Growth of Amazing Grace Ministries of Gilbert has been attributed not only to hard work and dedication of its founding members but to the efforts of numerous individuals, law enforcement officials, judicial system members and area churches.
The local faith-based rehabilitation program began two and a half years ago teaching men who wanted to break their drug addictions while housing them in a rented, single-wide mobile home on the outskirts of Gilbert, said Rev. Wyman Ezell Jr., the organization’s founder and Gilbert First Baptist Church’s pastor.
Other founders were Dustin Carroll, youth pastor and deacon at Gilbert First Baptist and Seth Graham, also a deacon at Gilbert First Baptist, and Larry Jackson from Coax Baptist Church.
“Amazing Grace Ministries was started by us going into jails and prisons,” Ezell said. “When they got out they were still battling addictions, and we would place them in treatment programs.”
Ezell said the program started with no funding.
“We stepped out on faith with no money, no nothing and rented a trailer house,” Ezell said. “We use to sell peanut butter fudge as a fundraiser to pay our bills.”
Now, over 30 men are housed in a 6,000 square foot facility. For the first three months, they are required to go through intensive, nightly Bible study programs. After graduating from the first phase, they are employed locally and continue to go to church three to four nights a week.
“We give them a sober-living environment,” Ezell said.
Participants are kept busy working, studying and helping people while in the program.
“We have helped people move and remodel their house,” Ezell said. “When the freeze came through, we fixed the elderly’s water pipes. We put school clothes on kids. We’re working on a water well in Africa. We are spreading to all kind of different things.”
Many are employed through AG (Amazing Grace) Restaurant in Gilbert or work in a 10-acre garden. The produce from the garden provides much of the restaurant’s vegetables, a fund raising method and has been donated to many area residents. John Carroll, a local farmer, allowed the program to use a portion of land of his land for the garden and provided a water well for the project.
Plans are in place to move AG Restaurant from its current location next to Gilbert’s Town Hall to the old Vickie’s Restaurant, tripling its size. Profit from AG Restaurant go to fund Amazing Grace Ministries.
“In the future when the vegetables from our garden start producing, you can come in here and get farm to table food,” Ezell said. “It will be home grown. Also, you are supporting a great cause.”
Amazing Grace Ministries not only has AG Restaurant for funding, but local churches also financially back the organization. Churches like Holly Grove Baptist, Crockett Point Baptist, Coax Baptist, Rayville First Baptist, Bethany Worship Center, Life Church, Life Church LaSalle, Sardis Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist, First Baptist Church of Wisner, Chase Baptist, Turkey Creek Baptist and Fort Necessity Baptist give money and many members volunteer.
“God has blessed us, and churches have gotten on board,” Ezell said. “This is a group effort, a community-wide effort.”
Amazing Grace Ministries does not focus on just one specific denomination, Ezell said.
“We cross denominational boundaries,” he said. “Amazing Grace Ministries is not specific to just one denomination. If we are going to win this war against drug addiction, all churches are going to have to come together. Drug addiction knows no boundaries. It affects all races, churches, families. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, black or white.”
Along with churches, Ezell said the Como Charitable Foundation has been a “tremendous help” to Amazing Grace Ministries.
The Como Charitable Foundation works to improve lives of Franklin Parish people thoughts grants to help people help themselves with education being at the forefront of their mission.
Along with the restaurant, garden and churches, Ezell said local and area law enforcements officials and judicial system members play a key role in Amazing Grace Ministries’ success.
“We work closely with Franklin Parish Sheriff, Richland Parish Sheriff and Catahoula Parish Sheriff officers,” Ezell said. “We are blessed to have a sheriff’s department that wants to help people. Our parish is blessed to have a man like Kevin Cobb. Richland Parish also has a great sheriff with Gary Gilley. He is a solid Christian man.”
Not only sheriffs but the judicial system has given support to the efforts of Amazing Grace Ministeries, Ezell said.
“Our judges want to help people,” Ezell said. “Will Barham, Steven Dean have always been so helpful when I went to them and asked for help.”
Barham and Dean preside over the Fifth Judicial District, covering Franklin, Richland and West Carroll parishes.
Amazing Grace Ministries also draws those suffering from addictions from neighboring parishes Concordia and Catahoula.
“Judges Kathy Ezell and John Reeves have helped us,” Ezell said. Johnson and Reeves preside over the Seventh Judicial District, covering Concordia and Catahoula Parish.
Additionally, Ezell is vice chairman of Northeast Louisiana Substance Abuse (NELSA) in Winnsboro where he works to rid drug addiction regionally.
“Local businesses have also been very helpful to us, especially Dr. Reed’s office and Community Pharmacy,” Ezell said.
As addiction continues to ravage families and communities, volunteers plan to keep fighting and expanding Amazing Grace Ministries, possibly with a branch offering its services to women.
“We are looking to start a women’s facility,” Ezell said. “Our community has been so supportive. We couldn’t have done this without their help.”