Counselor Bruce Wood: Making a Difference

Counselor Bruce Wood: Making a Difference

Meet Bruce Wood!  He’s a seasoned substance abuse counselor who has dedicated 40 years of his life to helping people find their way to recovery. His career is marked by his commitment to understanding the complexities of addiction, adapting to the evolving landscape of substance abuse, and most importantly, participating in the transformation of countless lives.

Bruce’s professional venture into counseling began in 1984.  His motivation stemmed from personal experience and his college education. Growing up in an alcoholic home, he felt a calling to help others navigate the challenges of addiction. Despite initially preparing for a medical career, Bruce says his Higher Power guided him towards counseling, where he found his true calling.  “I could see that this was what I’m supposed to do.  I was set for a medical career, just waiting for the semester to start.  When the time came, I’d already committed in my head and heart to do counseling.”

Over the course of his distinguished career, Bruce has worked with all of the big names in Springfield – the hospitals, the behavioral health centers, and also Springfield Public Schools.  He even owned his own clinic for a time.  As owner and manager, he oversaw more than a dozen counselors, but he tells us that “administration wasn’t my cup of tea.” What Bruce really wanted was to do client care, so when an opportunity in Branson opened for him in 2011, he answered the call.  For the next ten years, he conducted counseling, groups, and SATOP classes.  Then came the Covid pandemic and a decision to retire.  “I decided to retire after two years of Covid, where I did treatment out of my living room by computer.  It had become so impersonal sitting at a computer screen.  So, I thought maybe this would be a good time to bow out, to retire,” Bruce says.  

Happily, his decision was short-lived, and it was a telephone call with CORE’s CEO Cary McKee that marked the turning point.  As if reliving the moment out loud, Bruce recalls, “I called Cary just to talk.  I had six weeks into retirement.  I said to him, ‘Cary, I’m tired of fishing.  I’ve had my fill.  I’ve got to figure out something to do.’  When I mentioned some agencies who might be looking for a counselor, he said he’d been wanting to create the CARE program. I said, ‘I’d be willing to develop that if you need help.’” Within two weeks, Cary called Bruce back, seeking his expertise to plan, develop, and conduct our CARE relapse prevention and awareness program for individuals committed to maintaining sobriety.

Bruce has been at the helm of the CARE program for more than two years.  It’s designed to address the Cycle of Relapse and is a client-driven initiative. It supports individuals who have experienced lapses in the past but are determined to recover.  For the program to work, Bruce says that it’s vitally important to address the early stages of relapse, such as fleeting ideas and toying with fantasies, to prevent progression to more critical stages of relapse.  He also sees as significant the fact that participation is wholly voluntary, saying “In 40 years, this is the first time I’ve ever worked with people who genuinely and consistently want recovery.  Before, many wanted recovery services but were driven by the legal system or family expectations.  It wasn’t always coming from within.  No matter how much mom wants me to recover, or I want to do it for mom, the motivation has to come from within.  Anything else won’t work.”

From a numbers standpoint, the CARE program has been a smashing success.  Despite this accomplishment, Bruce says that the true reward of counseling lies in watching clients break free from the shackles of addiction. The more he sees a client’s shame being replaced by healing, and they find their way back to the life they’ve always wanted, the more driven he becomes to stay on task.  His satisfaction is further exemplified by encounters in public spaces where former clients approach him with shouts of triumph, proudly declaring their sobriety:

It happens, you know?  I might be in a place like Walmart and hear somebody call out ‘Bruuuuuce!’  It’s a former client, and they’re hollering all the way across the store – ‘I’m clean and sober!’  I’m like, wow, this is really happening.  Even here at CORE, there are people who show up to my door just to tell me how they’re doing.  There’s nothing more gratifying than that, helping to make a difference.  Counseling is a rewarding profession if you’re a people person and like to see others grow and help them along the way.

Bruce’s impact extends far beyond his office at CORE.  His legacy is marked by the countless lives he has touched and helped transform. As a compassionate advocate for recovery, Bruce continues to be a shining beacon of hope. In his own words, counseling is not just a profession for him.  “I’m right where I need to be,” he says.

CORE wholeheartedly agrees with his assessment and offers him the following shout-out: Thank you Bruuuuuce! We are so delighted and honored to have him as part of our team. We eagerly anticipate many more years of continued collaboration!  

Why Do We Do Step Six?

Why Do We Do Step Six?

Step Six says, “[We w]ere entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

The step is briefly worded, and the Big Book offers a single paragraph of explanation, essentially instructing us to evaluate our willingness and to pray for willingness where lacking.

To newbies and the uninitiated, the purpose of this step may appear elusive.  It clearly addresses our willingness to have God remove negative character traits, but why an addict should be concerned with this isn’t immediately apparent.  The temptation is to think our proper focus should be upon removing the attachment to drugs and alcohol.  Step Six actually helps do this, as we explain below.

In 12 Step meetings, members will use various illustrations to explain the importance of Step Six for recovery.  Two popular stories involve “dropping the rock” and the “monkey trap.”

Dropping the rock in recovery is likened to a boat journey to an island called Serenity. One passenger struggles to swim to the boat, weighed down by a rock symbolizing fears, resentments, and other character defects. Urged to ‘Drop the rock!’ by those already onboard, she releases her character defects, reaches the boat safely, and finds lasting serenity.

In the monkey trap story, usually set in a forest or jungle, a hunter places a treat in a container with a small hole. The monkey eagerly grasps the treat but becomes trapped because its fist won’t fit back through the hole. The treat symbolizes our character defects, and our instinctive refusal to let them go leads to dire consequences.  (Our CEO Cary McKee tells a similar story about someone getting their hand stuck in a vending machine!)  

These stories are fine for what they are.  They illustrate that character defects are bad and letting go of them is good.  Still, they don’t fully satisfy everyone wanting to know how Step Six concerns recovery.  There still will be somebody who thinks such stories are more relevant if the rock or treat represents a pint of whiskey, or an illicit drug (i.e., drop the bottle!) 

