Dale Hendry was having a rough time in 1993. A postal worker in Tampa, he was going through a divorce and abusing alcohol and drugs. In addition, he was addicted to pornography.
In an effort to help him find another love interest, a co-worker invited him to Palm Harbor Community Church.
"I was an atheist at the time, but I knew it was a place to meet women," said Hendry, 45. "Instead of meeting a woman, I met Christ. I gave my life to the Lord at that service."
Vicki Hendry has a similar story. A drug addict and single mother of three daughters, she was invited to Countryside Christian Center by a friend in 1997. She too got saved and became drug-free.
She met Dale Hendry when he and his roommate started attending Countryside Christian Center but she did not pay him much attention.
That changed one day when she needed her car fixed and went to Dale's roommate, who was a mechanic. As the roommate worked on her car, she and her daughters sat in Dale's living room.
"Sitting there, she gave me her testimony," Dale said. "I had no idea."
A week or so later, the two, along with Vicki's children, had dinner. On Nov. 14, 1998, they married.
Now the two are running a successful faith-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that started out as a food pantry in High Point, an unincorporated area of Clearwater.
"Helping people is what's worthy in life," said Vicki Hendry, 35. "That's where true prosperity comes from."
At Clearwater's Center of Hope, more than 400 drug addicts and alcoholics have come through the residential program. There have been 150 graduates of the six- to 12-month program that works on a person's relationship with God as well as his or her addictions.
In a continued effort to raise money for the program, the Hendrys opened the Center of Hope Thrift Store in Largo a few weeks ago. They did so with the help of the building's owner, Ron Goldstein, who reduced the rent and gave them the first month free after they spotted the vacant facility while driving by.
All proceeds from the store and the Hendrys' other business enterprises — Junk for Jesus, a scrap metal recycling company, and Heavenly Suds, a mobile car detailing business — go to the drug rehabilitation program.
"We don't get every guy clean, but we give a lot of guys hope," Dale Hendry said.
After beating their addictions and marrying in the late 1990s, they brought their families of three children each together. They've since adopted two children, ages 7 and 5.
In 2000, Dale Hendry quit his postal job and he and Vicki went through two years of missionary and theological training with the support of Countryside Christian Center. Still living in High Point, they began to pray on how to be a benefit to the community where they lived.
"We started with a small food pantry with four boxes of bread," Dale Hendry said.
The pantry grew to the point where they were giving out 6,000 pounds of food a month, Dale said. Then it evolved into something new.
In 2003, a man they knew needed a place to live after getting out of jail. He was an alcoholic. The Hendrys rented the apartment next to their home and helped him get a job.
Now five years later, the Center of Hope is a male residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, with 38 beds in three homes and a duplex in the High Point area. The program draws people from all over the United States.
"I knew it was time for me to change my life," said Grant Harrod, 24, of Harlingen, Texas. "This has a different aspect, with waking up and going to chapel every day."
Harrod has been in the program for about six months. He said he started using drugs at age 12 and shooting up at 14. He has done everything from heroin to pills. Harrod said he has been to several drug rehabilitation programs and found the Center of Hope online.
"It's the right place for me," Harrod said. "I love it and you would not have caught me dead saying that six months ago."
Harrod and Adam Long of Orlando work in the thrift store to earn their room and board in the rehab program.
Long, 22, was two weeks away from graduating the program in December when he relapsed. In two days, Long inhaled 37 cans of dust remover spray.
Long, who returned to the program Dec. 13, said he started using "duster" when he was 15. He would inhale so many cans that he would black out and his mother would find him covered in his own vomit and urine.
Long was in and out of drug programs. In May, he was living in a storage unit when he heard about the Center of Hope.
"I've always been a believer, even when I was using," Long said. "This is the only thing I've done that's worked. I know through Christ, I'm able to pick myself up and move forward."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or email@example.com.