Todd and Tiffany McKendrick, of Indiana

Todd and Tiffany McKendrick, of Indiana, attend the faith-based support group Celebrate Recovery in Homer City and recently stood by a sign announcing the group’s anniversary celebration at Homer City United Methodist Church.

Celebrate Recovery saved Todd and Tiffany McKendrick’s lives.

Recovering drug addicts, the pair found the faith-based support group in Homer City three years ago and have been transformed by the program’s teachings.

“I went to SpiritLife rehab and they brought me to this meeting a couple times, and when I came in here, just the atmosphere of the people that were around me. The happiness I’ve seen in other people and the joy — I wanted some of that,” Todd McKendrick said.

And when Tiffany exited rehab, “that was the first thing I told her, was we had to come to this.”

“To see other people and believe what they were saying was like the biggest thing,” he said. “You see the joy in their life and you want some. In the beginning you’re so hopeless as a drug addict; you don’t know where to even turn to seek the help that you need. So you start to pay attention to other people and how they’ve changed their life, and you start to want that same thing.”

The McKendricks, of Indiana, went through and completed the Christ-centered, 12-step teachings, and are now working to become program leaders. (Confidentiality and anonymity are highly regarded in Celebrate Recovery meetings, but the McKendricks offered to provide their names for this story.)

To the Rev. Katrina Laude, pastor of Homer City United Methodist Church, where Celebrate Recovery meetings are held, the McKendricks are “our superheroes.”

The McKendricks’ testimony is just one of the successes to be celebrated Thursday when the Homer City chapter marks 10 years of helping people through their hurts, habits and hangups with an open house celebration. The group’s official anniversary is Feb. 25. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the anniversary celebration.

“I really hope that people in the community will come to our open house to celebrate with us,” said leader Shirlee Tanner. “We want our community to know that we’re available, that we’re here.

“So many people just feel hopeless; they feel there’s no hope, and I want them to know that you can get better and people are getting better, and we do have stories of recovery and changed lives. Tiffany and Todd are just two examples of that and we’re so very proud of them.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. and will feature musicians, testimonies and Nick “The Greek” Pirovolos, “an incredible speaker,” Laude said, “who used to be involved in gangster activity and has changed his whole life.”

Pirovolos started Inside-Out Prison Ministries while incarcerated in 1973. Since his release from prison, he has dedicated his life to ministering the gospel to inmates across the United States. Pirovolos has appeared on Trinity Broadcasting Network, “700 Club,” “100 Huntley Street” and many other Christian stations in the United States and other countries.

In the 10 years since the formation of Indiana Area Celebrate Recovery, the group has probably had over a thousand people that have walked through the doors, “as far as people coming in for our programming, for our concerts, for our teachings,” Laude said.

“We’ve really seen, what I think, are some miracles in regards to people really being able to deal with some of their deeper issues and being able to let go of some of the pain they’ve been holding onto, to let go of some of the resentment, and to learn to kind of change some expectations,” she said.

Laude said she believes the most important thing about Celebrate Recovery is that “we really work to speak worth into individuals.”

“Over and over and over I hear people saying, ‘I’m so unworthy, I’m so unworthy,’” she said. “And if you don’t believe you’re worthy of change then you’re not going to change.”

“My thought is, drugs are only a symptom of the real problem,” Todd McKendrick said.

Laude added, “You can change the behavior, but if you don’t change the thought process, you’re not fixing the problem.”

Laude and the McKendricks feel that the program is just as relevant, if not more so, today than when it first began.

“It teaches you to put God first in all your decision-making, to surrender your will completely over to God, and that he has a bigger plan for you no matter what you’re facing, because you’re going to face good things and bad things in life, and this program helps you prepare for the times bad things happen to you,” Todd McKendrick said.

“Alcoholism and addiction is not going away. Mental health statistics are rising,” Tiffany McKendrick said. “So it’s not that (the program) has stayed relevant; there’s more of a need for it.”

She said once she joined the program for her drug addiction, she realized it was helping her in other ways.

“This place … it helps with a lot,” she said. “It’s helped me with so much more. I used to have real bad depression, almost crippling anxiety and many other problems, I’m sure, but I’ve seen a huge, huge change. Even if I don’t think I’m even coming here for that, by coming here, by praying, by getting closer with God, all those things, they’re not 100 percent healed, but they’re 100 percent better than what I used to be.”

Laude said that “as long as we live in a broken and hurting world, we’re going to need to find healing,” and that as a society, we’re growing “increasingly more isolated.”

“The irony being that social media makes us in some ways more connected, (but) it makes us more isolated,” she said. “People feel more alone, and so we need community and support as much now as we ever have.”