For this reason, we’ll explain the relevance of Step Six to recovery more fully here.  Hopefully, our explanation also will illuminate the genius behind the 12 Steps, and why the world’s leading journal for systematic medical reviews has found that the 12 Steps are more effective than any other recovery therapy in existence. 

While addiction is a complex disease involving a myriad of factors, one thing common to every addict and alcoholic is that they are selfish and self-centered.  They prioritize their own desires over those of others.  Their addiction is an insatiable hunger that cannot be satisfied.  The addict and alcoholic ends up devoting all of their waking hours to assuring their appetite is provided for.  They will neglect or become completely indifferent to the regular concerns of life – spouse, children, family, friends, career, home, health, and other matters.  In time, they will lose these relationships along with every good thing in their lives, and possibly life itself. 

Selfishness—self-centeredness,” the Big Book says, “that, we think, is the root of our troubles.”

This observation not only is insightful but it also suggests the remedy.  Insofar as the heart of the addict and alcoholic is selfish and self-centered, the 12 Steps together operate to perform a heart transplant on the sufferer.  For real, lasting recovery, we have to become others-centered.  

The Big Book is emphatic about this, saying that “Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery.”  Even in a first meeting with a prospective client, the book directs us to “suggest how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own.”  

If our personal experiences and our experience at CORE with thousands of clients teaches anything, it is this: the psyche of a caring, altruistic person is incompatible with the persona of a suffering addict or alcoholic.  They can’t co-exist.  It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – it simply can’t be done.

Accordingly, at CORE we hear clients report that their obsession for alcohol and drugs – which may have hounded them for years – suddenly “lifted” or “evaporated,” or that they woke up in the morning and realized that their obsession was “just gone”.  It can happen that fast.  Once the internal switch flips, and the mental focus goes from self-serving to serving others, the obsession is gone.  It remains expelled so long as the individual is committed to obeying the Lord’s command, “love thy neighbor as thyself.” 

As the Reader undoubtedly has noticed, the 12 Steps are a spiritual program of recovery.  They facilitate a deep and fundamental change in our inner self that really is akin to receiving a new heart. The transformation goes far beyond simply abstaining from illicit substances, although complete sobriety certainly results from this process.  So long as we maintain this spiritual fitness, no person, or place, or thing can tempt us into a relapse, either.

To genuinely recover, however, the mere promise to be a better person won’t cut it.  And, while our personal effort is needed to accomplish this, by itself our effort is insufficient.  As the Big Book observes,

There often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid.  Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to.  Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.”

The idea of God changing human hearts and attitudes is an ancient one, confirmed by thousands of years of human experience.  We won’t belabor it here except to observe that God never fails.  There may be atheists out there who are uncomfortable with this idea.  They are the same people who scratch their heads wondering why the 12 Steps are so much more effective in treating addiction than any other evidence-based therapy.

Now we’re ready to talk about Step Six, although the Reader should note that, by the time we get to this important step, we’ve already begun seeking God’s help with matters raised in prior steps.  Importantly, we’ve also gone on a fact finding mission in prior steps.  We’ve done a deep soul-searching inventory to become well-acquainted with all of the specific ways in which we are selfish and self-centered.  That is, we already will have identified our “defects of character.”

The Big Book variously calls such defects “flaws in our make-up,” “shortcomings,” and “wrongs,” but they are one in the same. Character defects are the manifestations of our self-centeredness.  Self-centered people, moreover, practically wear character defects on their sleeves.  They encompass personality flaws like being resentful, fearful, dishonest, prideful, self-deluded, self-pitying, impatient, intolerant, and other obvious faults.  

Practically speaking, even as our self-centeredness fuels the inner obsession for illicit substances, many of its outer manifestations leads to our failures in life and makes our lives unmanageable.  To illustrate, we’ll make this simple.  We must admit that we’d have a hard time putting up with a spouse, family member, friend, co-worker, employer, or employee who embodies such defects, right?  As it turns out, so do they! 

Furthermore, by the time we get to Step Six, we should be well beyond self-deluded notions like, “I was a happy drunk and everybody loved me.”   In fact, “an alcoholic in his cups is an unlovely creature,” and our previous step work should have grounded us sufficiently to see how our character defects create only misery for ourselves and others.   At Step Six, we’re also beyond getting bogged down by guilt and shame.  We’re sensitized to our shortcomings and are free to stop doing them.  This is good news – we don’t have to live like this anymore.  God will change our hearts accordingly, if we are humble and willing.

Step Six is really a stop-and-think point, a moment of self-evaluation.  The Big Book asks, “Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable?”  If there is a character defect we’re unwilling to let go, “we ask God to help us be willing.”  Such instances happen under various circumstances.  One common sticking point is clinging to resentments.  We feel righteous indignation and declare we can forgive many things but never, not ever this or that person for what they have done. 

Character defects that we refuse to quit usually are the same culprits that keep us sick and make our lives unmanageable.  For the addict or alcoholic, they can be fatal.  Fortunately, a struggling client at CORE is surrounded by a large recovery community who can and will spot character defects from a mile away.  This is especially beneficial.  The client always finds sympathetic, patient, and interested peers standing by, ready to help. 

Over time the moment of self-evaluation described in Step Six becomes habit, part of our new way of thinking while living in the 12 Steps.  Personally spotting character defects means greater insights about ourselves.  We become accustomed to meeting the individual challenges posed by this step, seeing them as opportunities for personal growth.

Importantly, removing defects of character is only part of the recovery equation.  Looking ahead to next month, we’ll talk about replacing our character defects with virtues and making ourselves more fit to help others!

Kristi Kenkel’s God-Given Purpose

Kristi Kenkel’s God-Given Purpose

Meet Kristi Kenkel!  Having arrived to CORE in September, 2021, Kristi is working the 12 Steps and has recovered.  She actively contributes to our program as a 4D Recovery instructor, 2nd Mile member, mentor for newcomers, and avid volunteer.

