Chicken and Rib Fest fundraiser Aug. 29 for faith-based equine therapy sober living program
by Rachel Kytonen
Jeremiah, who has been battling drug addictions for 22 years, is finally sober for the first time in his life, and he credits Changing Gaits.
Jeremiah lives in a men’s sober house, located on an 80-acre property in Brook Park that houses Changing Gaits, a faith-based equine therapy nonprofit program for men.
Guy Kaufman, who has been sober for 17 years, founded Changing Gaits in 2004 after battling his own addictions. He left a secure union job with Excel Energy to start the organization.
Changing Gaits is a faith-based residential sober living community that guides men through the transition from early recovery to independent living. Their unique extended care sober living program supports and promotes the residents’ recovery and healing in a faith-based supportive environment. In June 2011, the nonprofit secured a contract with a treatment facility to operate a faith-based sober house on the property. About a half-dozen men tend to the horses and property as part of their recovery effort.
Changing Gaits invites the community to its eighth-annual Chicken and Rib Fest 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 29. All-you-can-eat chicken, ribs and fixings will be served. The meal costs $25 for adults; $15 for ages 18-6; and ages five and under eat for free. The meal will be provided by Corcoran Locker Catering.
Besides the meal, musical entertainment will be provided by Joe Freppert 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Country Crossing with Deb Barrett 1:30 to 4 p.m.; and Cody James 4 to 6 p.m. There will also be a dunk tank where visitors will get the chance to dunk Kaufman, and face painting. There will also be trail rides for ages 8 and up for $10; and pony rides for $6.
Jeremiah said Kaufman is always there when people need him.
“Guy will bend over backwards for you, but he will also hold you accountable,” Jeremiah said. “The amount of time he puts into this place is amazing, and being here has been life-changing for me. This is the third sober house I’ve been in.”
Jeremiah said it’s hard to put into words what Changing Gaits has done for him.
“This place has changed my life; I’ve found God and gained peace within myself,” Jeremiah said. “This place has done a lot for me and has saved my life. I’ve been battling a drug addiction or 22 years, and this is the first time in my life I’ve been clean for over six months. Being here allows me to give back to society that I’ve taken so much from. I’m finally doing something good with my life.”
Everyone supports each other at Changing Gaits.
“We are like a big family here,” Jeremiah said. “It’s not just the people here who are our families, it’s also our families back home that are benefitting by us being here.”
Joe, who grew up in the Twin Cities and has battled heroin and meth addictions for 24 years, had been to nine treatment centers before arriving at the sober house. It was during his second day at Dellwood Recovery Center in Cambridge when he met a man named Shane who told him about Changing Gaits.
“Shane told me about Changing Gaits and I told him I couldn’t go back to Brook Park because my wife had been raped in the town by a drug dealer,” Joe said. “The night I finally decided I’d go to Changing Gaits, there’s Guy Kaufman at one of our recovery meetings. I learned the program had one opening and Shane had given up his bed so I could come here. Two days after Shane’s 45th-birthday, he passed away from an aneurism.”
Kaufman said Joe has been inspired by the actions of Shane.
“This selfless act by Shane, to give up his bed for Joe, has inspired Joe even more,” Kaufman said.
Sam McKie, who serves as the director of ministry outreach for Changing Gaits, has been addiction free for two years since joining the program.
“In approximately 2 1/2 hours I had 10 surgeries; I was addicted to opiates,” Sam said. “I had been in and out of recovery centers for 25 years. This place saved my life.”
Kaufman explained Changing Gaits is more than a sober house or halfway house; it is a framework designed to help men in early recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism incorporate and internalize the values and behaviors critical to successful long term recovery and healthy independent. All program participants must participate in daily devotions and meditation, and there is a zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol on the property.
Changing Gaits provides faith-based diversified equine assisted addiction services and is committed to teaching, guiding, and encouraging positive attitudes, behavior modification, and life skills by using a powerful, therapeutic approach though the healing bond with horses, not only for substance abuse, but also for individuals needing social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive actions.
Kaufman explained horses are used to assist for emotional growth and learning to address issues related to substance abuse, along with problems in communication, relationships, behavior and all life skill issues. The program is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse specialist who work together to design sessions that require the client to apply certain skills while participating in activities with the horse. He added it is not riding or horsemanship; and explained 90 percent of the activities with the horse take place on the ground and require the participant to apply skills such as non-verbal communication, creative thinking, and problem solving through processing feelings, behaviors and patterns.
Scott has lived in the Sober House for six months. He had gone through other recovery programs, but relapsed.
“I had tried getting in here a few years ago, but they didn’t have a bed open,” Scott said. “I knew I needed to get back into a Christian environment, and I’m just trying to make it through the end of each day.”
Bryce and his sister Kourtney, who live in Braham, have volunteered at Changing Gaits since early February.
“We take care of the horses, work outside in the barn and pretty much do anything they ask,” Bryce said. “We grew up without a dad so Guy (Kaufman) has become like a father-figure to us, and the rest of the guys here are like our uncles.”
Erica started volunteering at Changing Gaits in mid-January.
“I started coming here to volunteer and do therapy sessions,” Erica said. “This place has changed my life, and they have become like family here. This place has brought me closer to God and has given me the strength do deal with the issues I’m facing involving addiction and mental health issues.”
Changing Gaits is sustained by the sober house, sponsorships and donations through area businesses and individuals, and trail rides and pony rides that are open to the public.
Changing Gaits is located at 27274 Monument Rd., Brook Park, and can be reached at 320-438-4001. For more information visit www.changinggaits.org.