The House That Hope Built

Former drug addict Manuel 'Manny' Álvarez is rebuilding lives and transforming the streets of Miami.
Drug addiction. Alcoholism. Homelessness. These life-threatening realities plague virtually every city in America. Yet how many people care enough to get their hands dirty helping to solve such problems?

Meet one man who does--Manuel Álvarez, the founder of a Miami-area ministry for substance abusers named New Hope CORPS (Counseling, Outpatient, Residential, Prevention Services).

At 76, "Manny," as he is known, is older than most who have dedicated their lives to street ministry. But his age isn't stopping him. Because of his tireless devotion, bottomless compassion and unwavering tenacity to follow God's call into the ugly world of substance abuse, thousands of people in South Florida have been rescued from lives of addiction and homeless poverty.

New Hope's new residential facility in Homestead, Florida, south of Miami, is much like the lives it is known for saving. It too was utterly in shambles before the ministry stepped in and gave it new purpose.

Álvarez and his staff--including sons Steven and Daniel, as well as licensed counselors Isabel Mesa and Marcos González, and Fried--renovated the place with the help of their clients. Operating on an extremely limited budget, they did it with only hard work, some donations and faith. Today an entire wall of the reborn refuge is lined with filing cabinets stuffed with records of those who have been touched by New Hope.

Each file seems to attest to the faithfulness of an ordinary man who refused to give up after life had bullied him down.

"One thing about my father that impresses me to no end is simply the fact that he never gives up," says son Steven, New Hope's program administrator. "He grew up in Cuba, where his mother died at an early age and his father wasn't around. He basically raised himself and ended up doing drugs. His life really didn't start until he was born again."

For years Álvarez was a heroin addict, alcoholic and drug abuser. He was stabbed one time and almost died from his wounds. He's also been in prison.

Upon his release from a drug-rehab program, he attended a community college--having only a fifth-grade education under his belt. He persevered and at age 65 received a master's in counseling.

"I really don't know how I did it. I know God helped me because I had never studied in my life," says Álvarez, who became a Christian at age 38.

At that point, he started working simultaneously in a Christian drug-rehab program and a secular program called Phoenix House.

"When I was helping in the Christian program, they had the Lord, but I saw their chaotic system and the disorganization of the program. When I was training in the Phoenix House, everything was in order. It was called a 'therapeutic community'--lots of rules and regulations ... very tough," Álvarez says.

The approach to rehabilitation at New Hope is similar to that at Phoenix House, the primary difference being a central focus on Jesus Christ and the liberation from sin He offers. New Hope offers a balance of spiritual growth and structured living.

"When my dad went to a Christian program, God was there, but the people didn't have a practical way of applying the Scriptures to their lives--they would just pray and read the Word all says. "When he went to the secular program, they didn't have God, so they had to rely on themselves--and they created order and organization.

"Dad prayed to God to help him combine. He wanted God to be in it, but he wanted the order as well. That was the birthing of the program."

Manny Álvarez believes there is no conflict between the standards of the Word of God and the therapeutic community. Both teach self-control, obedience and discipline, he says.

"What we have now at New Hope--it's not a therapeutic community 100 percent," he explains. "When you first come into the program ... you are projecting who you are. The image that the addict brings is the image of the jungle--'Here I am. I'm a tough guy'--beard, long hair.

"The first thing we're going to do is shave your head and cut your beard. You have been hidden in the jungle; now you are getting out of the jungle. They have to submit to the rules and regulations--but then comes the gospel."

Mesa, who has worked at New Hope for five years and is also an ordained Assemblies of God minister, says the philosophy at the ministry is "to work in the behavior and the attitude." Many types of therapies in addition to Christian therapy are applied, she says.

"The way [Álvarez] does what he does is God's way," says Jere Weaver, a pastor who has led Sunday evening services at the facility for four years. "Manny is a deeply spiritual person, and he holds strictly to the Word. I've seen him rescue people who have been through secular rehab facilities two or three times. I've seen families regenerated."

Ex-client Dewitt Blake, now a New Hope program director, calls Álvarez a "father figure."

"He could ask me anything and I'd do it," Blake says. "I have unconditional love for this man."

In addition to its primary resident-addiction program, New Hope comprises other programs, each with a separate focus.

There is the After Care program that allows graduates of the residential-addiction program to rent a room at the facility while they begin taking on the responsibilities of a new job and new life. Sometimes the courts refer convicted DUI defendants to the residential-addiction program. A Christian 12-step program is also held at the facility.

There is a preventive program for at-risk youth that is based at Homestead Senior High School. Students who miss school, misbehave or have slumping grades may be referred to New Hope's counselors by their high school counselors. At New Hope the teens meet weekly and go through a curriculum that includes Christian principles.

In addition, the facility holds Sunday school every Sunday as well as a morning and an evening service. There is also a Wednesday evening service each week. Daily devotionals, prayers and Bible studies begin every day and every recovery-group session.

That the gospel is the heartbeat of New Hope is no secret in the community. Head Chaplain Jose Hernández of the Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections says he could not have started his own Agape Women's Center in the 1980s without the help of Álvarez.

"He was a pioneer in getting Agape funded," Hernández says. "Back then it was unheard of. We were the first religious social-service agency in the state to get funding, and Manny was the director.

"Manny has struggled and fought and worked and made it," he adds. "It's a hard business, but he doesn't give up."

As for his own ministry, Álvarez has turned down funding that, if accepted, would limit his freedom to share God's Word with his clients. The struggle to acquire enough money to maintain the programs is perpetual. Although New Hope gets some money from Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, the rest of the money needed must come from other sources, such as grants and donations.

The preciseness of New Hope's success ratio, which averages between 60 percent and 80 percent, depends on who you talk to and how they define success. Connie McGovern, case manager at Save Our Streets in the community affairs unit of the Homestead Police Department, is glad New Hope is in the neighborhood.

"Having them in town is very promising," McGovern says. "They're very much needed in this area--we're happy they're here."

Credit Manny Álvarez's inimitable tenacity and life of faith as the inspiration for so many qualified people joining his quest to liberate Miami-area lives from the addict's bondage.

"We're here because every day he drove or rode a bus one and a half to two hours one way, 10 to 12 hours a day, for years to a tiny office where he made endless phone calls, and filled out applications for grants and licenses to start programs," son Daniel says. "It didn't happen overnight. He just never gave up--he stayed true to what God wanted him to do."

Says Manny: "We have been put in enemy territory ... the world of the devil. We're in a fallen world. We have to persevere. Perseverance means one thing: You fall, get up and get going. You fall, get up and get going.

"One day you don't fall anymore."

Kevin Hrebik is a freelance editor and writer and holds a master's degree in religion. He had a personal interest in this story, as he too has been delivered from substance abuse.

For more information about New Hope CORPS, call 786-243-1003. Send tax-deductible gifts to Christian Life Missions, Attn: Unsung Heroes, P.O. Box 952248, Lake Mary, FL 32795-2248.

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