In fact, Kristi volunteers for so many things at CORE, we never know where we’ll run across her path.  She was quite the sight some months ago at CORE’s golf tournament.  We saw her standing on the back of a fast-moving golf cart, pointing out sponsor signs to be collected.  She kind of reminded us of a sailing ship captain atop of the quarter deck, shouting out orders to sailors below.  

Happily, just the other day, we caught up with her at CORE’s Recovery Center in Branson, where she was getting ready to teach class. Standing behind a podium, she wasn’t going anywhere.  So, we snapped her photo and, after class ended, we dragged her in for a chat about life, addiction, and recovery.

Kristi isn’t shy with her opinions, confidently declaring “God has given me purpose; this place has become like my home.  If all I do is help newcomers understand the 12 Steps and recognize that God is the answer, that’s enough for me.” 

Her insightful words reflect the wisdom of someone who has faithfully embarked on a genuine recovery journey.  They contrast starkly with the 20-something person who arrived here two years ago, who’d never been to a rehab in her life and had no idea what the 12 Steps even were.

Kristi’s spiral into addiction lasted six years, disrupting her promising college career in biochemistry and life sciences.  Adept in math and science, she was a straight-A student who’d made the dean’s list multiple times.  However, the allure of the party and club scenes proved to be her downfall.    

At first, it was just alcohol.  “I didn’t see a problem in what I was doing because I’d always made good choices; I didn’t see any consequences from it,” she says.  Then a friend introduced her to opiates which, she recalls, “gave me the feeling I was looking for.  I’d never felt confident or comfortable in my own skin.  They made me feel at ease, confident and comfortable with myself.”

Kristi not only abandoned her studies, but she also lost jobs, wrecked cars, and strained ties with her mother and family.  After switching from opiates to methamphetamines, she lived a perilous existence, couch-surfing and resorting to desperate measures, “whether to beg, borrow, or steal”.  Meth, she says, “started taking my self-esteem away.  I never thought that I could become that person, who would be on drugs like that.”      

She identifies an abusive relationship she suffered as the lowest time of her life.  Kristi saw no hope of ever getting out and despaired of her future, but then fortune smiled upon her in a most unforeseen way.  “I got caught on a possession charge for methamphetamines.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me, even if I didn’t see it at the time,” she says.  

While sitting in jail, Kristi encountered a fellow inmate who spoke highly of CORE. “She said that it was the best time of her life, that it worked and she was doing good, but she’d fallen off the program and relapsed.”  Kristi grasped onto her words like a life preserver.  She doesn’t remember the person’s name today, only that her claim turned out to be prophetically true: the 12 Step program works if you work it.

When Kristi decided to seek help, the court made an order sending her to CORE.  Her family, notably her mother, with whom she had little contact, arrived to her support.  “I stayed the night at my mom’s house for the first time in six years.  My mom and little brother drove me here,” she recalls.  

Upon arrival, Kristi quickly learned about the cycle of addiction and how it applied to her.  She’d always denied, minimized, confused, or rationalized her attachment to drugs, but what she learned at CORE “made perfect sense,” she says, adding “I’d always asked why I’m different.  People said I had a problem, but I never understood why.  When the cycle was right in front of me, I knew.  I am different, and I saw why.”

In addition, Kristi came to believe that God had been looking out for her all along. There had been opportunities for her to leave her abuser, in fact, but she never acted upon them.  It took what Kristi saw as the most unlikely of circumstances – the criminal charge, jail, the enigmatic (yet inspiring) claims of her cell mate – to carry her to a place of complete safety, where people understood her circumstances and honestly wanted to help.  “He was looking out for me.  He did that.  He’d answered my prayer.”  Kristi then accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior; shortly thereafter, she was baptized.

She also had the fortune to land a job with an employer who understood her connection to CORE.  In fact, her manager had been a client here, too, and took genuine interest in Kristi’s progress.  Kristi remembers “She kept asking where I was on the steps, about my fourth step, and fifth.”  Impatient with her efforts, the manager issued an ultimatum.  “She said, well, you’re not coming back to work until you do them.  I actually ended up doing my 5th Step with her.” 

Kristi says upon completing these important steps her spiritual experience was “immediate.”  “I felt different inside, like a weight had been lifted from me.  I felt free.  In the hallways, instead of looking down, I could look straight ahead and smile.”  Kristi then began to tackle her character defects and started making her amends. A perceptible, personality change accompanied her progress.  Her obsession was lifted, and Kristi developed a heart for service.  “It wasn’t about me anymore,” she says, “it’s boring if I’m not helping others because, it was like, then what am I even here for?”

Her relationship with family, especially her mother, definitely has been restored.  A veritable caravan of family members showed up for Kristi’s graduation ceremony from CORE’s one-year program.  “My mom, stepdad, older and younger brothers, stepbrothers, my other stepbrother’s wife, uncle, stepmom and her husband,” she notes out loud.  Kristi absolutely beams while telling us “I talk to my mom every day now.  She doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering where I am, whether I’m still here, or if I’m still breathing.  It’s great to have family back in my life, a family that trusts me to be at home!” 

Kristi talked at length about her recovery, the exciting projects she’s been part of, and her hopes for new adventures in the future (like mission trips with the 2nd Milers).  Still, the best part of recovery for Kristi is simply living serenely, in the present:

I used to take the little things for granted, without being present in the moment, like conversations with people, and never enjoying simple things like cooking, going out with friends, or watching movies together.  I live in the present now and remember, and I don’t take anything for granted.  I never thought I’d be happy, or have a personality or peace of mind, sober.  I never thought I’d have anything.  Now, being here, the 12 Steps, God, recovery – with all of this – I can have it all!”

We at CORE are overjoyed by Kristi’s commitment to God and her remarkable recovery journey.  Our hope is for her continued growth in both her sobriety and her relationship with God.  May all the dreams she envisions for her newfound life materialize toward a future filled with fulfillment, joy, and purpose.  We’ll continue to stand by her side, unwavering in our support for her beautiful journey that lies ahead.

