God's Ministry Friends of Sinners celebrating 10 years as a Christ-centered recovery center

Photo by Don Wilkins, Messenger-Inquirer | dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com Joe Welsh, Friends of Sinners executive director, left, talks with clients Brian Hagan, Mitchell Korthage and Kyle Dodd on Monday. Friends of Sinners, a Christ-centered recovery program, is celebrating its 10th anniversary

Ten years ago, Friends of Sinners, a Christ-centered residential recovery center, started out with one client and one house on Clay Street.

And in the decade since, the organization has not only become widely known as FOS for short, but it has also expanded to treating 50 men and women clients in multiple homes that serve as substance abuse recovery centers for a minimum of nine months.

The idea came from co-founder Roger Chilton who would become its first executive director.

"It's honestly a faith and obedience story," Chilton said. "I had gone through a traditional recovery program and during that time became a Christian. I was just radically changed and passionate about wanting other people to know Jesus the same way I had come to know Him."

From there, Chilton said he was led by God and his own personal recovery experience to establish a program that would free men and women of substance abuse while introducing them to Jesus.

"The problem was I didn't have any formal education or any money for support," Chilton said.

Eventually, Chilton would cross paths with Jim McBrayer who helped raise support. They met with local business owners who donated enough money for the first FOS home.

Chilton would then develop the programming and policies for the organization.

FOS clients are selected through court referrals, noncourt referrals and church referrals. Once in the program, they participate in Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-step program, and attend church services weekly.

Residents also take part in peer-to-peer mentoring, recovery groups, life skills classes and Bible studies.

"I met with the judge and a few other key people in the community and they agreed to gradually allow some people to come to our program through the court systems," Chilton said. "And over time, it had God's blessing and favor on it. We started producing fruit and started gaining the confidence of the people within the community. Next thing you know we bought a second house; we started a women's ministry and we bought a third house."

In 2015, Chilton stepped down as executive director. He's now the lead pastor of Matthew's Table.

At the recommendation of Chilton, the FOS board chose Joe Welsh to become the new executive director.

Prior to leading FOS, Welsh was the director of St. Benedict's Homeless Shelter and had also gone through a secular recovery program for drug addiction.

Welsh was already volunteering at FOS and was familiar with the program and its clients.

And after nearly four years at the reins, Welsh said he's made little to no changes with the program itself.

But earlier this year, Welsh said he wanted to reevaluate where FOS was headed.

"When you think about the future of Friends of Sinners, we don't want to grow inwardly; we want to grow outwardly. So it's not growing in number of clients. ... We would love to grow outside of Owensboro into another community -- Henderson, Evansville or Bowling Green. We would love to duplicate Friends of Sinners in other communities."

Welsh also has a goal of constructing or moving into a new men's facility within five years. Currently, FOS serves between 30 to 35 male clients.

FOS opened a new $300,000 women's shelter on Triplett Street in 2017 that houses 15 women clients, allowing FOS to double the number of women it treats.

"I really believe the Lord wants us to pursue and find a better facility to serve our clients," Welsh said. "These three houses have been a huge blessing; they served their purpose and amazing things have happened here. ... They were built as residential and not commercial. And when you have 30 to 35 men using them every day it takes a toll."

Jordan Wilson, a former Friends of Sinners' client, became a new staff addition in June when he was hired as the development director for FOS.

In his short time there, Wilson said the clients have made a positive impact on him and most of them adhere to the program's emphasis on truth, relationships and accountability.

"The majority of them are so desperate for freedom; they want to grow; the want to live clean; they want to be fathers and husbands," Wilson said. "It is very much a family around here. ... The truth is in the Word of God; the relationship is once you come through the doors you're family and then accountability is we hold our clients to a standard higher than most recovery centers. And that's because we address sin. We don't just address drugs and alcohol."

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of FOS, this year's annual fundraising banquet will have a gala theme.

It will be held at Owensboro Christian Church at 6 p.m. on Nov. 12. The banquet is RSVP and to reserve a seat or table, contact Jessica Lee or Haley Jones at 270-683-7007.

Chilton said he never had any concerns that FOS would falter after he left.

"I believe wholeheartedly that it's God's ministry and God's going to take care of it," Chilton said. "And as long as they keep Christ in the center of it, then it can't fall apart."

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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