Reserve’s River Region Recovery aims for complete transformation of lives

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 26, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – In the past few years, there have been a number of changes at Lifehouse Church, formerly known as Reserve Christian. Besides the obvious name change, the school has been scaled back and the sanctuary has been expanded, to name a few. But in the mean time, one aspect has remained steady. Darren Burlison, the director of River Region Recovery, has quietly been doing his part to make life better for community members who have been overwhelmed for one reason or another.

“I want the community to know we’re here,” said Burlison. “We’re here to stay.”

River Region Recovery’s flagship program is called Celebrate Recovery. It is a faith-based, 12-step recovery program, but it differs from other recovery programs in that its focus is not merely those suffering from physical addicitions.

According to Burlison, Celebrate Recovery deals with what he calls the three H’s — hurts, habits and hangups.

“That’s what sets Celebrate Recovery apart,” said Burlison.

The program meets two nights per week. On Wednesdays, those in the program break off into their separate groups and study the 12 steps.

“Wednesday nights are when we really bring people through,” said Burlison.

Burlison said it typically takes someone eight or nine months to complete the classes, but everyone is allowed to proceed at his or her own pace.

Friday nights, however, may be what truly sets the program apart. That is when the group meets as a whole for fellowship in a relaxed communal atmosphere.

“Friday nights are a real fun atmosphere,” said Burlison. “For newcomers, it really breaks the ice.”

He said these nights are a family affair, and there is food for everyone and special activities for the children. All this is designed to help the individual in the program not feel so alone in the process.

“That’s where they are building that support system. We want to create a fun, safe atmosphere,” said Burlison. “Recovery is not a drag. Recovery can be fun, and it should be exciting.”

Burlison said one of the things he enjoys most as he watched people progress through the program is seeing the transformation, not only in an individual’s quality of life but also in his or her attitude toward the community at large.

Some, he said, even go through the program and then train to become program facilitators.

One of these is Jacob LeBlanc, who Burlison described as his “right hand man.”

“I started using drugs when I was 18 years old,” said LeBlanc.

By age 32, LeBlanc had lost just about everything, his family, his business and, finally, his freedom. He spent nine months behind bars because of his prescription drug addiction.

“When I was in there, I saw so many people fall back in,” said LeBlanc. “That was a fear of mine.”

Determined not to return to prison, LeBlanc said he saw a flyer for the Celebrate Recovery program during his first visit to the church. January 2012 will mark four years of sobriety for LeBlanc. He got his wife back and is now one of the owners of another business, Risk Tree Service. What’s more, he is now an assimilation coach with River Region Recovery.

“It’s like I had a huge hole inside of me,” said LeBlanc. “Now, through helping others, I’m satisfied now.”

Many who go through the program, however, do not suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, such as Barbara Hicks, who three years ago started with Celebrate Recovery to ease some of her control issues.

“I was a real bitter, resentful person and in complete denial about that,” said Hicks. “I’m a very different person than when I came here.”

She said what the program allowed her to do was to get “deep and personal” with herself.

“We’re all there with different problems or issues,” she said, “But you can work it out because you can get real there.”

Besides Celebrate Recovery, River Region Recovery currently offers three other programs.

Heal a Home provides aid to community members who need help with simple household tasks. It is run in conjunction with the St. John Sheriff’s Office’s Cop of Tea program. Alabaster Box is a program that helps the community’s neediest members with clothing and food. And Perfect Pearls is an outreach program for local widows.

“These are the things we are tangibly doing right now,” said Burlison.

He added that River Region Recovery would like to establish some recovery houses in the area in the future.

“That’s our big goal as of right now,” he said. “We’re tired of sending our sons and daughters away.”

But for now, Burlison is content to change people, one individual at a time, and give them a new lease on life.

Said Burlison, “Our goal is to get people cleaned up and get them to a productive point in their lives.”

For more information on River Region Recovery or any of the programs it operates, visit