HANNIBAL — August 2017 changed Tina Whitman’s life forever, when she arrived at the Harvest House for women on her journey toward sobriety and a relationship with God.
Whitman had been using drugs for 15 years, and she was hospitalized as her addiction escalated to intravenous heroin use. In 2017, she heard about the Harvest House program through a program at the prison and immediately began the application process.
Pastors Larry Hinds and James Bridges, who have also successfully come out of addiction through faith, started started Harvest Outreach Ministries and opened the first Harvest House for men in November 2010. Applications for people coming out of prison and treatment centers are carefully screened, and participants receive food, shelter and a spiritual mentor to guide them along the way.
“And then as we grew, our heart’s desire was to always have a women’s house, too. So in 2015, we opened the women’s house, Hinds said. “And I remember very well the day Tina showed up.”
Whitman said she had been in prison for a couple of years, and she had no belongings, very few family members nearby and no place to call home. But Harvest House provided her with clothing, food, resources for finding a job and a spiritual mentor “who helped me start learning about myself and learning about the kind of woman that I wanted to become and where I was trying to go to from that point.”
“It was a really welcoming kind of program. It was a nice experience from the beginning, when I first got there I always felt like I was welcome there,” Whitman “I just felt like that was sort of where I belonged,” Whitman said, noting there were many positive influences and “endless resources” available to her.
He and Bridges have been “on both sides of the coin,” and Hinds has more than 45 years of experience in substance abuse counseling. He also collaborates with community organizations for mental health and other services, to make sure each person is connected with the specific resources and services they need for their situation, ensuring a path toward success.
Hinds and Bridges based the program upon the positive experiences they witnessed as they overcame addiction. Bridges said he had served over a decade in prison before being released in 2008. He had been in and out of several.
“To have something like what we’re doing now is just amazing. I’ve been to a lot of halfway houses and about 30 treatment centers since the 80s” Bridges said.
When Bridges and Hinds founded Harvest House, they brought the positive things each person had done and put it all together.
“The main thing that I’ve seen through the years is that when someone comes to a relationship with Jesus Christ, that’s the key,” Hinds said, stressing the spiritual mentor program is one of the most effective things they do. “That is one of our main emphasis, of course. We call them sober living houses, but I kind of look at them as spiritual living houses.”
Although there is an application process and Harvest House is for people coming out of prison or treatment centers who want to make the change and break the cycle of addiction. Bridges said Harvest Outreach ministries can connect people with local treatment centers, so they can transition to Harvest House.
Today, Whitman is happily married and has a great job working at the General Motors Assembly plant in Wentzville. She owes it all to Harvest House.
“The difference Harvest House made in my life was literally lifesaving. The program taught me a different way, held me accountable, and led me to the Lord,” Whitman said. “Without Harvest House I would not be alive today.”
Amy Vaughn, founder/non-profit consultant for Be The Change For Your Community LLC, said she witnessed firsthand how Harvest House changes people’s lives during a 2019 fundraiser for the ministry at Garth Mansion.
“I was excited about this woman that I knew being at the Holiday Tour Fundraiser for Harvest Outreach at Garth Mansion. I asked her if she had ever been to the mansion before, and she said, ‘no, but I’m not here for the tour. I’m here because Harvest Outreach and Harvest House saved my daughter’s life.’ I knew this woman personally, but I had no idea,” Vaughn said.
Whitman said she shares her story whenever she can, and she enjoys speaking to groups about her journey through faith.
“I share it on my own with as many people as I come in contact with, because I feel that’s the purpose behind this. And I do it because it’s just a major issue going on in all communities — it’s everywhere,” Whitman said. “Addiction has struck almost every family or every person at this point some way or another, whether it’s their self or someone that they know.”
“I was an IV heroin user. In my opinion, that’s about as far gone as you can get, with messing with drugs and things like that,” Whitman said. “If I can make it going through the program at Harvest House, anyone who wants to can.”
Whitman wants to bring awareness about the support available through Harvest House and “know that there is somewhere that they can turn.”
It’s a great opportunity for anyone who’s willing to take it, and that’s why I want to share my story, and I want to bring the awareness to other people,” she said.
Hinds said the Harvest House ministry continues to grow, with construction underway for apartment-like living quarters for people who are progressing in the program. Hinds said the Feed America and Loaves and Fishes food outreach programs are growing as well, led by Coordinator Donna Rodgers.
Financial donations, volunteer assistance and other support are welcome by calling the Harvest Outreach Ministries office number at 573-227-8833 and choosing extension 1 for Harvest House and extension 2 for Loaves and Fishes.