Two months before Hurricane Katrina, Celebration Church’s Hope Center opened its doors to minister specifically to substance abuse clients.
METAIRIE – Two months before Hurricane Katrina, Celebration Church’s Hope Center opened its doors to minister specifically to substance abuse clients.
The emotional damage that ravaged lives in the wake of Katrina’s destruction opened Celebration Hope Center – CHC – to widen its ministry. And as a result of a continually-increasing client load, CHC is moving from three cramped sites across Greater New Orleans into an 8,000-square-foot unit in the shopping center that also is home to Celebration’s Airline Highway Campus.
“During 2008, the CHC provided 500 clients with mental health services, [plus] another 100 clients [recovered] from the addictions in their lives,” said Florence “Freddie” Landry, executive director of Healing Hearts for Community Development, the 501c3 organization under which the Celebration Hope Center operates as the organization’s counseling center. That was double the number of clients who received services in 2007. Just since January, the addictions’ program has doubled in clients.
CHC itself is the outgrowth of Celebration Church’s successful Celebrate Recovery Program overseen by Ruth Hatfield. Seeing its success, Jefferson Parish Human Services District had asked Celebration Church earlier in 2005 about opening a faith-based, licensed, addiction-counseling center.
CHC was a dream birthed by many at Celebration Church, including Celebration Church’s senior pastor, Dennis Watson, said Michele Louviere, CHC Clinical Director. She arrived in New Orleans a few months after Katrina to oversee CHC’s trauma response.
Before Katrina, CHC ministered with hope that helped many people rebuild lives, restore families and strengthen communities. Then came Katrina’s devastation, which affected counselors, counselees and the center itself.
The original CHC site “washed away with Katrina,” Louviere said. Since the original CHC was located at Celebration Church on Airline Highway, the office like the church received between six and eight feet of toxic flood water.
But because Crescent City Baptist had merged with Celebration Church two weeks before the storm, Celebration Church was able to quickly remodel the less-damaged Crescent City Campus on Transcontinental Avenue in Metairie, which is where the CHC has been since the storm.
Even though Katrina washed away the CHC, the needs hadn’t been washed away. They were even greater than before Katrina. So, Louviere and others began building a counseling team in 2006, “and the Lord just starting providing money. … We took our counseling ministry out into the city to meet the needs …. It really gave us an open door.”
What has happened in less than three years? CHC has expanded to almost 30 counselors working at six different sites. Children, adolescents, adults, couples and families have received services since Katrina. Leading experts from across the nation came and helped train this team to do intensive outpatient trauma recovery work, as well as continuing and expanding the addiction services. Because of outside funders, CHC was able to provide professional counseling services at free or greatly reduced fees. People have met Jesus through this ministry, and many have been set free from past hurts.
Since they have nonprofit status, CHC can work with many different agencies; therefore, all kinds of places refer clients to CHC. “Hospitals [even] make referrals to us,” Louviere said.
With its new location at Celebration Church Airline Highway, more services can be offered, which the staff say they are anxious to implement.
• First, more group therapy will be offered.
“We’ll have the ability [in the new building] to have two group rooms,” Louviere continued. “The Intensive Out-Patient [ministry] will grow.”
The extra space in the group rooms allows for more counseling and substance abuse support groups than the current facilities can handle, Landry said.
• Second, more services for adolescent-specific issues – such as problems dealing with addictions – will be made available.
We will “include more group work and an adolescent substance abuse treatment program,” Landry explained.
• Third, therapists will be able to utilize filial therapy in a new play therapy room that has a two-way mirror and observation room.
According to Athealth.com, Filial therapy is a method of therapy in which therapists train parents to be the primary therapists in their children’s lives. The parents are taught how to play and interact with their children in order to bring about emotional healing.
“Filial therapy teaches the parent a new way of interacting with their child, thus improving the parent-child relationship,” the athealth.com article explained. “Additionally, filial therapy provides focused attention to the child from a person who holds emotional significance to the child …”
Louviere said she also sees more possibilities of providing training to other mental health professionals and clergy.
“We see ourselves becoming a hub of training,” she said. Ever since CHC added its intensive trauma recovery program in 2006, mental health students from local colleges and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary have done internships at the Center, she explained.
“Our students are exposed to things many [counseling] students are never exposed to,” Louviere said. “One of our students just went to Florida [and is heading up a counseling center there]. His level of training is far above his peers. Because of Katrina, we’ve been exposed to a lot.”
At first people came in sharing their Katrina stories, but then they opened up and shared hurts from their past that had never been addressed, Louviere explained, which allowed for total healing.
“It’s been intense and difficult,” she said. “We’ve sat with people in despair and have pointed them to real hope in Christ. We’ve seen God do great, great miracles.” Almighty God took the tragedy of Katrina and brought good out of it for many people, said CHC’s clinical director. “Because Katrina was so devastating, the storm actually forced some people to get help, which led to people becoming healthier spiritually and emotionally than they were before the storm.”
After Katrina, CHC took counseling out to the community and set up small sites across the city. One site is at the New Orleans’ Mission, where outpatient addiction services are given to homeless addicts. When the new center opens, new focus will be given to expanding services at some of these locations, which are in the hardest-hit areas of the city, such as St. Bernard Parish. The new center will take counseling out of trailers and into a wonderful facility that will be much more conducive to therapy, Louviere said.
“Our almost 30 counselors have had the challenge of finding a room to work in with clients,” Louviere said. “Now, counseling will be much easier for both clients and counselors.”
The new Celebration Hope Center, which has grown from its initial three small office rooms to an 8,000-square-foot suite, will open its doors around Easter in the Celebration Church shopping center, the very place where more than 140,000 families were fed and ministered to in the six months following Katrina.
“That particular location is where people got help,” Louviere said. “That is where people from all over the country [came as volunteers]. It was just the place to be.” When the center opens, people in the community will return to a place where they found hope after the storm, she added.
“Even the funding for this center is a wonderful ‘God-thing,’” Louviere said. “From some state funding to even receiving free furniture donations, God has literally built this center from the bottom up. Out of the flood waters has come great hope.”