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Valley of Grace tries again

New location for recovery center selected in Howard Township

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ROUND TWO — Joey Bennett presents plans for Valley of Grace in Ervin Township last September, but the plans were stopped short after a tumultuous rezoning meeting. Last week, he presented new plans, this time for a location in Howard Township.

A local effort to establish an addiction recovery center is taking a second shot at finding a home in Howard County.

Last September, Valley of Grace co-founder Joey Bennett and the nonprofit’s board made moves to secure ground to construct a drug rehab center in Howard County. That effort centered on land in Ervin Township. But, the effort was stopped short by Valley of Grace after a tumultuous rezoning meeting, wherein residents repeatedly said they supported Bennett’s effort but didn’t want it near where they lived. Now, Bennett has his sights on a new location, this one in Howard Township, and he’s hopeful that nearly three years of effort will come to fruition.

“I’m very excited,” said Bennett. “I’m actually excited for the fact of just being able to bring hope, healing, and equality of life to Kokomo, just in the addiction aspect and realizing that addiction never ends. So this process has never ended for us either. We continue to look forward to planning a physical location here just to provide hope for people. The things you see, of people you see dying every day, even locally, even so close to home, just planning a physical location here that will provide for that, rather than shipping them out of town.”

Since 2017, Bennett and his wife, Darcy Bennett, have endeavored to launch a faith-based addiction rehabilitation center in Howard County. Dubbed Valley of Grace, the planned center mirrors a facility Bennett utilized out of state during his own struggles with addiction. Valley of Grace, when opened, will function as a 90-day addiction rehabilitation center, and Bennett hopes that the center will provide an option for local individuals struggling with addiction and won’t require that they visit rehabilitation centers out of state.

This time around, Bennett hopes to locate Valley of Grace 5254 North 500 East, not far from where Howard County meets Miami County. That land is a former farm owned by an Amish family, and it comes with several benefits not afforded by the previous location in Ervin Township, according to Bennett.

For one, the previous location had no existing infrastructure on it, which meant that Valley of Grace’s board would have been forced to fund the construction of wholly-new buildings for the facility. The new location already has structures on it, meaning remodeling would be undertaken instead of ground-up construction efforts. This amounts to cost savings in the long run for Valley of Grace, while also maintaining the goal of having the center built in a rural area.

“Considering what the price of what the last one was, and considering the price of this one, we would have been well over $1 million with no structures,” said Bennett. “So, the money makes sense here to get up and going a little sooner, just for the simple fact that overdose deaths are, gosh, they’re high. We’re just planning to get going as soon as we can. We’re not certain of a target start date yet. That’s something we’re trying to discuss and talk about, but it makes total sense from a cost standing to have existing structures in the rural setting.”

Reports from Howard County Coroner Steven Seele showed that overdose deaths were increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first quarter, Howard County logged nine overdose deaths. Then a sizeable influx occurred after March 31, with as many as 10 occurring while travel restrictions were in place. The latest total from the coroner had 18 confirmed overdose deaths in Howard County, with five suspected overdose deaths awaiting toxicology results.

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In its latest iteration, Valley of Grace will be situated on a 40-acre plot. After renovating the structures on the land – which include a main home, a pole barn, a detached garage, and another storage facility – Bennett anticipates the center could accommodate 10 to 12 men as they seek treatment. Bennett said he hoped to scale the facility to allow 60 men to seek treatment at one time in the future.

So far, Bennett said he’s received a positive response from the Amish and Mennonite communities around Valley of Grace’s new proposed location. Some have even voiced an interest in helping with renovations once the time comes.

“We have such a strong support with the Amish and Mennonite community out there,” said Bennett. “It’s kind of their forte. They love to build, and they’re very savvy with their projects. That’s been a huge help. We’ve been able to share at three different churches out there to just kind of create that awareness with the community.”

To make the project a reality, the plans for Valley of Grace will have to pass through several public approvals. Last week, the Howard County Plan Commission approved a change in zone classification for 5254 North 500 East. Then, the board of zoning appeals will consider the issue as well. If approved, the Howard County Commissioners will consider final approval.

From there, Bennett said there wasn’t a definitive timeline for beginning operations, but he hoped to continue fund-raising efforts, such as through the annual Dressy but Messy event, and begin renovations to prepare for opening the center.

Bennett said he hoped the community would continue to support Valley of Grace’s efforts, and also the new site selection that soon will undergo the public approval process.

“As I think about it, in Howard County, I believe we have such a strong and caring and giving and loving community, but if not here, then where?” said Bennett. “Where is it we go? Do we just want to continue sending people out of town, out of state, out of the country in some cases? I don’t think that’s fair. That’s part of the question I do ask myself: if not here, then where?”