Three former soldiers gather around a table. They want to tell their stories — which are as varied as they are similar. They verbalize ignominy over decades of poor choices and actions; they hold back tears. Yet, each countenance shifts from somber to joyous when the topic of their current home is discussed.
Providence Home was birthed out of pain and shame. The story goes that John Zenoni was arrested in 1957 for driving under the influence of alcohol. He had hit rock bottom; however, he turned to God for help and, within a few years, John felt compelled to help others with destructive addictions. In 1963, he founded Providence Home on a farm near Columbia and allowed eight alcoholics to reside there.
In the span of 53 years, Providence Home has been a haven for men with shattered lives. Men who have fallen into a pattern and lifestyle of alcoholism, drug addiction and homelessness find their way to a cluster of aging, unassuming buildings tucked off of North Main Street, where the ministry was moved several years ago. The mission has been simple: “To help stabilize the living conditions of dislocated men and to encourage progress in realizing their full personal potential in self-sufficient living through the power of Jesus Christ.”
The transformative formula that has impacted thousands of lives is straightforward. It involves partnering with William Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Administration Medical Center to take in men who qualify for the Providence Home program under what is called Health Care for Homeless Veterans. The largest percentage of men at Providence have been referred by the VA Medical Center. Men who come to Providence Home are given room and board for, on average, four to six months. During their stay at the home, they attend chapel, receive job assistance and life guidance and are helped with any medical needs. Each is given a “job” at the home — a chance to contribute, give back and work. A few of the men have been hired on full-time for positions such as housekeeping, laundry and cooking.
Importantly, the men are counseled. Rob Settle, executive director and a former pastor for 17 years, says counseling is key. The facility relies on nouthetic counseling, which gets its name from the Greek word “noutheteo.” Noutheteo means to admonish; it is a form of pastoral counseling based solely upon the Bible and its focus on Christ.
“The method boils down to this: counseling that accepts the premise that the Bible is God’s Word and that it is totally sufficient for meeting all our needs,” explains Rob.
Plus, it helps that some of those who counsel the men have “been there, done that.” One of those is Jimmy Braddock, program director at Providence Home. He is a former state trooper and recovered alcoholic and can relate to the men there. “Sometimes there is pushback from a few men who come and realize that chapel and counseling are required, but more often than not, their exposure to the Gospel shows them for the first time that there is hope and that they can be transformed,” he says.
Now, as an ordained pastor, Jimmy is able to use his life experience as an example of how he was saved from total destruction. “We are able to relate to these men, form relationships and get to their hearts,” he shares.
Learning to Live
Providence Home’s current capacity is 50 men. Many are middle-aged and beyond, but some are in their 20s to 40s. The ratio of white men to black men is typically 50/50, with other ethnicities represented as well. What they all have in common is that Providence Home is their last resort, with the next step being death or incarceration; or, it is a stepping stone to life outside prison walls. Rob shares that for ex-cons, the thought of transitioning back into society is daunting. Providence Home provides the tools and resources for men determined to learn to live free of self-destructive tendencies.
Rob explains, “A man makes a series of bad choices that, over time, leads him to a place where he is no longer capable of making good decisions on his own. The majority of time, bad decisions revolve around substance abuse, and the men are homeless when they come to us. They have typically burnt bridges as far as family, friends, or any other help goes.”
Jimmy adds, “They’ve been making bad choices for so long they don’t know what good choices look like.”
Mike, for example, is a Florence native who partied hard in high school. He joined the Navy and continued drinking heavily. Yet, he was able to sustain a life as a husband, father, and eventually as an employee with a six-figure salary at NASA — until the alcoholism caught up with him. Like a domino effect, he began to lose everything: his job, his marriage, his relationship with his children.
Kirby’s story is similar. He served two terms honorably in Vietnam. However, he was introduced to Thai sticks, a form of cannabis, while serving. Then he was badly injured, receiving the Purple Heart for his valor. When he returned home, however, he was already somewhat addicted to the Asian drug. Suffering from the pain from his injuries, he gradually began to use harder and harder drugs until he was a crack addict living in vacant woods and houses. Eventually, he was arrested.
Both Mike and Kirby, along with countless others, are convinced that Providence Home literally saved their lives. But it was not primarily the structure, the staff, the food or the friendships that did it. They maintain that their eyes were opened for the first time, through chapel services, prayers and counseling.
“I understand my conversion, my purpose,” says Mike, “But I had to surrender. Now I take each day at a time and allow the blessings to be revealed.” Mike does the laundry at Providence Home and makes minimum wage versus the high salary of his former days. However, he says he is happy serving. “Providence Home is allowing me to truly turn my life around.”
“When I see the break through, that’s why I do this,” says Rob. “To see the change, to see the night and day difference that can occur in these men.”
Zero Tolerance Policy
To be effective, Providence Home makes it clear to men seeking to find shelter and help that rules must be followed. Some of the men have had addictions to illegal substances that first began as dependency on pain killers due to injuries — often from combat. They have been addicted for so long that they cannot find their way out of their destructive maze. Some have been in and out of the VA Medical Center and other facilities while repeatedly struggling to overcome their addictive patterns.
Even so, Providence Home’s success rate is high. Story after story expresses 180-degree turns in men’s lives. Jimmy likes to see the glass as half full: “Even if a chronic alcoholic were to come and stay only a couple of nights, then those are a couple of nights he didn’t drink and wasn’t on the streets. So, there is a positive in that.”
Kirby explains, “If you want to get your life back in order, you have to follow the criteria here — be a willing participant.”
Those who allow themselves to be transformed during their stay at Providence Home often find healing with friends and family. Kirby’s wife and grown daughter have joined him during chapel services. Mike is again an important part of his children’s lives.
Chuck, who has become the resident manager after his rehabilitation at Providence Home, is a recovered crack addict; now he regularly visits with his children and sister in Greenville, where he grew up. “The Lord has worked wonders in our lives,” he says. He admits to running a tight ship at Providence and relating to residents because he has lived the hard life they are attempting to escape from.
Rob points out, “Chuck knows when there’s talk about going back to substance abuse.”
“To see them overcome it and come together with their families — years restored that the locusts have eaten,” says Jimmy, “sometimes brings us to tears.”
Many individuals and churches in Columbia serve at Providence Home. They sign on to bring meals on a regular basis, to mentor and disciple some of the men, and to serve as guest speakers at chapel services. There are also various other ministries within the ministry, such as volunteers who bring lettuce and bake cookies for the men.
Currently, a goal of the ministry is to raise funds to tear down one of the resident buildings, which has structural, electrical and plumbing issues, and to construct a new residence house. A new chapel is planned for construction as well. A building campaign is underway to raise funds for the new development efforts at their current location at 3421 N. Main St.
Rob points out, “We want to be able to help more men get on the path of making complete recovery of their lives. God has done, and is doing, amazing things in lives that most would have discarded.”