The Christmas Blessing Store Turns Four!

The Christmas Blessing Store Turns Four!

In December, amid the glittering lights and festive cheer of the holiday season, a beacon of hope and encouragement was set up at the Hollister School District.  For the fourth consecutive year, CORE and the school district collaborated to establish the Christmas Blessing Store, allowing people to shop for household goods and toys without limits and at no charge.  This annual initiative not only emphasized the spirit of Christmas giving but also served as a powerful reminder of the impact achievable through community action.

The Christmas Blessing Store extended initial blessings to 124 families with 284 children, spanning grades PK through K-12.  One out of every five children in the Hollister School District received items from the store!  And that’s just the beginning of its impact.

This project is one of several humanitarian initiatives that CORE engages in throughout the year.  CEO Cary McKee articulated the philosophy, stating, “Recovery teaches that we can’t keep what we don’t give.” His insight underscores the importance of active service in overcoming addiction.  Helping others provides an avenue to get out of “self” – the root of all addictions.

The Christmas Blessing Store originated in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic when social distancing ordinances made a public initiative unfeasible.  Cary sought a partnership with Hollister public schools, relying on the school district’s ability to identify individuals who would benefit from donated goods.

To appreciate the magnitude of this event, consider the time and factors involved. The project’s genesis lies in the generosity of area retailers, whose donations reflect a commitment to corporate social responsibility.  By acting as the “Secret Santas,” these retailers inspired the participants to direct the donations toward quality of life needs within the community.

CORE volunteers contributed thousands of hours to the project, with operations manager Gary Osborn explaining, “Our work for this project began a year ago, as soon as the last event concluded. Every Tuesday, we’d make donation pickups from area retailers, continuously for 52 weeks.”

With donations pouring in, CORE’s Branson warehouse rapidly filled, necessitating yet another volunteer workforce to organize, sort, group, and ensure individual products were of merchantable quality.  House manager Caren Barnes coordinated these activities for the warehouse, which required additional volunteers throughout CORE.  “Over the course of 8 months, I went through the whole program.  It was different people every week, not just my house,” she said.    

In November, CORE transported a year’s worth of labor and merchandise to the school district, prompting immediate action by the district’s staff and volunteers. Sandy Brown, overseeing the district’s efforts, explained, “The first CORE trucks came in on November 19th, and most of the day-to-day work was done by the counselors, working with CORE people who did a phenomenal job organizing. We had help from different classes, too, including gifted classes assisting with toys and bicycles, along with students in our community-based learning program.”

While the Christmas Blessing Store emerges as a win-win project for all of the participants, everyone who contributed to this initiative emphasized the children as a key motivating factor. Sandy affirmed, “Everything that Hollister does is for the kids and helping ensure that every child is successful.” Cary added, “It’s about serving the community and school district, but most importantly, the children. It’s about creating a lasting Christmas memory, where the promises of joy and surprise loom large.”

Our pictures were taken while this event was in progress – after a substantial number of individuals already had shopped at the store.  Cary observed that further expansion is in order.  “We’re still receiving items even now.  We’ll look to expand our reach in the coming year and beyond, by reaching other school districts in the eastern Taney County,” he said.  Merchandise not distributed at this event went to other nonprofits that could put these items into the right hands.  

Cary expressed his sincerest thanks to the school district, area retailers, volunteers, and staff who contributed to make this year’s Christmas Blessing Store such a success.

Jeremy Hampton: Little Drummer Boy

Jeremy Hampton: Little Drummer Boy

“The Little Drummer Boy” is a familiar holiday tune about a poor young boy who performs for Baby Jesus.  While the song itself is a Christmas classic, the Rankin & Bass TV version received only a lukewarm response in Nielsen ratings.  Children were put off by the lead character, who wore a wooden expression on his face throughout.  He never smiled – not when his pet lamb was miraculously healed, and not even when Baby Jesus smiled at him.  

In hindsight, we think the Rankin & Bass production was ahead of its time, but 50 years ago there just wasn’t anybody out there with enough charisma for the lead role.  Today, we know of the perfect person.  He possesses the excitement, poise, and glamour needed for the protagonist’s part.  With piercing eyes framed by a rugged face and well-groomed beard, our guy even has an infectious smile.    

Meet Jeremy Hampton!  CORE Church members readily recognize Jeremy as the accomplished drummer for our popular praise and worship band.  His resume doesn’t end there.  He’s also a house manager, recovery instructor, spirituality class teacher, softball team member, and volunteer for CORE special projects.  Jeremy is able to serve in these positions because he has recovered.  

While people today have difficulty picturing this, five years ago Jeremy was a struggling addict who hit rock bottom.  He told us “I was doing a lot of meth, weed, everything.  I was 118 pounds and malnourished.  I was sleepng in my car and miserable.  I was dying.”  His predicament was the product of denial and blaming others.  “My thinking was that I just needed to get away, change my location and friends, then I’d be fine,” he recalls, “it all made sense in my head at the time.”  Jeremy shook his head while telling us this, and we understand why.  Within CORE, we know that such thinking is eternally wrong.  Unfortunately, it’s terribly common with an addict trapped in the cycle of addiction.  

By the end of his last spree, everything Jeremy had worked for in life was gone, again, and this time he had nobody to turn to for help.  The moment finally had come for him to quit, but he couldn’t, no matter how hard he tried.  In desperation he called our program manager Kevin Hunt who, Jeremy says, “answered my phone call and got me in [CORE]; he probably saved my life.”

Jeremy worked his recovery program in earnest and, after 6 months, was doing Steps 10, 11, and 12 daily.  He vividly remembers the exact moment when he “suddenly realized” – in the Big Book’s words – “that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  Jeremy was at his place of employment, a local resort:

I opened a drawer, and there was a bag of dope.  I’d never expected to see that there, but I went and flushed it without really even thinking.  Five minutes later, it hit me.  There was no craving or desire.  My mind didn’t race about how I could do it without getting caught.  And that’s when I knew it; the miracle had begun.  It was an awesome realization.

