By LESLIE COLLINS
November 14, 2012
PART TWO OF TWO
In this two part series, Northeast News takes a look at Grace United Community Ministries and how it’s changing lives in Kansas City.
“Every time he came he was basically higher than a kite,” said Rev. Sharon Garfield of Grace United Community Ministries, 801 Benton Blvd.
Instead of helping at the food pantry, Greg Edwards would crawl underneath the tables to sleep off his high.
“Sister Linda Eckles felt sorry for me and used to let me sleep. She always asked me, ‘When are you going to come to church and get some help?’” Edwards said. “She was a big influence on me going to treatment. She was my guardian angel. I’ll never forget her.”
Eckles introduced Edwards to Greg Parr, who heads up the Homeless and Substance Abuse Recovery Ministry at Grace, and Edwards began his journey toward recovery.
“I never found a place that I truly fit in until I found Grace and got clean,” Edwards said.
Ten years ago, Grace founded its Substance Abuse Recovery Program and program director Parr used to be an addict himself, struggling with cocaine and alcohol addiction.
“He’s comfortable with being in the streets talking to people and sharing with people,” Garfield said of Parr. “The thing that impresses me about Greg is that so many of us with very good intentions wind up enabling people rather than helping them maintain their recovery. Sometimes we don’t realize that what we are doing is actually enabling them to continue inappropriate behavior. He’s helped me a lot in that area as well as many others. Greg, because of his background and knowing the games he used to play, he’s very clear about how you need to relate to people.”
Parr said everyday his life is filled with purpose.
“There is never a dull moment,” he said. “The ministry at Grace is definitely useful in this community.”
Grace helps residents through job placement programs, job referral programs, drug treatment programs, support groups and housing programs, Parr said.
“People think substance abuse affects only low income, uneducated people,” Parr said. “But, we’ve had doctors in our recovery houses, we’ve had accountants in our recovery houses. We’ve had different races, ages, genders, different cultures.”
To break the cycle of addiction, Grace works with the entire family and also offers CARE (Children at Risk Encounters), a support group for children whose families struggle with addiction.
Chained to addiction
Edwards’ spiral into addiction began at the corner of 9th and Benton in his hometown of Columbia, Ga.
His father left his mother while she was still pregnant with him.
“I never had a relationship with my father,” Edwards said.
As a single mother, she raised Edwards and his three siblings by herself, working two jobs to survive.
“My mom struggled to keep a roof over our heads and nice clothes on our backs,” he said. “She always made sure we had what we needed.”
As Edwards routinely passed by the corner of 9th and Benton, a group of men caught his eye.
“They were able to throw money around like it was nothing,” he said. “So, it got my attention and I idolized those types of people.”
By middle school age, he joined the group and started selling heroine. He began smoking marijuana and drinking beer, but would quit during basketball and football season.
“I guess you could say I was a functioning addict back then,” he laughed.
At the age of 16, he and his friend stole three vehicles, and Edwards spent his 17th birthday in the county jail. For 18 months, he lived at the Alabama Department of Corrections’ Frank Lee Youth Center. Released early for good behavior, he began working in construction with his stepfather, but wasn’t satisfied. He wanted the fast money and resorted to selling drugs.
Eventually, smoking marijuana no longer satiated his needs. So, he began drinking heavily and snorting cocaine. But even that wasn’t enough, so he escaped reality by injecting cocaine.
“I was homeless and helpless and I lived to use and I used to live,” he said. “If I woke up, I got high. Getting high was more important than sending my kids money to put shoes on their feet or food on the table. Getting high was more important than my freedom.”
Eventually, he moved in with his brother who lived in Kansas City, Mo. For nearly a year, he stayed clean and worked two jobs. But, one night he attended a party where someone offered him a marijuana joint laced with cocaine. He turned it down twice, but on the third offer, he succumbed to his dormant addiction.
“For the next 12 years I wound up ruining my relationship with my brother and hanging out on Independence Avenue,” Edwards said. “My friends were girls of the evening and smoking associates. I wound up staying anywhere I could. Every day I would get up, I’d get high.”
Later arrested on a state warrant for stealing a vehicle, he sat in jail and kneeled down to pray his first unselfish prayer.
“For the first time in my life I didn’t ask God to deliver me from the consequences I brought upon myself… I said if there’s anything left of me that you can use, take whatever I’ve got left and use it for your glory.”
Parr connected Edwards to the substance abuse treatment center Renaissance West and agreed to become his sponsor.
“He (Parr) seemed to be at peace and that was the attraction because I didn’t have any peace in my life. I didn’t have any love in my life. He was willing to take time out – at no charge – and help me along,” Edwards said.
This past October, Edwards celebrated his 10-year anniversary of being drug-free and currently operates two drug recovery houses in Kansas City. In addition, he serves on the board of directors at Grace and worked his way up from being a painter to the maintenance supervisor for an area construction and remodeling business.
“For most of my life I took, but in the short period of time of my giving, I have more joy in my giving than I ever had in my taking,” Edwards said.
For 13 years, Edwards lost contact with his three children, but has since reunited with them, including a granddaughter. Now, he’s always ready to answer their phone calls.
For 21-year-old Misty Wilson, Grace United Community Ministries also impacted her life. Wilson began smoking marijuana at 13 and dropped out of high school at 16 when she became pregnant. Smoking became an escape from her depression, she said. She gave birth to three other children and lost three of them permanently to the state. When she lost her children, she turned to hard liquor. Since then, Parr connected her to ReDiscover, an organization that assists individuals struggling with substance dependency and mental illness.
“Grace helps me anyway they can,” she said. “Greg told me to stick through it and I can get through it.”
Wilson said Parr has helped boost her confidence and encouraged her to share her story at church, which she said motivates her even more to stay clean and sober. Currently working on her GED, Wilson wants to become a registered nurse.
Edwards said it’s ironic how his walk of darkness began at the corner of 9th and Benton and his walk of light began at Grace, also located near 9th and Benton.
“There was a time in my life where I really didn’t want to live. There was a time in my life where I felt hopeless, helpless, lost, lonely, angry, confused,” he said. “I remember the miracle at Grace because I am that miracle. My life is that miracle.”