By Laura Kaae
Killeen Daily Herald
A steady pattern of water droplets hits the worn shower floor of the dated men's bathroom in the aging Christian Farms residential treatment facility in Harker Heights. It's a constant here, the water dripping, like a metronome ticking away the time.
It's one of many constants for the nine men who currently call this place home – the shower leaks, the tiles are crumbling, and the walls have dents and holes. The bathtub? Unusable.
Much of the paint hasn't been replaced since 1971, after the property and building were seized by police in a drug raid before being turned into Christian Farms, a treatment facility for men with drug and alcohol abuse problems.
But with limited funding, the not-for-profit agency, which bases its principles on biblical teaching, can't afford many luxuries these days. Christian Farms in Harker Heights and its sister facility, Christian Treehouse, a women's treatment facility in Temple, rely on help from United Way and private funding.
For years, Christian Farms and Treehouse were state-funded, but the board of directors decided in 2000 to make the switch over to being a private organization, so faith could play a bigger role in the treatment of its residents.
"The board felt like that was the direction to go," said Beverly Miller, interim executive director of the Treehouse. "We have Bible study three times per week, and we go to church twice a week. We also use the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. We're a nondenominational Christian agency, so the residents can visit any church they want to."
Though the agencies are private-pay, the cost to each resident is $150 per day – an amount that hardly scratches the operating budget of the 48-bed women's facility and the 32-bed men's facility. Each facility employs full-time counselors, program directors, cooks and a full day care at the women's facility – Noah's Boat.
Why not increase the cost-per-day for each resident?
"We want to keep it affordable for people," Miller said. "People have difficulty paying that. We want to keep it low enough."
For many residents, a stay at Christian Farms stay at is a last resort – a final chance for those who realize their future of more abuse will lead nowhere except jail or possibly death. Others are just getting out of jail and choose the Farm or Treehouse as a positive alternative to help turn their lives around rather than falling back into old habits.
But even the $150 per day is too steep for many. Treehouse staff alone get about four calls each day from interested residents who can't afford the $4,500 per month fees.
Miller said the goal is to have enough donations for scholarship money, so anyone who wants to attend can, regardless of their financial situation.
The basic treatment cycle is 90 days for most residents, said Charles Long, program manager for the Farm.
"We do everything we can to prevent relapsing," he said. "They go to meetings and church and get a sponsor. The sponsor is most important. They hold you accountable and try to get you back on track."
Long echoed Miller's statements on the importance faith plays within the agency and within the hearts of those seeking treatment at each of the facilities.
"After a while, you're going to have to find a higher power for your understanding," he said. "You can't do it alone. (They need) prayer."
When people first come to the center, Long said, life for them has become unmanageable – a tangled web of alcohol or narcotics, the endless quest for money to obtain them, and the family and friends who get caught up in the mess, too.
"Drinking and drugs are the priority," Long said. "They are the only things that exist."
Long said many feel they are the victims.
"They want to feel sorry for themselves ... but drugs and alcohol will not fix the problem," he said.
Time spent at the Farm and the Treehouse are filled with classes and chores, church and exercising – structure few residents are used to when they first enter the program. Classes taught at the center include relapse prevention, parenting classes and chemical dependence education.
"Overall, we try to give them a sense of balance," Miller said. "God comes first."
The staffs at the Farm and Treehouse are dedicated to those principles of balance and faith.
Patricia Moore has been working at Christian Treehouse for 16 years. Moore's father was an alcoholic, so she said she feels she can better empathize with what the family of the person in treatment goes through, and sympathize with the resident.
"Recovery is not only for themselves, but for their families," she said.
Judi Frederick, director of Noah's Boat, said she sees the lasting effects alcohol and drugs have on children every day.
"It affects their behavior," she said. "Sometimes, they are more clingy or standoffish. Some have nightmares, delayed motor skills. But like any other kid, they want to be loved."
Noah's Boat offers day care for children of women in treatment, women in transition (those who live at the Treehouse after having successfully completed treatment, but work full-time jobs) and children in the community, as Noah's Boat is also a state-certified early childhood day care.
Sabine Shannon, a licensed chemical dependency counselor, said the key to treating the residents is to teach them to love themselves and figure out who they are.
"They are looking for direction," Shannon said. "They are afraid to be themselves. They try to be someone they are not."
Shannon said setting goals for the residents helps them to focus on their futures.
Each year, the Farm treats between 80 and 100 residents, and the Treehouse treats between 50 and 75. Like at many treatment facilities, the busy times are cyclical, and they do see a handful of returnees every so often. But overall, triumph over drugs and alcohol is common for the agency, with a 73 percent success rate.
Miller said the biggest blessing is seeing the residents when they leave.
"They are just so different," she said. "They smile. They have a lot of joy. They know exactly what they want to do with their lives."
As for the dripping sinks, broken tiles and grimy shower curtains, the agency's leaders agree they make do with what they have – saving the money for the things that are most important – such as maintaining a full-time counseling staff and top-notch programs for the residents.
When asked what the Farm was most in need of, Long didn't know where to begin.
"I'd say night stands, but we need all-new plumbing, too," he said. "It just depends on what you mean when you say 'need.' We need twin mattresses, but we need a new building the most."
Staring at the men's recreational room in the rambling, two-story building of Christian Farms, settled on the shores of Stillhouse Hollow Lake, Long just shrugs at the ratty furniture and outdated interior.
"It's pitiful," he says. "But it's how we're maintaining."
Contact Laura Kaae at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7464