Jeremy credits his recovery to God, who he sees as loving, forgiving, and understanding of his past.  He maintains conscious contact with Him by “expressing willingness, by doing the act of getting on my knees, praying, and by doing the steps.”

He shows gratitude to God through abundant service work.  Within a few months of his recovery, Jeremy went through our presenter’s training and began studying the AA Big Book cover to cover.  In his first class, he told us, “I was so nervous.  My mouth was dry and I could hardly talk.”  He walked through fear by faith, nevertheless, and now Jeremy’s recovery classes are always popular with clients.  In time, he also began helping teach our weekly spirituality classes which, he says “probably helps me more than it helps anybody else.  It makes me really dig into scripture and learn.”

At CORE, we are so very happy and pleased for Jeremy!  We sincerely hope that his association with us bears fruit and continues for years to come.  But – what does Jeremy see for his future?  His answer for us was altogether encouraging.

He enjoys his profession in real estate, but he also feels that God may be leading him into working full-time with clients in recovery.  There has been talk of CORE possibly opening a third recovery center.  Jeremy hints that if this does happen, he may be interested in helping get this started and underway.  He said, “that looks like where my calling and destiny is headed, where God wants me.  It’s in the recovery field, and I’m at the point where I need to surrender and give into what God wants.”


Ordinarily, we might conclude Jeremy’s story here.  We know, however, that many Readers are fans who really want to hear about Jeremy’s musical career.  We dug hard to get this information, which is 100% true, so here goes.

Jeremy always had a knack for music.  He remembers rhythmically beating on pots and pans as a toddler.  When he was 7 years-old, Santa Claus brought him a “Fraggle Rock” drum set – a child-sized, working drum kit, with Jeremy’s favorite Muppets shown on the bass drum!  

While these seem like humble beginnings, Jeremy already was on a trajectory toward musical greatness.  He never had formal lessons and didn’t need them.  He rose from being first chair in junior high, to jamming with garage bands in high school.  By his early 20’s, Jeremy played with a local rock band whose popularity took it to towns up and down the Mississippi River.  Sadly, his musical career was derailed by drugs.

In Jeremy’s mind, being a member of CORE’s band today is a great blessing.  When given the opportunity to play, Jeremy says, “I was grateful and cherished it.  I still do.”  In our humble opinion, his performances are central to the band’s pulsating energy, a conduit of raw power.  His drumsticks seem to blur in a whirlwind of controlled chaos, yet his limbs move with precision and dynamic athleticism.  Each rhythmic crash of his cymbals sends the crowd into excitement, mesmerized by sound, movement, and spectacle alike.  

It’s a pity we don’t have an actual pic of Jeremy performing, because it’s really something.  Happily, our graphic artist has been kind enough to make a fun facsimile that gives Readers a mental picture.  He looks something like this:

A Christmas Wish from CORE

A Christmas Wish from CORE

Christmas, the season of hope, invites us to revel in the spirit of joy and cheer that warms our hearts.

This festive time reminds us that God bestowed a supreme gift upon all humanity some two thousand years ago.  It was the arrival of a very special baby named Jesus, wrapped in cloths and nestled in a manger.   We readily envision the parents watching over the newborn, accompanied by humble shepherds and gentle animals sharing the stable.  We immerse ourselves in the coziness of the scene by identifying with the baby’s mother, who treasures and ponders everything in her heart.  

The nativity scene is much more than simply a miraculous, heartwarming historical moment.  As we already know, the quiet, unassuming arrival of this baby holds a promise that surpasses the grandeur of any human achievement.  The baby is destined for greatness, and He makes everything right again.  At Christmastime, we celebrate God’s ultimate gift: Jesus came into this world to save us all, giving everyone reason for hope and joy!

At CORE, as we reflect on our many blessings, we are keenly aware that our mission is made possible only through our friends and supporters.  With heartfelt gratitude, we specially want to recognize these individuals for their commitment and belief in our cause.  Your encouragement, prayers, and generosity are the cornerstone of our success. We sincerely thank you – you’re the best! 

To those still struggling with addiction, take heart!  There is a solution for your difficulty, and you are not alone.  At CORE, we offer open arms and unwavering support to guide you on your journey to recovery and health. You are deserving of a brighter future, and we’ll help you find it.  Every member of our staff – in whom the drinking and drug problem has been solved – speaks from personal experience.  We’ll show you the solution and how it works.  

To all our readers, this Christmas season, let’s reflect on the true essence of hope.  Our real hope transcends human achievements and reaches into the depths of our souls.  It begins with a baby born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago.

CORE wishes everyone a Merry Christmas
filled with the timeless hope and joy
that Baby Jesus brings to us all!

Robin Trotter: Making a Difference 

Robin Trotter: Making a Difference 

Meet Robin Trotter!  Robin is our new women’s admissions coordinator at the Branson recovery center.  She stepped into the job when Jen Brinkmann made a lateral move to our finance department.  As the point of contact person for our female clients, Robin now has many important responsibilities.  

We recently had the pleasure of spending several hours talking with Robin in preparation for this article.  Our original intent was to focus on her addiction and subsequent recovery but, for obvious reasons, our conversation kept gravitating toward her new job, and especially her hopes and dreams for the women under her care.  

Robin works at CORE because she is talented and has a heart for God.  In this sense, she is similar to all of our employees. Nevertheless, while she is gifted and spiritually devoted, our interview uncovered one curious detail that definitely sets Robin apart from the rest of our staff.  This little known fact has to do with her morning commute to work.

Every morning, our employees travel from all over the Tri-Lakes region to get to our Branson location.  Once we’ve put on our sunglasses and messed with the car radios, our trips take several minutes or more.  For some, the drive takes more than a half-hour.  Robin’s morning jaunt, by contrast, is on an entirely different scale.

When Robin puts on her seatbelt and checks to make sure she has everything needed for her busy day ahead, her commute takes – wait for it – seven seconds!

