KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bobbi Jo Reed has overcome some of the worst stuff life can throw at a person. Now she's using her survival story to connect with recovering addicts in a way that many rehab specialists can't.
"The good news is, I've never served anybody who was more messed up than I was," Reed told FOX4's Karli Ritter. "I'm blessed to have the life I have today and to be able to help so many folks."
Reed runs Healing House, Inc. She founded the non-profit in 2003 after converting an old nursing home into a women's shelter. From there, Healing House started transforming nearby drug houses and vacant homes into recovery centers.
"The dope man moved in next door and started brandishing weapons, selling dope, running prostitutes. So I claimed his house just to protect the women," Reed said.
Healing House now operates 14 houses and 30 apartment units. At any given time, 200 adults and 32 kids are sleeping under roofs provided by the non-profit.
"We had six new babies born this winter," Reed said. "All drug and alcohol free."
Reed's Road to Recovery
Before Reed's non-profit started changing Kansas City for the better, she had to turn her own life around. Her addiction started at a young age, driven by low self-esteem tied to a speech impediment and her weight.
"First time I had a drink, I was 12 years old. And I thought I had arrived. I thought, 'Oh, I finally feel comfortable inside my own skin,'" Reed said.
Reed then spent 22 years addicted to alcohol and drugs. She describes some of that time as living like an animal. She remembers 16 rapes.
"There were times I was so beat down, living under a box car next to a liquor store on 18th street, " Reed said. "There were times I thought, 'Why cant I just die? I just want to die,' because it would have been easier to die."
It's hard for Reed to pick one single "rock bottom." But the death of her father helped kick start her recovery. She admired him, but felt ashamed by her struggles. She was just beginning to rebuild their relationship when he passed. Losing him changed something inside of her.
Her father's death led to a month of binge drinking. When Reed landed in a detox center, she found it cramped, stuffy, and unwelcoming.
"I recognized there were no little bars of soap, or toothpaste, or toothbrushes. People couldn't even get cleaned up," Reed said.
At the time, Reed made extra cash by selling baked goods at a flea market. She started using that cash to buy toiletries for the other patients in the detox center.
"When I started doing that for the first time in my life, I really felt that maybe I did have some type of purpose," she said. "I had never felt that in my whole life."
That purpose helped keep Reed committed to recovery. She started going to church and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Then, the death of her mother put her sobriety to the test.
"I remember feeling so empty. I had never really been through that kind of pain without something to anesthetize myself," Reed said. "That night I cried out to God and begged him to not let me go back to where I came from."
Reed says she woke up the next morning with a new inner strength and the Holy Spirit started leading her steps.
"[God] kept showing me the way to go, what to do next," Reed said. "I thought I was going to help a few women, that I was going to buy one home."
The asking price for that first run-down nursing home was $50,000. Reed saw it as a sign: a $50,000 inheritance check from her mother had just arrived 2 days earlier.
Building a Recovery Family
At Healing House, Reed is called "Mom" more often than Bobbi Jo. She treats every person getting help there like family.
"We eat meals together, we have meeting together, we go to church together, we have family game night," Reed said. "I'm the mom and the dad in many ways. I hold them accountable. And when they're not doing what they should, I give them a nudge of encouragement."
She sees a bit of herself in the people applying to live there.
"I see me walking through the door, and I'm just grateful that I can be helpful to them. And I know 100% that they can get better," she said.
Since she walked in their shoes, Reed knows what they need. Healing House gives new arrivals a shower, new clothes, and a haircut. Reed helps decorate and furnish the rooms so they don't feel like an institution.
Healing House also has a strict structure. For the first 30 days, residents can't have a cell phone, an internet connection, or even walk without an escort. After that probationary period, residents are still expected to spend every Sunday and Tuesday night with the Healing House community.
"Sometimes I can be very stern," Reed said. "It's not an easy journey, but here they have a big, supportive community all around them to help them through the process."
Even with room for 200 adults, Healing House turns away more than 100 people a week. It's looking to expand again and welcome more people into the recovery family.
Bobbi Jo Reed is already "mom" to many, and the community she built will help nurture many others who haven't met her yet.
If you are seeking help, Healing House has a 24-hour hotline to connect people with resources: 855-770-HOPE.
If you'd like to donate money or goods to Healing House, here is how.
Reed wrote a book about her life, Beautifully Broken.