Last week, the long anticipated documentary on the life story of Healing House founder Bobbi Jo Reed was released on streaming platforms.
“Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence” details Reed’s journey through addiction to alcohol and drugs, living on the street and being prostituted. When it couldn’t get any darker, Bobbi Jo turned her life around. She found her purpose in rehabilitating others.
“In all my years of helping people, I haven’t met anybody that was more messed up than me yet,” Reed said. “So the good news is, if I could do it, anyone can do it. The Lord has just blessed me to start Healing House.”
Healing House, a faith-based counseling and recovery program, is located at 4505 St. John Avenue in Historic Northeast Kansas City, Mo.
Producer and Director Brent Jones first met Bobbi Jo when a friend asked him to join him as a volunteer in the Healing House kitchen. From the moment he met Bobbi Jo, he had immediate respect for her. When he heard her testimony, he knew she was the one his team was meant to make a movie about.
“It was the most unbelievable story I’ve ever heard in my life,” Brent said.
He and his wife, Producer Donna Jones, took the film crew to Healing House for three hours that first day, and when they brought the footage home to edit, they knew they had captured something special.
“This woman has a personality, she’s got enthusiasm, she has this light about her that is irresistible,” Brent said. “She’s got a star quality in this world so I wanted more people to see her and hear her story.”
Reed had written a book about her experience overcoming addiction, homelessness and abuse with the help of God, but she knew that not everyone had access to or the patience to read a book. When Brent presented the possibility of making this documentary, she was excited.
“God has used my life to help thousands of people, and when you get it in film, I just think how many more people that my life story can affect,” Reed said.
The couple and their team spent the next year and a half making a documentary about Reed’s life. Donna saw Reed’s fire, noticing she was constantly on the go.
“No matter what was going on, she just had such grace – grace, and patience, and kindness, and love for everyone,” Donna said.
Reed’s story is one of redemption, not just for those working toward sobriety, but their family and loved ones who have also been affected. Healing House provides Naloxone, an emergency narcotic overdose reversal drug, and works with the state’s Targeted Response Groups.
Through the years, Reed has built credibility with the people she works with, some of whom are coming out of jail or treatment centers.
When Reed started Healing House, there were 900 women going through inpatient treatment in the Kansas City metro every year, but only 30 safe beds for women to go to when they got out.
“So, 870 of them were going back to the circumstances that they came from, and it just broke my heart and I knew I had to do something,” Reed said. “God prompted me to do something. I just remodeled my family home. I fixed it all, that took three and a half years, and then God said, ‘Great job, now sell it and move to the hood.’ Pardon me?”
Despite never having children of her own, thousands have called her Mom. Healing House has served over 8,000 people, 1,100 in the past year alone.
“I want people to be encouraged by my story if they have a loved one with an addiction,” Reed said. “There’s hope as long as they’re still breathing. I want people to know that you don’t need to go to a highfalutin’ treatment center that will cost you $500,000, that there is help in our communities.”
Kansas State Senator David Haley (D-4) said everyone has some sort of addiction or demon pulling on them, but using that experience to meet others where they are in their struggle and relate to them can help break the cycle.
“We’re all coming through a rough time in our society, and to see places like Healing House, to know that an individual did it,” Haley said. “So many people look to the government to try and be the bridge out, but for an individual to say, ‘I can make a difference based on where I’ve been,’ and to make a contribution to helping other people to come through it, too, it’s inspirational.”
The Healing House program is centered around its community center on St. John Avenue.
“When I got here… it was a very dangerous circumstance, there was gunfire, not three hours would pass down here, hearing gunshots,” Reed said. “There was a lot of prostitution, gang members, drug dealers, all up and down the street.”
Now, Healing House has 14 beautiful, refurbished once-abandoned homes sheltering people working toward recovery and 30 apartments for families being restored. Healing House is currently supporting 200 people in their journey.
“People need to learn to live again, how to deal with life on life’s terms and so it’s really full circle here, we embrace people,” Reed said. “We help people with resources wherever they need to go. We do housing, we do recovery support services, which are helping them get jobs, helping them get ID, Social Security cards, all this stuff that people might need that have been out there in the street.”
By her side for years was “Mama” Judy Burkholder, who passed away on March 13, 2020.
“It broke a lot of hearts but I know without a shadow of a doubt that she’s in heaven, and she’s waiting on me,” Reed said. “She was my heart. She came after I’d started the first house, about nine months later, she came as a resident,” Reed said. “We became fast friends in about six months and I asked her to start helping me.”
Burkholder lived with Reed in one of the group homes for women for 12 years, the two of them sleeping only four hours a night to be available around the clock for women fighting their addictions.
“What I’ve learned from Bobbi Jo is that anything is possible,” Brent said. “There’s always a way… it comes through the heart, so I think that I just hope people start loving each other a whole lot more, and reaching their hand out to help others.”
Donna hopes the documentary stirs conversation and shows people the value in sharing their own personal stories and testimony.
“Working on this film, being so intimately involved with Bobbi Jo’s story and with the story of so many of the people that shared with us, that we interviewed, it’s just astonishing to me how much courage and strength can come from sharing,” Donna said.
Although it’s a hard story to hear, Reed shares it willingly and bravely, with so much courage, because she knows that her story will help others; she understands that her experiences, her testimony is not something to be ashamed of, but rather rejoice because it has the opportunity to help others, Donna added.
“Our communities are getting stronger, and they are getting that because we have inspirations like Bobbi Jo and Healing House,” Haley said. “If those who see this could just do 10% of what Bobbi Jo has done, and is doing, with Healing House, that will be an inspiration, through this testimony and through this telling, retelling of it.”
Reed is determined that not another addict has to die, and to teach people not to judge those with addiction, a deadly disease.
“I know this movie is going to touch people,” Reed said. “I know it’s going to stir something up in their spirit, and I know people are going to want to do more, more in their community, more for people, not necessarily just in their little circle, but more out in the community and in our world.”
“Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence” is now available on a variety of streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, Apple TV, iTunes, and Google Play, and on-demand platforms like Comcast and Dish Network.