It takes longer to put on shoes and socks than it takes Robin to drive to work, owing to the fact that she lives right next to our Branson recovery center.  Her trip is faster than a TikTok video.  But please don’t assume this means she gets to sleep in.  Robin actually gets up each morning before the sun does.  She has important duties to look after even before she leaves for work.

Robin also manages CORE’s intake residence for our women in Branson, and one of her formal tasks happens early each morning.  She leads the whole house in a morning devotional which sets a positive and spiritually-focused tone for their day ahead.  She shared with us a rare glimpse into this event, which we think is well worth repeating.  As she relates:

Every morning, all the girls meet downstairs in the living room for a devotional.  We sit around in a circle and read out of different books.  They take turns doing that, and then we talk about it.  After that we go around the room and hear what everybody has planned for the day.  We finish by circling up.”

Within the house circle, Robin recites a series of positive affirmations for the ladies.  They include things like, I am blessed, healthy, confident, motivated, a child of God, and so forth, and the group repeats these affirmations.  The devotional is concluded by the whole house saying the Lord’s Prayer together.  

We think what Robin describes is a great way to begin the day – for any house, for anybody!  And it’s after this devotional that Robin prepares for her famous excursion to our Branson recovery center.  “I grab my keys, phone, and coffee, and head off to work. I get in my car, drive a few feet, and I’m here,” she laughs. 

Once she arrives, Robin’s office gets busier than Grand Central Station. She serves as the point of contact for our female clients, communicating with them about CORE’s rules, expectations, and services. “Being able to be the go-to girl for over one-hundred women is exciting,” Robin says, and we agree.  There’s never a dull moment in her day.  

She’s already well-acquainted with her job.  Multi-tasking is a must, for example.  Robin might be found speaking with a client, taking a call, and typing a letter – all at the same time.  Clients also bring family, medical, and legal issues to her.  Unforeseen crises also arise that must be attended to.  On top of this, Robin is responsible for doing screenings, determining eligibility, and guiding new clients through the intake process.  And she must be prepared to provide immediate support and guidance to handle every situation effectively.

Robin describes her life today as full and rewarding, and we can easily see why.  Still, she will be the first to point out that this wasn’t always so.  She arrived to CORE very much like so many of us do – at rock bottom.  “I was at the lowest of my lows when I got here,” she says.  Nearly her entire adult life had been wasted in abusive relationships, and on drugs and alcohol.  She had no contact with her parents, and she didn’t have a friend in the world.  Even worse, she had no relationship with God, and she felt too ashamed to even approach Him.  CORE turned out to be exactly what she needed to begin turning things around. 

For the first time in her life, Robin heard about the 12 Steps.  She also listened to others sharing their experience, strength, and hope.  Robin met other women at CORE who had returned to health and wellness even though they once were as hopeless as her.  Encouraged, she wasted no time in working her steps.  By the time she completed her 5th Step, “I started to feel myself again,” she remembers, “really wanting it, to just keep continuing, to get better and better in my program, and become closer to God”.  By sticking with her program, Robin recovered.  Looking back on her experience, Robin primarily credits two things for her success.  

First, she very much wanted to get right with God.  She tells us, “I wanted a relationship with God.  I’d been so depressed and miserable, and I worried about my future and what might happen if I didn’t change.”  Working her steps made this relationship a reality for her, and along with this came the miracle of recovery and the promises of the Big Book.  She tells us, wide-eyed, “once I started doing the right thing and began seeking Him, I accomplished more in one year than I had in thirty“.  Robin also got baptized, which she proudly declares “was an act of obedience that shows I’m living for Him now.  I am a Christian.” 

Second, Robin purposely avoided romantic relationships, a distraction that so easily hinders people from finding recovery.  She says, “There was great freedom by not having to deal with that.  People just don’t realize that.  They think they just have to have a man but, how can getting into a relationship ever work if we don’t fix ourselves first?  So, when I got here, I had no intention of looking at another man.  Nothing was going to distract me from my recovery program.”

Robin’s enthusiasm eventually led to her becoming a house manager.  On social media, she became outspoken supporter of faith and the 12 Step program.  At this point in Robin’s testimony, we interrupted and pointedly asked if CORE helped her recovery, to which she nodded, saying “Yes, in every way.  I didn’t escape my past until I came to CORE.  It gave me a safe place to be while I sorted out my life.  CORE showed me the 12 Steps that got my addiction under control.  Everybody here has become like my family.  I’m very grateful for everybody.”

We at CORE are so pleased for Robin, her new faith, and her new life in recovery.  She has friends who love and care about her today, and she has been reunited with her mom and step-dad.  We’re especially happy she has become part of our organization.  As an added bonus of Robin’s addition to the CORE family, at a recent staff luncheon she introduced many of us to the Korean dish Bulgogi, which was delish!  And there also was Kimchi, sticky rice, and egg rolls to round out our dining experience.  All in all, we really have to give Robin brownie points for her culinary skills.  

So, where does Robin see herself in five years?  She thinks a moment and says, “I want to keep achieving and believing, and growing in this job.  I want to see these girls make it in their recovery programs.”  She then adds, “I love having a job where I can make a difference in other people’s lives.  Not everybody gets this opportunity, which is what makes it so exciting!”

What Are CORE Clients Thankful For?

What Are CORE Clients Thankful For?

As Thanksgiving approaches, we at CORE are grateful for the abundant blessings that God has bestowed upon us.  He has granted us the miracle of recovery and the opportunity to help others in need.  We are humbled by God’s grace and the many favors that we have received.

At a recent CORE event, we chased down as many of our clients as we could catch and asked them a simple question: “Who or what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season?”  While some seemed a bit nonplussed by the recorder placed before them, each took a deep breath and summoned the courage to speak.  We think everybody had something valuable to share.  Here are their awesome responses!

