Truly a House of Hope

Survivors of addiction share their remarkable stories of recovery

Times Observer photos by Katie Miktuk Attendees of the Hearts to Hearts Auction preparing for dinner to start.

“Darkness comes. In the middle of it, the future looks blank. The temptation to quit is huge. Don’t. You are in good company. You will argue with yourself that there is no way forward. But with God, nothing is impossible. He has more ropes and ladders and tunnels out of pits than you can conceive. Wait. Pray without ceasing. Hope.”

— Pastor John Piper

The House of Hope in Warren gives hope to women recovering from what could be described by some as a scary and lonely point in life, addiction. It extends to these women a safe haven for shelter, training, friendship, and getting back to a more normal, better life.

The House of Hope hosted its second annual Hearts to Hearts Dinner and Dessert Auction on Saturday at the Women’s Club of Warren. A silent auction was held before dinner and a dessert auction was held following dinner. All proceeds benefit the nonprofit organization.

The House of Hope was the dream of the late Dianne Sherman. Pastor Nancy Schwanke of Hessel Valley Lutheran Church and friend of Dianne, said, “this only exists because Dianne never gave up and never said no. She would just keep coming every time someone would tell her why this wasn’t possible. I know, for Dianne, it was furthering the story of Jesus, that she felt like it wasn’t even a question, this is what Jesus would do.”

Times Observer photos by Katie Miktuk Pictured from left Amy Knoph of the House of Hope, Kristy Fry, Celia Nilsen.

Between the dinner and dessert auction, two ladies stepped on to the stage to share their stories of their experience with the House of Hope and how it changed their life for the better.

The first to speak was Krysty Fry, who became involved with the House of Hope in the beginning. She got to see the dream come alive.

“I can start talking about myself early on, age 11 or 12, my parents had split and with them being distracted with their own stuff in life, I never really learned how to deal with anything,” she said. “The feelings, emotions, the problems — I never really had a support system there. For me, that carried on throughout my life and I found drugs and alcohol.”

She describes drugs and alcohol as “what gave (her) the relief, or good feelings in life.”

“It was like the answer,” Krysty said. “I found the cure in life because I could numb myself. It got worse eventually, but it became where it wasn’t fun anymore. And I never really had anyone to lean on because (my family) was always busy doing their own thing. It eventually led to people passing away in my life from drugs and alcohol, the direct result.”

“I didn’t really have a good impression in my life of God at that time and kind of blamed everything that had happened in my life on God,” she said.

That’s when she met Dianne and the group in 2007, when they had first starting visiting the jails, and began her journey with adult probation.

“The sad part is is that you never really grow up thinking (you’re) going to drink and be somebody that’s mixed up with drugs and go to jail and have no success in life,” she said. “You have that dream of meeting your knight in shining armour and having the huge wedding and this beautiful house with kids. Those are the kinds of dreams most kids have; for me, I didn’t have that, I guess. I was so hopeless in life that it eventually lead into destructive things.”

Krysty just celebrated seven years of sobriety.

Looking back, she can see she “had put (her) family through pain and put them through so much that they were just sick of it,” she said.

“You know, you’re tired of life and you’ve hurt everybody in your life that ever tried to do anything good for you.”

The ladies that kept coming to the jail from Dianne’s group, “just led me through it.”

She was at a point in life where she would have described herself as an “atheist.” She didn’t want anything to do with God. She said the ladies from the House of Hope showed her that there is a God, that “someone can forgive you, and love you, and not judge you.”

For her, judgment was one of the biggest points of recovery, but that Dianne and the ladies at the house didn’t have a judge, “they didn’t look at you like you were less than them,” she explained.

Krysty said that at the time the ladies had begun visiting the prison, she was “at the end of [her] ropes,” Her son’s father had just passed as a result of alcohol and drug use and she was ready to take her own life in jail. But, as she describes, “God had different plans for me.”

She got out and started speaking with Dianne about how they needed a halfway house for women in Warren. She said “I could have gone away to rehabs, and I could get better and do that for a period of time, but then I would come back here to where I was from and I’d just fall right back in the same trap.”

She continued, “without structure, without guidance, without love, without that support I know, for me, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of that.”

“Forgiving myself was one of the hardest things that I had to do, for all the things I put people through, for all the things I did in life, for the people I hurt including myself because I put myself through a lot of pain and misery. I didn’t want drugs, but I didn’t want to not have anything because I didn’t know how to handle myself. So to sit and lean on and utilize the tools that were there for me, they got me out.”

“I have an eight-year-old son who bounces off the walls, but he’s great,” she said. “And all those dreams of a house and the things I never had, I have now, and it’s all through utilizing the women at the house, their structure and support. I knew what I needed when I came in, and Dianne and I used that to come up with an idea for the house to be put in place so the women coming out of jail and rehabs, that don’t have anybody and may have wasted every support system they once had, they can find that there. And they can see the forgiveness, and the love, and they can grow from that. And women can utilize and take advantage of these things. God forgives and he saves and I do not desire drugs and alcohol in my life today.”

The second woman who stepped up to speak, Celia Nilsen, is currently residing in the House of Hope. She arrived there in July of last year.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict and I’ve been severely abused and mistreated my whole life,” she said. “It’s left me with PTSD, depression, major anxiety disorder, and arthritis and some other really bad bone problems. So drugs and alcohol became both a form of self medication and an escape from all the pain, physical and emotional.”

Celia expressed, “I am so grateful for the House of Hope and the opportunity to stay there because it really has been a safe, kind, loving environment where I’m able to get on my feet and become stable in my recovery and my relationship with God.”

She said the House of Hope even welcomed her furry feline, Jengo, to stay. “Both of us are so happy to call it home because it had been a long time since we had had anywhere we could actually call home,” she said.

Celia described the ladies in the house to be “the kindest, most humble and selfless people” that she had ever met. “They have truly become family that I don’t have here, all my family is in Alabama or Tennessee.”

She was in Warren County Jail when the ladies at the house took her in. She was feeling “broken, alone, betrayed, and abandoned again by people who were supposed to care.” Celia and Jengo had been homeless in the streets of Jamestown, N.Y., prior to being placed in the Warren County Jail.

She described the House of Hope as a “beacon of light in the darkness and a truly answered prayer.”

Today, Celia has a “wonderful boyfriend, family, and real friends, people who truly do care. I go to church, meetings, and counseling, and I’m going back to school to get a degree.”

“A year ago, I would’ve never thought I’d be where I am, doing as well as I am, working toward a better future for myself. Thank you to the House of Hope and everyone else to make it possible.”

“It is so inspiring to see these women become who they’re meant to be, who they were called to be, and watch them just take life and run with it,” said Amy Knopf, of House of Hope. “Because of the House of Hope, because of people donating, and fundraisers, you are part of their success, you gotta know that. The board members, the house committee, they’re all a part of (their) success story. We’re all a part of the community for recovery and it’s exciting.”

To this day, 36 women have been through the House of Hope and received a fresh start in life. The house is a nonprofit and relies on donations from the community to keep their doors open and their cause moving forward.

To donate or volunteer, call (814) 706-3234 or email hohwarrencounty@gmail.com.

Financial gifts can be made payable to House of Hope Warren County, PO Box 881, Warren, PA, 16365.

For more information on the House of Hope and its cause, visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/hohwarrencounty/.

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