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Thousands Find Freedom Through The Foundry

Alabama ministry was a pioneer ministry in addressing life-controlling problems on a wider scale

When Jacky Gann walked through the Foundry doors in 2008, he had nothing.

Photo courtesy of The Foundry

“Nothing but a dirty T-shirt and a pair of shorts. No driver’s license, no birth certificate, no social security card,” Gann said. What he did bring with him was more than a decade of opioid addiction.

“I call it my 11-year reign of terror of oxycodone and oxycontin,” Gann said, adding that he had tried everything to get help—jail time, a state-run rehab program, and a private rehab program. Nothing had worked to get his life back on track.

“I needed something way deeper than A.A. or a Band-Aid. I needed something to change the way I lived. Instead of focusing on my addiction, to focus on my life. And that is what The Foundry did,” Gann said.

Focusing on each person holistically is what sets The Foundry Ministries in Alabama apart, Gann said. He spent the next 12 months in The Foundry’s nonprofit life-change program which fuses together workforce development training, life skills education, and Christian values.

“The Foundry has a very holistic approach—mind, body and spirit,” said Brandon Lackey, The Foundry Ministries’ chief program officer. In the last 50 years, close to 23,000 individuals have come through the program, Lackey said.

“The Foundry has been a catalyst for my life. Period,” Gann said, who graduated from the program and has been sober for 15 years. He is now married with three children.

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The Foundry Ministries was launched in 1971 as the Bessemer Rescue Mission. For 25 years, it filled a need in Bessemer by providing a safe place to spend the night. In the mid-1990s when culture and drug use were rapidly changing, Bill Heintz moved from Louisville, Kentucky, and transitioned Bessemer Rescue Mission from a 10-bed shelter to a live-in rehab program, Lackey said.

“The Foundry was one of the first programs of its kind in the state of Alabama,” said Lackey. At the time, the program was dubbed City of Hope. “It was one of the pioneer ministries of its kind to shift from homeless services to address life-controlling problems on a wider scale.”

A Foundry graduate embarks on a new life with tools and resources learned at The Foundry / Photo courtesy of The Foundry

The Foundry expanded from 10 beds to 340 beds with four campuses. It featured both men’s and women’s recovery centers (Bessemer Men’s Program, Women’s Program and The Foundry Farm), and two after-care programs, including a transitional housing program called Changed Lives Christian Center (CLCC) and The Esther House.

Rather than being a purely hand-out-type ministry, Lackey said they like to consider themselves a “handshake ministry.” They require participants to partner and collaborate in their healing.

The handshake format rotates weeks. During the first week, participants develop workforce skills at the nonprofit working in roles such as serving food, answering phones or processing gently used home goods at the thrift store. The second week features a junior-college type environment with 10,000 hours of classroom education over six months. Classes include the Genesis Process, a substance abuse curriculum that incorporates a 12-step program; Living Free, a Christian education program; Hope Inspired Ministries, a partner organization that provides education services in a classroom environment; 150 hours of workforce development training; and electives classes.

Lackey said The Foundry staff works hard to band together with other professionals in the community, providing resources for its clients. “We collaborate with more than 100 agencies and organizations just in central Alabama, “ Lackey said. “Participants have access to immediate mental health services and free physical medical care through another clinical provider in town.”

“When they complete the six-month program, people tend to never leave,” Gann said with a laugh. He’s still here after 15 years sober. Gann started as the entry-level warehouse manager for the thrift stores and now serves as director for the Bessemer Men’s Recovery program.

Gann admits some days are dark. “We deal with a lot of failure and overdoses,” Gann said. Clients are excused from the program when they fail drug tests. But Gann’s superpower in his position seems to be his ability to see the forecast.

“I can see that if they stay the course and follow the process and do the things that are necessary—you can take a person that comes with nothing left, no relationships, nothing period—and start building that back piece by piece,” Gann said.

A Foundry staff member poses in a thrift store that helps fund the ministry’s work

The biggest key to success and staying sober is establishing good relationships, said Drew Debter, director of CLCC, the after-care men’s residential program in North Birmingham.

“These new relationships are the reason that I am successful and not getting high,” Debter said, a 2013 Foundry graduate. When he got married four years ago, two of the guys in his wedding went through The Foundry program with him. “People pointed me in the right direction.”

Debter said they currently have 55 men residing at CLCC. “We see success when people stay at least 12 to 18 months; they have enough time to save that money,” Debter said. Sometimes it takes a couple of years for them to get back on their feet. “However long that takes, we are empowering these men to lead their home again.”

One of the most inspiring stories is about Roy, Debter said. Roy entered with a credit score of 400—he had lost everything. After 15 months, he passed a credit report and landed an apartment.

“He walked into the office one day and said, ‘I need to show you something.” Debter headed outside to see a four-door 2020 Chevy Colorado. Roy had bought his very first car. “He was so proud!”

Throughout the years, The Foundry Ministries has had participants from 40 different states. While unapologetically Christian-based, Lackey said they have worked extremely hard to let all participants know they are welcome and accepted regardless of religious affiliation.

“It is a place you can belong before you believe. You don’t have to have a relationship with Jesus to come. But you still belong. There is no judgment. There is no shame,” Debter said.

Lackey added, “It is a privilege to have a front-row seat to permanent life transformation.”

The Foundry Ministries has 5 stars and an “A” transparency grade in the MinistryWatch database, and a donor confidence score of 87.

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