Laude emphasized that one of the things that makes Celebrate Recovery different from other 12-step programs is that it’s very holistic.

“Yes, some people come for drug and alcohol issues; most people in our group don’t deal with that,” Laude said. “They deal with a whole host of other issues, and once you start working on an issue, you come to discover that there’s a whole lot of other issues that you really need to work on to find true healing. And I think Celebrate Recovery — I feel that they do quite well with that.” People come to meetings for a number of issues: depression, anxiety, abuse, eating disorders, dysfunctional families, low self-esteem, divorce, unforgiveness, grief and fear, to name a few.

And though meetings are hosted at the church, Celebrate Recovery is an interdenominational group, Laude said.

“We have people from all different denominations that participate,” she said. “Pastor Harold (Hicks, of Shepherd’s Heart Anglican Fellowship in Pittsburgh) is one of the other leaders and one of the founders of this particular group, and he’s an Anglican pastor. We have other pastors from other denominations that come in to teach lessons and things.”

Celebrate Recovery meets every Thursday at 7 p.m., with an optional light meal at 6:15, and participants will have interchangeably a testimony or a lesson, Laude said.

“Then people are invited to go beyond that if they want to get involved in a 12-step group,” she said. “And that could take as little or as much time as people are willing to put into it.”

Laude said attendance averages 25 to 30 people: “Some are regulars; some we only see once.”

And everyone can benefit from Celebrate Recovery, Tanner said.

“It is just as much for the family member support as it is for those struggling with addictions or hurts, habits and hangups,” she said. “A lot of people, they think that this is just for addictions, but family members struggle as well.”

Added Laude: “Often people will come to support somebody else, and then they’ll start being like, ‘I deal with this issue,’ and they’ll start working on it and be transformed. It’s amazing.”

“Celebrate Recovery provides love and support as well as the tools and resources to those who want to make a change in their lives,” Tanner said.

She provided a comment from Hicks, who, like Tanner, has been involved from the beginning: “It’s been a loving, caring and compassionate ministry that we have been blessed to be a part of.”

“And that goes for all of us in leadership,” Tanner added.

Laude said the group has “definitely made greater strides” with its outreach effort, such as going on the radio and setting up booths or having a presence at events.

“There’s definitely been more of that; not as much as I would like, by far,” Laude said, adding that they plan to continue their increase their outreach efforts. She said that with Indiana now having a Celebrate Recovery group, “it’s been kind of helpful.”

“We try to encourage people to, you know, if they want to go to both, or if one’s more convenient than the other … we kind of tag-team a little bit.”

Laude said there are times when attendance may wane or “people don’t seem to be getting it and it’s kind of like, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

“And then something happens, and it’s like, ‘That’s why we’re doing this.’ Somebody gives this unbelievable testimony or there’s another overdose death or somebody for the first time is able to share some trauma that they experienced they’ve never shared with anyone, or some kind of shame that they’ve been holding onto,” she said. “It happens a lot, and it’s so freeing.”

For Tiffany McKendrick, Celebrate Recovery has provided bonds with others that weren’t in place in her life.

“It has truly transformed my life, and I believe that between this program and this program helping me in a true relationship with God, that it’s saved my life,” she said. “And I keep coming here because I know that, and I know that even though things have changed drastically and everything, it is better, that it can still keep getting even better and better, and I truly, with the leaders and some of the regulars, have created true relationships … and friendships that I’ve never had in my life before.”

And if she’s ever struggling, “I know that a few of them, especially Pastor Katrina, all I have to do is pick up the phone and they’re going to talk to me or come to where I am.”

Celebrate Recovery is “a safe place to share,” Tanner said, and “a place where you can take off your mask.”

“It’s been extremely helpful in transforming lives, in changing lives from a life of darkness to a life of joy and light,” she said.

Tanner expressed thanks on behalf of those involved with the group for the success of the program.

“Our church has been supportive, our community. The program’s success would not be possible without their support,” she said.

And she said she’s excited about the program’s continued growth and success in helping to transform lives of those who seek help from their hurts, habits and hangups.

Laude said the goal of Celebrate Recovery is “to just keep shining the light in the darkness, and trusting that the darkness cannot overcome it.”

“Sometimes we can’t see it, sometimes we can’t feel it, but to know that it is always there shining, no matter how dark the clouds are,” she said.

“We’ve had the incredible blessing to serve others in our community over the last 10 years, and we’ve witnessed many transformed lives,” Tanner said.

And for anyone struggling with an issue they feel they can’t overcome, Todd McKendrick offered words of encouragement.

“There’s hope out there if you’re willing to put in some work.”