I’m really indebted to God for my recovery.  He’s at the forefront; my recovery starts and ends with Him.  For my friends and all the staff at CORE, I’m very thankful.  I’m glad that I can enjoy life today, as opposed to the 25 years of what it was before.” 
– Adam G

My relationship with the Lord is most important, because I couldn’t have done this without Him.  I’m very blessed today.  And it’s because of Him that I was able to repair things with my mom and my dad.  That’s awesome, because I never thought that would happen.  And I love the fact that I have a job where I can help people.  I get to oversee the greatest group of girls ever, and I’m very grateful for that.” 
– Robin T

I’m grateful for sobriety and recovery.  I’m so thankful for my daughter.  I’ve got a great daughter, you know?  She’s such a good kid, and I’m so happy to be there for her again.  Also, I’m very blessed that she’s got a good mother.”  
– Christopher M

God, for His grace and forgiveness.  For saving me and allowing my recovery.  I’m happy to be alive today.  And thankful for CORE, too, because this program saved my life.” 
– Audrey H

I wouldn’t be where I’m at if not for God.  He’s been my rock through all this.  Sobriety isn’t always rainbows and sunshine, but he makes challenges manageable, somehow easier.  I’m also thankful for the people in my life pushing me to grow.  With their love and support I’ve been able to strive and achieve my goals.” 
– Gavin L

“There’s so many people. First and foremost, I’m thankful to God, who gave me a second chance at life. And for this program, the women at my house, and my children and people looking after them. I’m grateful to be alive today.”
– Katie R

“I’m grateful to God, and to the people who showed me the way out of addiction. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to help others and show them what I’ve found at CORE. I’m glad to give back, to pay it forward.”
– Neil F

If it wasn’t for the fellowship and friends I have here at CORE, I don’t know where I’d be.  They supported me throughout.  I’ve never really had a family, my whole life.  The people here are like my sisters and my brothers.  They’re okay with being leaned on when I need help and support.  And I’m thankful for God.  He opened my heart and mind to see the world differently and in a better way.  I have happiness and joy in my life.  He changed me.” 
– Megan B

I’m thankful that God has given me the opportunity and gift of teaching newcomers how to recover by sharing the 12 Steps that were given to me.  Pass it on.  I’m thankful for a great family,  the relationship with my son, my parents, and getting to see my brother and nephews.  And I’m grateful to Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for my sins.  I didn’t deserve that, but He did it for me anyway.” 
– Nick B

What am I thankful for?  Everything!  My work family, my real family, and the opportunities open to me.  With God, the sky’s the limit.  God can do all things!” 
– Jen B

I’m thankful for everything God’s done since I turned my life over to Christ, the connection to my children and family back home, and for my new family here.  I’m grateful for everything – the program, my new outlook on life, my job, and that I’m not running the streets anymore.” 
– Owen H

I was given a second chance with God.  A long time ago I gave up and left Him.  But then He found me, and it’s been wonderful.  I love it!” 
– Caren B

I’m thankful for CORE.  They never gave up on me.  It’s like that verse in the Bible where you go after that sheep.  I feel like God found me through CORE.  I’d tuned Him out.  I had resentments and selfishness.  But when I became open, willing, and honest, I started working the 12 Steps and all the negativity got removed.  God moved in and changed me.” 
– Gabriel T

I’m thankful for my family.  They were always there for me, even when I wasn’t there for them.  For my dad, especially, for giving me that tough love and doing what was right.  And my kids, who are wonderful, I’m able to be in their lives again.  And I’m very grateful for God, who’s responsible for my recovery.  I prayed to Him.  He answered my prayer and got me to where I needed to be.” 
– Cricket I.” 

I’m thankful for leaders in this program who have the kindness to tell me what I need to hear instead of what I want to hear.  And in a loving way, the way that makes me grow as a person.  They’re like family who I can depend on.  And, of course, I’m thankful for God and His will for my life.  Looking around this room is a great reminder of why I’m here.  I’m able to help the newcomer who comes here just like I did.  Ultimately, I’m very grateful for that.” 
– Dallas C

I had a stroke that should have taken my life.  I’d been a 40-year long drug user, in the hospital and paralyzed all along my left side.  I lost a business, everything I owned, and had no place to go.  I came to CORE in flip flops.  It was only by being humbled that I found my way to God.  Today, I’m walking.  I commenced this program, and I am in the Second Mile.  I volunteer at the hospital and can even help Second Milers along the road.  Who am I thankful for?  I owe my life to God.” 
– Brian L

I’m thankful for rock bottom.  I believed in God but never really had a relationship with Him.  I had to burn every option, every bridge, until God was the only option.  Had I never hit rock bottom, I never would have found God.  I have a new life now.  It’s hard to pick just one thing I’m thankful for today.  I appreciate every moment now.  I’m glad to be able to show others that it is possible to get out of addiction and not be bound in chains.” 
– Kristi K

I’m thankful for so much, my family and health, and my sobriety.  I’m grateful to the Holy Spirit, who gives guidance and direction through conviction and leads me to bigger challenges.  And thankful for CORE, which showed me the way out – how to make a connection with God.  I’m also thankful to be able to serve, to get out of my comfort zone, and be able to help others.” 
– Jeremy H

I’m grateful to God for everything, for restoring my connection back with my family, and for giving me a second chance at life.  I’m very thankful for my CORE family.  The fellowship got me through some rough times.” 
– Jen M

God made it possible for me to be whole again.  I’m able to be with my family now.  I’m thankful to God, this program, and the 12 Steps.  I appreciate my mom for never giving up.  I get emotional just thinking about that.” 
– Brian F

I’m thankful for CORE and for coming here. I totally believe that if you give God control of your life that he will restore and establish you where you need to be.  I’m so thankful for my family and the relationships that have been restored.  And for God, who made me whole.  My eyes have been opened.  I have a good work ethic and believe in myself.  I’m committed to helping other people, which I believe is very important.” 
– Heather S

I was talking with the guys about this last night in the living room.  I’m thankful that God has given me a new attitude and a new heart.   Today I understand that the important things I will do are often the things in my past life I rarely wanted to do.  God has given me new vision, and especially an attitude of humility and service, which only He can accomplish.”
– Nick Z

