By: Katie Sobiech
Lately it seems that every time you turn on the TV or flip through the pages of a newspaper there’s been another shooting or crime. You can pretty much predict what you will see and hear. This past week a news source in Cleveland reported a recent increase in shootings and violence, especially among youth.
For some, the question ‘What do we do about this?’ arises. Parents are distraught and at a loss, victims and their families are living in fear and despair, and communities are shaken. But is there a way we can make our communities safer, take more action, and provide more accountability so that things like this don’t happen in the first place? Is there a way to get to the root of the issue, and bring forth change in the individuals in our communities? Several ministries in Akron believe so, and are living this model out.
Turning Things Around
Every Thursday evening Jon Soza picks up men living in transitional housing around Akron and takes them to the ARC. Most of these men have hit an all-time-low and are in the process of putting the pieces of their lives back together, staying sober and out of trouble.
On one recent trip, while making a stop on Cole Avenue, a certain sight couldn’t be missed. Stuffed bears, flowers and gifts were piled up in someone’s front yard, with a group of small children running around.
When I asked what happened, one man living diagonal from the scene said, “There was an altercation between two guys. One guy broke the window of a car, he left to go get his pistol and came back and started shooting.”
Two people were shot, and one killed, over a broken window. The young man killed was just in his mid-twenties.
“There were more than ten shots fired. I seen the muzzle flash, then about 45 seconds later everybody just started screaming and yelling, going ballistic,” he continued.
The mission of Soza and the Salvation Army is to pull men from the wreckage, or hopefully meet them before they even get to that point.
So far, it seems to be working.
Miracles in the Lives of Many
Tim Skinner, a resident of one of the Springtime of Hope homes, has traveled the country, sailed the Atlantic Ocean and just moved back to Ohio from New Mexico where he was a cowboy.
“I was an awful person. I lived in my addiction and never really had the desire to quit because I didn’t want to face the things I did in my past. I never felt God could forgive me for the things I had done in my life,” he said.
Skinner was an orphan and didn’t get adopted until 2 1/2 years old.
“Real abusive people had me,” he said
At 12 years old he started using drugs and by 13 he was back in the care of the State and put into an institution until he was 18 years old. Since then his life has been a whirlwind, controlled by addiction.
But, at 43 years old, Skinner had a divine encounter. He met Jon Soza, Program Coordinator and Associate Pastor at the Salvation Army, when he checked himself into the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) and attended the Bible Study there that Soza leads.
“I knew of God, but didn’t know God,” Skinner said of this somewhat foreign concept.
It was then that he realized that he wanted to stop living out the dark desires of his past.
“I felt comfortable with Jon and an ARC counselor, and with their help and teaching me things I got to know about God and finally believed that He could forgive me for my sins, and I could forgive myself. Once I accepted God in my life as my Savior and admitted all my sins to Him I just seen changes come over my life. My desire to use left me and my desire to help other people totally increased,” he shared of his miraculous transformation.
Faith in God is the Key to Change
“God helps me with so many things and there’s no problem I can’t deal with now with the help of Christ and Jon and my support group. That was a real big thing for me. Asking for help and humbling myself,” Skinner shared.
“I can’t do this on my own. And I realized I didn’t have to do it on my own anymore, and it just keeps getting greater every day,” he continued.
Support from a network of individuals and his faith is clearly what is giving him the strength and stability to pull through and rise above life’s challenges.
Continuing the Cycle of Giving Back
Skinner graduated from the ARC about two months ago, is 8 months sober and now has a job at the Salvation Army store. He also serves with Springtime of Hope every Friday night and takes a day off of work each week to volunteer at the Salvation Army kitchen.
“I just try to stay active,” he said.
Giving back to the community from which they’ve been given has been fundamental in the lives of the men who’ve had such powerful life transformations.
“I see a lot of people who don’t do that and they’ll graduate from the ARC and get complacent. (They think) ‘I don’t have to do that anymore, or go to Bible study’. They start missing and then just stop and fall back into their addiction and everything,” Skinner said.
Leaving a Legacy
One of the things that motivates Skinner to be a good man is his son.
