Kyle Yarbrough gets question-grilled and sideway-glances when giving out his current home address.
“Many don’t understand why I would choose to live there when there are other viable options,” he said. “Most people laugh then become interested and want to hear about my experience.”
After six months spent at Crescimento Limpo Recovery Ministry in Itu, Brazil, Yarborough returned to campus as a grad student in MACC Program, Accounting and Finance.
Opting for unconventional housing and an unthinkable ministry, Yarborough is now living among the residents of Grand Works halfway house in west Abilene.
The need for a transitional home in Abilene stemmed from several people and the reality of a dead-end solution for struggling addicts and newly released convicts.
“One inspiration was the preaching of Jonathan Storment at Highland (Church of Christ) and the Highland vision to restore Abilene,” said Dr. Jack Griggs (’64), Grand Works board member. “Part of that vision includes eliminating homelessness.”
The Grand Works halfway house was established two years ago, transformed from what used to be The Noah Project house for battered women. The number of residents fluctuates, based on Grand Works’ function as a transitional home. Its occupancy is now 35 to 40 men – former convicts, battling addiction-recovery and homelessness.
“Some residents stay for weeks, and some for months,” Yarborough said. “Some of the rooms in the Grape Street complex are shared, and some are individual apartments.”
Yarborough made Grand Works his home at the beginning of the year after meeting with the board of directors to request living there as an opportunity for ministry.
“I was interested in this work before Brazil, because it involves the restoration of dignity to unfortunate and downtrodden people,” Yarborough said. “I saw it as my duty to contribute. For me, that involved putting myself in direct interaction and immersion into that culture.”
“And I’ve been pushed way out of my comfort zone,” he said.
Yarborough lives in a room with three others, but each has been respectful of the others in the room.
“Personal space and privacy is not part of the culture in a halfway house,” he said. “It can be a little inconvenient at times.”
Yarborough said recreational time is spent watching television together, tuning into basketball or a movie in the upstairs living room. Every Thursday, Kyle plays house chef, cooking dinner for any resident paying a dollar donation.
“I love cooking and eating with them Thursday nights, as well as sitting outside on the patio and talking,” he said.
As the “missionary in residence,” Yarborough facilitates a small group meeting every week eating together and find ways to support each other.
“I have gained confidence in this type of facilitation,” Yarborough said. “It’s expanded my vocabulary and understanding of the culture and situations involved in transitional living and halfway house management.”
Ultimately, Kyle’s uppermost role is being attentive and present in the home.
“When I am there, I try to be available and open for conversation or prayer,” he said.
With everything on his plate, time management has been the biggest burden.
“As school progresses, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to manage all my work for school, my job, time with friends and being at the house,” he said.
But his efforts do not go unnoticed.
“Kyle’s a real hero,” Griggs said. “He wraps his arm around them and coaches and encourages them.”
Griggs and Grand Works executive director Patrick Batten said they’d eventually like to have a couple of missionaries in residence, but Kyle will be irreplaceable.
“He has set the benchmark so high that’ll be difficult to find someone with the temperament and the spirituality that he has,” Griggs said.
“His understanding to what’s going on is so much better than most people at that age,” Batten said.
The experience has rocked Yarborough’s perspective, having never realized the basic challenge of living post-prison, such as getting around town, grocery-shopping or simply getting a full night’s rest.
“It’s almost impossible,” Yarborough said. “But these guys figure it out, get jobs and get back up on their feet faster than I ever could.”
The recovery and second chance is what aids in this process of rehabilitation and restoration, he said.
“I love having good conversation with a resident and see how deep he is thinking and what motivates him in life,” Yarborough said. “One of the biggest unexpected joys has been seeing that same man succeed at his job and move out of the house.”
But not all residents are success stories.
“I’ve had a few of my roommates relapse and end up having to leave the house,” he said. “Although I know it has nothing to do with me, it is still hard to see them go.”
Ultimately, Grand Works strives to provide a clean slate, no matter their past.
“We want to give them a little grace,” Batten said.
“If they can pay, the rent is $12 a month,” Griggs said. “But if they can’t, they’ve still got a bed, but they’re expected to get up in the morning and get a job.”
Even though Yarborough is an atypical resident, he is still held to the same house rules, which include random drug testing, ban on drugs and alcohol and women prohibited within a certain distance of the house.
Strict rules are necessary if Grand Works is to operate on the premise of residents being only temporary guests.
Every Tuesday, a group of men predominantly from Highland Church of Christ visit for one-on-one counseling sessions.
“We hold them accountable by making them attend 12-step meetings,” Batten said. “They aren’t always capable to make good decisions on their own.”
For an hour and a half, they meet in the common room and have snacks and drinks.
“Any of the men who want to join are invited,” said Dr. Richard Beck, chair of the Department of Psychology and a Grand Works mentor. “A lot of the men have been in (Alcoholics Anonymous), so a gathering or support group is not strange to them.”
The high rate of men ending back on the streets makes mentorship critical to recovery.
“Without mentorship, they aren’t going to make it,” Batten said.
But Kyle has been equally served, he says. Over his college career, he noticed “helping my neighbor” was rarely put into action.
“I was making friends and being social,” he said. “But I was not connecting much with my community or society. This has given me the opportunity to try to ‘help my neighbor’ in a creative and new way. It’s pushed me way out of my ‘comfort zone’ into an area that allows me to think and consider areas of spiritual discipline that I need to improve.”
“It’s made me practice empathetic, not sympathetic, listening,” Yarborough said.
Yarborough’s residency does more than keep the men accountable, it gives them someone stable, consistently present, someone investing in their beginning stage of restart and redemption. His atypical residency has allowed those at Grand Works to think of him less as a “missionary in residence,” and more like a “brother.”
Gabi Powell and Linsey Thut contributed to this story.