I’m thankful that I got into a recovery program that saved my life.  CORE showed me how to get closer to God.  And now I can fill my cup and give it to the girls in my house so they can find the peace and serenity that I have.”
– Jeanna K

I’m grateful to God.  He’s the reason why I’m recovered.  He brought me back to where I am today.  I’m really thankful for CORE and my family.  They’re the best!” 
– Daniel B

Just thinking about everybody makes me want to cry.  I’m thankful for my relationship with God and for my family.  And my sobriety.  Today, I’m thankful for everything in my life!” 
– Alexandria P

I’m thankful for new beginnings, because without a second chance in life, I wouldn’t even be here.  And for God, who offered his Son for the forgiveness of all of our sins.  Family and friends, too, and my children.  And everybody at CORE – for the great community.”  
– Bracy S

I’m grateful for my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And my family.  I’m also thankful for the family and friends I have here at CORE, who are my support group, the people I spend my time with and who I look up to.  I owe God everything, without Him my life wouldn’t be possible.” 
– Dylan B

I’m thankful for being here in Branson, at CORE, to start my life over again and build up the tools that I need to be successful on my own.  I’m very grateful to God.  He put good people in my life and made big moves in my life.  I’ve been growing closer to Him, praying more fervently, and recognizing His will for my life.” 
– Terrance M

An Incredible Festival Weekend

An Incredible Festival Weekend

CORE is a happening place.  Something interesting and fun is always going on at one of our recovery centers or residences.  But when so many entertaining activities happen outside of our facilities, in a single weekend, that’s worth writing about!  Such happened last month when Hollister and Branson kicked off the fall festival season with competing events.  CORE took part in both and had a blast!

State of the Ozarks Fest

In mid-September, the bellwethers of fall were upon us.  The evening air became crisp, the pumpkins were ripening, and Friday night football was in full swing.  On Saturday, September 16th, the weather was perfect for the State of the Ozarks Fest in Hollister!

This festival lived up to its billing – a one-day celebration bringing community together in a heightened street fair filled to the brim with food, art, craftsmanship, and uproarious fun, all tied to the history and culture of our land.

CORE’s tent was right next to our friends at Queen City Beard & Mustache Federation, who kindly brought us to this event.  Our Second Milers handed out literature and talked to interested parties about recovery issues.  We also held a free raffle for two beautiful, new bicycles.  

We wish to thank our friends at QCBMF for sponsoring CORE at this festival.  The federation’s mission is to grow hair and communities, and to support charities.  Judging by the public’s response to our tent, all we can say is “Mission Accomplished!”  

A crowd of thousands of people turned out to enjoy the more than 100 vendors and the many activities.  One festival highlight was the Queen City Beard & Mustache Competition.  While several of our CORE people wanted to enter the competition, they quickly learned that it takes more than facial fluff to be in a mustache competition.  The winning peach fuzz has to have style and panache!

MCRSP Recovery Jamboree

On the same day as the SOTO Fest, our Second Milers also were across town in Branson, at a festival sponsored by the Missouri Coalition of Recovery Support Providers. 

The Recovery Jamboree is an outdoor, family event featuring free food, family fun and games, live entertainment, food distribution, and recovery resources.  This annual festival brings together recovery providers from all across the Tri Lakes Area for a day of fun and of making valuable connections.

For our participation, CORE offered putt putt golf for the kids.  Happy children laughed and giggled as they took turns putting colorful golf balls on the golf mini-green.  Parents and friends offered spirited encouragement, and the youngsters’ faces lit up with joy with every successful shot. 

The children were motivated by the thrill of victory, to be sure, but at CORE’s putt putt contest there was much more at stake – prizes!  Every winning shot earned a reward.  Happily, every child who showed the temerity to play successfully sank the putt and took home the prize of their choice.

While the children putted, our Second Milers handed out more literature.  We held another, free raffle for new bicycles for Recovery Jamboree participants, too.

We at CORE give a shout-out and a big thank you to MCRSP for inviting CORE to this treasured event!

CORE Holds Final Creek Commencements and Baptisms of the Summer

CORE Holds Final Creek Commencements and Baptisms of the Summer

On the last summer weekend of the year, CORE gathered together along Bull Creek for our final outdoor commencement ceremony and baptisms.  The sunny day, green trees, and grassy fields contrasted with temperatures in the 70’s and the chilly creek running beside us which hinted at the impending approach of autumn. 

Nestled in picturesque surroundings, the more than 200 in attendance held a celebration for the ages.  First there was fun and a barbeque.  There were games and activities, music, and socializing.  While everybody was mingling, Christos Papanikas and his crew prepared the feast.  They grilled burgers and brats, prepared pasta salad, sliced melons, and made other yummy stuff.  Everybody eventually settled onto lawn chairs and beach blankets for a delicious meal. When all tummies were full, we did baptisms.

Sixteen people were baptized in obedience to our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.  The water was cold, yet the hearts of all in attendance were warm in spirit and faith.  The baptism candidates made public confessions of their faith in our Lord Jesus, and they were immersed into the water by Cary McKee and Bracy Sams.  This was an important foundation for their life as Christians.  We ended up with a bunch of soggy but happy people, and our attention next turned to the graduates of our one-year recovery program.  

Eight clients commenced in all.  Amidst a backdrop of hope and resilience, the commencement ceremony was a poignant celebration of transformation.  The graduates came forward one by one.  Family and friends spoke on their behalf.  Whereupon, they all got roasted by their CORE house managers and friends (in good fun, of course!)

For each, tears of joy flowed freely as heartfelt words and applause resonated through our forest clearing along the creek.  Commencement is an important milestone in the recovery journey for each client.  God has gifted them hope, freedom, and life.  May their commencements mark the beginning on the road to happy destiny for each.  We are so pleased for them!

Bracy led the crowd in prayer to close the ceremonies.  We’ll continue to hold our commencement events at our Springfield and Branson recovery centers until springtime when warm weather returns.