“The only blood I have now is my son. I lost his mother two months ago. She passed away from overdosing on heroin and methadone. My boy’s 16 and I’m his only guardian now. He’s going down the road I went down. He’s getting arrested, smoking weed, running the streets and fighting, but it’s like God gave me another opportunity to have my son back in my life again. It’s just another thing I have to keep focused on,” Skinner said.
He admits that he wasn’t always the best father.
“You can’t help anybody until you get yourself right. Once you get your right mind and a relationship with God, He will help you with all them other things,” he said.
“My son’s angry, he misses his mom and though I wasn’t the best parent with my addiction, you just gotta keep persevering,” he said “I came back here to try and rebuild that bridge with my son. I did a lot of damage and it’s not going to be repaired overnight. He’s tired of hearing words because I’ve broken so many promises in the past. But actions speak louder than words and with the Lord, the bridge will be rebuilt. It might take a while, I’m sure it will, but with God it’s all possible.”
Slowly but surely he hopes to heal the relationship and become a positive role model in his son’s life.
A Fresh Start
Coming back to Ohio from “cowboying” and caring for 22 horses out in New Mexico didn’t seem promising at first.
“I didn’t have a place to live. I was dying. I was killing myself and knew I’d end up dead or in prison and I didn’t want any of them things. I had an epiphany that I needed to stop and ask for some help, so I picked up the phone book and called a couple of places. Nobody really wanted to help me. They didn’t have a bed, or there was a 2-3 month waiting period,” he said.
“Then it was like God told me to call the Salvation Army,” he continued.
So he called and his life has never been the same.
“I’ve grown more in the past 8 months than I have in my whole life,” he said, “Spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and in maturity. I’m 43 and was runnin’ around like an 18 year old. It’s just wonderful how God can work if you let Him. I’m amazed every day.”
Springtime of Hope
Springtime of Hope is a ministry here in Akron that provides a ray of sunshine for those facing a dark night of the soul.
One of the greatest things they offer is permanent supportive housing. The men living in their homes have seemed to come alive for the very first time, or at least in a long time.
When asked how Springtime of Hope has helped him, Skinner replied, “There are so many things. They’re really passionate about what they do and they really care about the guys. They do everything they can to help you.”
The men pay a small amount of rent which covers utilities, cable, internet, computers, a washer, dryer, food, car with gasoline and more.
“After a while, when you get established, they want you to help with gas and things like that, which is not a big deal. The house is stocked with food – it’s like a food pantry!” Skinner said.
Working the Program
“And they want you to work the program. I go to church. We just started a Bible study at my house with Deacon Denny. He’s a Catholic Deacon from St. Bernard’s,” Skinner said.
They also have Bible Studies on Wednesdays with Jon, and go out and do street ministry.
“We went out last night and found 12 (homeless) people,” he said.
This continues the cycle of bringing in new men, so that the lost can be found.
“The gentleman we met last night came to the program today. He was down on the tracks livin’ in a tent,” Skinner recalled.
They also found 8 homeless people at a gas station by the highway.
Change of Setting
“You have to find a whole new group of people. Positive people, spiritual mentors, an accountability group,” Skinner said of forming connections, “Cause like Jon says ‘You can’t go to the old places, people, and things. You can’t hang around the same neighborhood.”
It’s important for men and women who want to change their lifestyles, to fill their lives with new things. And that’s what these ministries encourage.
“Once you get clean and sober you have a big hole inside of you that you need to fill with something. I filled it with the Lord, with positive people, and volunteer work and it really does help. You can’t think things are going to stay positive if you don’t hang around positive people and change your whole lifestyle. You can’t hold onto anything in the past,” he continued.
It’s amazing how doors continue to open to these men as they stay faithful and work the program.
The ARC just offered Skinner a job as a driver, and the opportunities continue to flow in.
“I can’t say enough about Jon and his family, the Salvation Army and other people I’ve met and connected with. It’s just a wonderful organization,” he said of the collaboration of all of these great individuals and ministries here in Akron.
If you would like to find out more about this mission and how you can help please call Jon Soza at 330.958.2684