Friday, April 29, 2016

Steve and Deb LaForge: Partners in a Life of Service

When Steve and Deb LaForge first met, Steve was very involved with Habitat for Humanity.  After they got married in 2007, Deb also got involved with Habitat and together they became project supervisors, helping to direct volunteer groups in the building of new homes.

One of the homes they oversaw belonged to Randall, who had been a participant in Room In The Inn’s recovery program. Randall had actually worked on the construction crew for Room In The Inn’s new facility in 2009 and 2010, saving his earnings to pay for his new home. Other recovery program participants, along with staff members from Room In The Inn, volunteered to help build, under the capable supervision of the LaForges.

On the day of Randall’s house dedication, Steve and Deb had the chance to meet Charles Strobel and others from Room In The Inn. Inspired by the way the Room In The Inn community had come together to support Randall, they wanted to get more involved. Their congregation, Woodmont Christian, was part of Room In The Inn’s winter shelter program. Steve and Deb responded to a plea for overnight hosts. Steve says, “we became an overnight pair and have had many wonderful experiences. We love that this is something we can do together.”

Woodmont Christian is one of Room In The Inn’s “on call” congregations, meaning that in addition to hosting guests on a weekly basis, the congregation often opens its doors on nights that are freezing cold, snowy, or icy. Woodmont’s extra efforts, combined with those of other on call congregations, means fewer or no people turned away from a night of safe shelter. Deb notes the importance of being there for her neighbors who have nowhere else to turn, saying, “I would pray that if I found myself in that situation someone would be there for me, bringing to life ‘do to others as you would have them do to you.’ I know I would not want to find myself out in the cold with no place to go. Because I do have a place to go, I want to share what I can.”

As much as Steve and Deb love serving others themselves, getting other people involved is just as gratifying. They recall inviting a new family with teenage daughters to get involved. The first night these new volunteers served, the church had set up a television to watch football and served barbeque and popcorn. The girls and the guests were divided on who they were cheering for, and as Steve remembers, “it was like having all of your friends over to your house for the big game.”

The LaForges attended last summer’s Second Sunday Series, an educational opportunity for Room In The Inn volunteers. Steve says, “Using the information the staff provided, we have widened our Room In The Inn program to not only serve the gentlemen, but also women and families. We have a better knowledge of the challenges our guests face every day.”

In thinking about the impact of Second Sunday, Deb said, “it was good to learn that there is no one way of hosting and providing for our Room In The Inn guests. Each congregation does it a little differently.

Deb sums up her experience with Room In The Inn by saying “We both have had occasions where we’ve been able to share stories with our guests.  We’ve cried with them, we’ve laughed, we’ve prayed with one another, and each time it’s been a humbling experience. It becomes its own form of addiction and the desire to serve grows each time because you want to hold tight to that feeling.”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Ann & Charles Riddle and Kenny Elliot: Living for Today

by Miranda Buell

Kenny Elliot bought a fifth of vodka on the day he took his last sip of alcohol.

As he was drinking on his couch he began talking to the empty room, planning out his recovery, telling himself he was going to get up and leave, and finally passed out. When he came to, he packed a bag full of dirty clothes and walked to the Guest House at Room In The Inn. He was ready to make a change, but things weren’t easy at first. “When I first came to this place, I thought I had died and went to hell,” Kenny says of his first days. He was hesitant to participate: “I was just there for a bed every night, but I heard something in the meetings that got me listening.” One of the teachers was discussing recovery and Kenny realized he was desperate for whatever that man had. So he started helping out around the Guest House and cleaning, doing whatever he could to keep moving. Working kept him away from the temptation to leave. “As I went on I just got stronger,” he says.

That’s when he met the Riddles. Ann Riddle is Room In The Inn founder Charlie Strobel’s first cousin, and those close familial ties have kept her and her husband, Charles, at the heart of Room In The Inn for many years. Kenny met Ann while she was teaching a computer class and Kenny, in dire need of recovering his drivers’ license after having it revoked after a DUI several years prior, asked Ann for her help. She obliged, and they began studying from the Driver’s Education book together every Tuesday for about a year. But when Kenny went to take the test for the first time it was on a computer; he wasn’t familiar with the format and he failed. So Ann and Kenny began again, this time practicing online. Kenny passed his second attempt with flying colors – he only missed one question. “It was just jubilation,” says Ann of Kenny getting his license.

The Riddles say everything went uphill from there. Kenny became employed at Room In The Inn, took some additional cleaning jobs around town, and continued his journey through recovery. Of his position on campus, he says, “The reason I try to keep this place clean is because I’m clean. Sometimes I’ll see a piece of trash and walk by it, and then think about it and turn right back around and pick it up.” He doesn’t take anything for granted.

And Ann and Charles haven’t just been around to encourage Kenny in his growth; they’ve been there for the challenges as well. Two years ago Kenny had a series of heart attacks and underwent four bypass surgeries. At first, Ann says, he didn’t want to go through with the procedures. But the Riddles told him, “Hey Kenny. It’s just like your truck. If a pipe bursts on your truck you get it fixed.” After he was out of the hospital, the Riddles helped him get settled back into his apartment. They recall him walking through the doorway and looking up at the ceiling: A lightbulb was out. Without hesitation, he walked downstairs to the basement, grabbed what he needed, and came back upstairs to change the lightbulb, all in his first moments home from the hospital.

It is that fierceness, that will to move forward, that sense of pride in his work, which the Riddles find so incredible about Kenny. Ann says, “It’s been [an adventure] in that he keeps going and keeps fighting, and I mean the tenacity is just amazing. He’s very amazing to me. I mean, truly amazing man. If everybody could be like Kenny, we wouldn’t have so much sadness going around.” What could have been a one-off opportunity to help a man in need of a license has turned into a life-long friendship between Kenny and the Riddles. Through his friendship with Ann and Charles, Kenny has come to realize how much people care about him, and how important the small things in life are. “As a kid I wanted everything, but today I just want to live.”

On May 17th Kenny will be teaching a class at Room In The Inn to honor the day that will mark his 6 years of sobriety. And you can bet Ann and Charles Riddle will be sitting front-row, beaming with joy.

From left to right: Charles Riddle, Kenny Elliot, & Ann Riddle