Article and photo by Urban Alliance staff.
Tasked with providing a welcoming environment for all who participate in Glory Chapel International Cathedral's newest support group on Tuesday evenings, Luis Rivera knows that with every fresh pot of coffee he makes a new opportunity for hope begins to brew.
Rivera, who has experienced many twists and turns in life starting at a young age in Puerto Rico where he was born and raised by a single mother, eventually found his way to Youth Challenge of CT an organization based in Hartford that operates residential programs for men and conducts outreach to help people with life-controlling problems find drug-free, productive and meaningful lives.
Now a Supervisor of Direct Care at Youth Challenge, Rivera has stepped into the role of helping run the support group with Rev. Antero “Jimmy” Rodriguez, Youth Challenge’s Operational Manager of Men’s Residential Centers, who facilitates the group each week.
“I’ve been at Youth Challenge for a year and a half and we’ve been trying to do the Celebrate Recovery group for 8 months,” Rivera explained. “The guys were requesting it, from Youth Challenge and the street.”
Backed by a grant awarded to Glory Chapel through Urban Alliance’s Charis initiative, which helps churches and ministry organizations reach and serve people with care and counseling needs so they receive support and improve their mental, emotional and relational health and resilience, the support group was established in partnership with Youth Challenge.
Celebrate Recovery is a program designed to help those struggling with hurts, habits and hang-ups by showing them the loving power of Jesus Christ through a recovery process.
“Thanks to Urban Alliance, we started with three guys and now we have approximately 23-24 people in the group,” explained Rivera. “We handed out flyers and talk about it in the church. They tell their friends and it’s getting filled up.”
Rodriguez added, “The grant allows us to help individuals that are in recovery to maintain it. It allowed us to purchase curriculum to teach Christian principles and coping skills that help participants maintain their sobriety. The grant also allowed us to create a welcoming environment, with the coffee maker and supplies, which sets the mood for participants to discuss real life issues and problems.”
And while he makes sure everyone has a warm cup of coffee, Rivera also participates in the group.
“One of the things that we do is that we share our testimonies because we all went through something. We all went through a lot,” he said.
With some extremely painful past chapters of his life, Rivera has carried some pain that had previously made it hard for him to feel at peace.
“It was hard for me to talk and express myself. It was hard for me to trust,” he shared. “It was hard for me to communicate. Growing up I was always by myself and I never had anybody to talk to. I tried in the past but in this group for some reason I feel comfortable. God is in the group. I thank God that I had a breakthrough. Now I can share. That’s why this group is so important. Now I go there and I sit down and can exhale. I feel good. I relate with them and it’s good for me to help them. And, the people in the group help me too. Because they motivate me and give me the hope I need to continue.”
The majority of participants are struggling or have struggled with an addiction, and many are without housing. Yet all need a safe space to share their stories, build healthy relationships and heal.
“A lot of them work all day, so the group is a break,” said Rivera. “A lot of them don’t have time to talk through their emotions and what they’re going through. It’s a blessing.”
Both Rivera and Rodriguez plan to continue the group on an ongoing basis, and want to help connect people with the additional assistance and support they need, even if it means coming in early to make more coffee as the number of people who participate in the group increases.
Rivera explained, “They come and need help. We don’t want it to just be another Tuesday. We want people to come one way and leave another way.”
If you are interested in learning more about how your church or ministry organization may participate in Urban Alliance's Charis initiative, contact Angela Colantonio, Urban Alliance's Director of Implementation, Health & Basic Needs Initiatives, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860.986.7328.
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