Rehabilitation center aims to be a center of Hope

Published 7:51 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Rachael Culbertson had graduated from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in 2007, and like at least some of her peers, was living a partying lifestyle. 

At 22, she was introduced to heroin after getting drunk at a party and thought she would be able to defy the odds and not get addicted. 

“Once I opened that door, I decided that I would experiment more and that I would be the exception that wouldn’t get addicted like everybody else,” Culbertson said. “And before I knew it, within a couple of months, my life was completely spiraling downhill and I was completely addicted and enslaved to this drug.”

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Culbertson, who will be the director of the Suffolk Hope Center Ministries rehabilitation center, shared her testimony on the importance of having a facility in the city during a March 15 Planning Commission public hearing on the proposed rezoning and a conditional use permit for the 1.9-acre property at 1653 Holland Road on which the center would be located. 

The rezoning to office-institutional is necessary since such a facility would not be allowed under its current residential low-medium zoning, and a conditional use permit is needed because the Hope Center’s proposed facility is not a by-right use in the office-institutional zoning district.

Commissioners unanimously endorsed both requests. City Council will have the final say.

Her life for the next three years was spent “in complete darkness” as she became addicted to other drugs and went in and out of different in-patient and outpatient treatments, even going to jail before she said she found Jesus Christ. In February, she marked six years of sobriety. 

Through her church, she connected with Hope Center Ministries about two-and-a-half years ago and since then has made it her mission to bring its program to Suffolk. 

“This program, the same morals and values we will instill in these women, are the same ones I’ve lived my life by that have made my recovery so successful,” Culbertson said. 

Culbertson was part of the prayer circle outside the City Council chamber that preceded the meeting, and it highlighted the focus of the facility for Hope Center Ministries.

“The one thing about Hope Center is that I wouldn’t say it is just faith-based,” said Travis Byrd, a regional director for Hope Center Ministries over its southeast region. “I want to be specific. We are a Christ-centered ministry. We are more of a recovery program than we are a rehab. We are more of a Christian ministry than we are anything else.”

Byrd said the Suffolk location would be the 34th for the center, which is currently in 13 states, and the fourth center in Virginia should the rezoning be approved. 

More than 1,000 people, Byrd said, have graduated from its program in the 15 years it has been operating, with a 70% success rate. They will be coming to the facility already detoxed. It will not have any medical staff, but has formed medical partnerships in the area should the need arise. 

The rezoning, if approved, would shift the property from residential low-medium zoning to office-institutional zoning. 

The facility would house up to 32 women struggling with drug and alcohol addiction for anywhere from eight to 12 months. Residents accepted to the Suffolk Hope Center facility would have to receive a medical detox and must be medically discharged by a doctor before being admitted. No more than 33 people – the residents and the night monitor – would be living in the facilities. 

Hope Center would employ three people, including a director who would be responsible for managing finances, ensuring it is maintained and handling any risk management issues, a recovery coordinator responsible for recruiting and training all certified volunteers and the night monitor, who would live in the facility with the residents and helps other staff members with 24-hour coverage for the facilities. 

The single-family detached home and detached garage on the property would be renovated to provide five bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a half-bath and a communal bathroom with three toilets and three showers. Both buildings will also have a washer and dryer. 

The first floor of the main facility, which is currently a single-family home, will also have a kitchen, dining room, living room, a great room and staff office. 

The renovated detached garage will have a storage room, waiting room and a combined chapel and classroom. The bedroom in the garage will be solely for residents who have been with the program for at least 10 months and have earned more independence. 

One community leader – a resident in the facility with proven leadership skills and who has been in the Hope Center program for at least 60 days – will be in each of the five bedrooms. That person will report to the night monitor in the event of a crisis. 

Each exterior door and window will be armed with an alarm that automatically turns on from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.each night. Cameras will also be set to each angle outside the buildings as well as in some of the home’s community areas. 

The night monitor will watch cameras from the facility and the director will be watching from home; both will have video screens by their beds in case someone goes outside during non-permitted hours. 

Up to 30 volunteers will help residents through the Hope Center’s three-phase program, but they will visit at different times, as there will be parking for no more than six vehicles. As women move through the program, they may be able to park on-site. 

“What we consider to be successful is not just sobriety,” Byrd said. “I don’t believe that the opposite of addiction is sobriety. If you’ve ever walked that road, you may understand what I am saying. The opposite of addiction is connection. And so we want them to be connected to a higher power – not just any higher power, not this microphone, but to a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The program uses a Christian-based 12-step program, with residents working their way through a Bible-based curriculum. The program is funded up to 67% by its vocational training program, allowing residents to pay just a small amount, with the rest of its yearly funding coming through fundraising, grants and donations from local churches and the community. 

The program involves three phases over the course of either eight or 12 months, with the first phase focusing on the core issues of a person’s alcoholism and/or drug addiction. The second phase involves vocational training for 20 to 38 weeks and is designed to help people live productive lives. The final, eight-week phase, allows residents to move into an extended living setting and earn money.

The city’s planning staff has recommended approval of the rezoning and conditional use permit, saying it is consistent with the principles of the city’s 2035 comprehensive plan and the unified development ordinance, and issues with adequate public facilities have been addressed. 

The rezoning request and the conditional use permit are now scheduled to go to City Council for public hearings and votes at its April 20 meeting. 

Commissioners John Rector and Mills Staylor both said they had questions and reservations about the rezoning and conditional use permit for the Hope Center facility. Both said, however, that they understood the need.

“I didn’t really quite know what to expect when I came in here … but I’m going to tell you, you touched my heart,” Staylor said, “and you have my full support.”