clean by 7 a.m. Some of our residents have this time counted towards their court-ordered community service requirement.”
McKenzie said that the center charges residents $700 per month but does not turn anyone away for lacking funds.
“They live in a very structured environment,” McKenzie said. “Everyone has household responsibilities, including cooking and cleaning. This is their home and we want them to be comfortable here and at the same time be invested in its upkeep.”
McKenzie said that he was touched that several dozen of the center’s residents accompanied him to this week’s planning commission meeting.
He said that many successfully recovered substance abusers consider Covenant Recovery to be home even after they leave.
“People become very emotionally attached to the place that helped them to get their life back,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said that he is a successfully recovered alcoholic and that his recovery inspired him to help others in the same situation that he experienced.
“I’ve been sober for 11 years,” McKenzie said. “I owe my life to the staff of Sober Living in Little Rock and a number of people feel the same way about us here at Covenant Recovery.”
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and her husband toured Covenant Recovery last week and spoke in support of its application with the planning commission.
“Covenant Recovery is a great asset to our community,” Hollingsworth said at the meeting. “I am behind their application 100 percent.”
Hollingsworth said later that Covenant impressed her in a number of ways.
“The first thing I saw was the genuine commitment by all,” Hollingsworth said. “Individuals in the program made a good choice for their future and themselves. Jeremy’s vision and how he has carried it out was so well-orchestrated. It has so much of an impact on the resident’s lives, how they support one another. They are the true meaning of a very diverse family and I cannot applaud them enough.”