“We thrive on this ministry and on being able to see the hand of God and the goodness of this community on a daily basis”

Barbara Cox and her husband, Lonnie, felt called to start Shepherd’s House, which helps veterans get sober and get their lives back on track.

Name: Barbara Cox

Title: co-founder

Organization: Shepherd’s House

Location: 519 Tennessee Ave.

Founded: 1998

Serves: Up to 47 residents recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, mostly homeless military veterans

How would you describe Shepherd’s House?

Shepherd’s House is like a giant home with a lot of structure for a multitude of people who find themselves feeling hopeless because they’re addicted to drugs or have alcohol problems; 99 percent of them are veterans.

We have an intake process and a lot of rules and a lot of surveillance cameras, and we have a beautiful facility for them to live in with one major hitch: They must stay sober.

We have social workers and a lot of recovery meetings and classes and we work in collaboration with the Veterans Affairs, WorkOne and veterans centers.

The minimum stay here is six months and the maximum is two years, or longer if they need it. Clients start out in an eight-man bedroom and if they do well they go into a four-man room, then a two-man room and then they’re on their own in the rooms on the second floor. It’s all incentive-based.

When they first move in, they have a mentor assigned to them to explain the programs and tell them what the rules of the facility are, and eventually they end up becoming mentors to others.

If you come across any homeless vets with drug addition or alcohol problems, just let them know they can come here and they don’t have to bring anything. We give them toiletries, a welcome kit, bedding, clothing and food.

They don’t have to do anything but come in and make a commitment to stay clean and sober and work a recovery program.

How did you and your husband grow Shepherd’s House into what it is today?

We started it and ran it for many years while we were running Cox Heating & Air Conditioning. My husband “retired” three years ago when he sold Cox after running it for 30 years, and now we’re both doing this full time.

We did not have any education or certifications for it when we started the shelter but my husband had served in the military and owned bars in the past, and we’ve used drugs in the past and this has been payback time for us.

We had gotten closer to the Lord and my husband came home one day and said the Lord wanted him to open a shelter. I wanted no part of it, but 18 months later the Lord put it in my heart to go with it, and now its like the vets staying there are our kids, even though they’re grown up.

My husband found an abandoned old convent on the southeast side of town and we rehabbed it and ran the shelter there for two years before relocating it to a place that was about 5,000 square feet bigger on Tennessee Avenue.

It’s a 14,000-square-foot building that had been a hospital that was converted into office space and occupied by a variety of businesses. We took down walls and created some bigger rooms for bedrooms and put in kitchens and a lot of bathrooms.

When we began, we could house 15 clients. Now we can house 41 in the bigger house, plus six more in the Spy Run house. The buildings have adjoining backyards.

We did the Spy Run house three years ago. It had been a church and someone took out the pews thinking they could turn it into a bar and it was one big, empty space. That lower-level room is now a massive exercise/weight room, kind of a wellness center.

Hundreds of businesses have given us what we needed during the last 14 years. Anything we asked for the Lord has blessed our ministry with.

What is ahead for the organization?

We don’t have a disabled-accessible kitchen, so we met with the architect and are ready to break ground where the garden is now to add on a disabled-accessible kitchen and a meeting and eating area.

As soon as we get something done there’s something else that God says we need, so it’s always a work in progress. My husband and I both know when it needs to grow, and we need to add something new like a clinical social worker or a life skills class.

What do you like about this work?

We thrive on this ministry and on being able to see the hand of God and the goodness of this community on a daily basis. Most of our supporters are veterans themselves who are giving back to veterans who have fallen on hard times.

Do any moments there stand out?

We had one veteran who, when he came in to us, I was told he would be the worst mental-health case we would ever be confronted with. He had a lot of conditions.

A stroke put him in the hospital while he was with us. Parkview Hospital told us he would be on life support and never be able to get off it. The VA hospital told us if he survived he would be a vegetable. While he was in rehab and going through therapy we were told he was completely delusional.

He was in hospitals for about four months and then he came back to us for awhile. Now he’s living by himself in Kokomo. He doesn’t need any help feeding himself or taking care of himself; he’s completely independent and very happy. He’s just like you and me.

What have you learned from your work?

You can have a thought but you don’t necessarily have to keep that thought. You can choose to take that thought out of your mind and replace it with something better. And the more you make the right choices, the more good will take over the bad in your life and you don’t have to go backward anymore.

It is just a matter of creating healthier habits for a healthier lifestyle. If you do it well enough long enough, it gives you a new life.

God can take people at ground zero who are hopeless and remold them and put them in the right path, and eventually they can walk out with their shoulders up and feeling good about themselves again. They can become active contributors to their community.

By Doug LeDuc. To suggest an idea for “Career Path,” email news@fwbusiness.com.

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