HICKORY – St. Stephens High senior Josh Killian knows there is a stigma against certain kinds of people, stereotypes some use to minimize the value of others.

“The people we’re helping this year, they’re addicts, been in prison. A lot of people would just think they’re a bunch of drug dealers, a bunch of homeless people, that they’re not going to try and get their life back on track,” Killian said. “We’re trying to raise awareness and show what they’ve gone through and how they’ve worked this hard to get their life back to where they want it to be.”

Killian is one of the students performing in this year’s Tractor Shed Theatre’s civic engagement event focused on supporting Exodus Homes in Hickory, called “Stones of hope: Stories of Recovery.”

It will be Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) at 7 p.m. at Exodus Ministry Outreach Church. Admission is $10, with all proceeds going back to the outreach program.

Exodus Homes is a faith-based United Way agency, offering transitional and permanent supportive housing for homeless recovering addicts, alcoholics and formerly incarcerated people, returning to the community from treatment programs and prison, according to exodushomes.com.

The program is led by the Rev. Reggie Longcrier, executive director, and the Rev. Susan Smith Walker, assistant executive director.

Walker said it was no surprise to her that many of the students had witnessed addiction and incarceration in their own lives with family or friends.

“These problems affect everyone in our community. I hope that they learn people can recover if they get the right kinds of help like we give at Exodus Homes, and are willing to do the work,” Walker said. “I hope they will avoid falling into the same traps in their own life.”

For the last six years, the St. Stephens High theatre students decided what community organization they wanted to use their art to help support.

“The amazing part of why we picked Exodus is because our assistant principal (Chris Johnson) actually was a participant in Exodus and has an amazing success story,” Tractor Shed Theatre Director Molly Rice said.

There will be stories from five individuals who have benefited from their time with Exodus Homes, including Johnson, who took the time to visit the Tractor Shed and share his story with the students.

“A lot of people don’t know where I come from, my history, my struggles,” Johnson said. “When I heard Ms. Rice had two or three organizations they were considering, I’m thinking in my mind Exodus Homes. I know that program very well, and it would be robbery if I did not share my experience with those students and how I got to where I am today.”

In 2003, Johnson was homeless living in the shelter. He was a school teacher who had lost everything because of drugs and alcohol. He credits the people and programs at Exodus Homes for getting his life turned back around.

The greatest challenge for the Tractor Shed Theatre students is getting the stories they create as accurate as possible.

“You’re absolutely representing that person and that’s scary because that person is going to be there to see it played back,” Rice said.

One story follows the recovery of a woman who battled a drug addiction with the help of Exodus Homes.

“She shared at length with us about her relationship with her daughter and how Exodus helped heal her,” Rice said.

The title of the show reflects on a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., “out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” which was from his “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963, according to The Washington Center’s website, twc.edu.

Past civic engagement performances by the Tractor Shed Theatre group include: Catawba Regional Hospice, Catawba Valley Behavioral Health Care and Guardian Ad Litem of Catawba Valley.

“We wanted to help continue our work of helping to shed light and erase some of the stigma on substance abuse, so this was the perfect match this year,” Rice said.

Killian admitted performing in the civic engagement project is all about stepping outside comfort zones for the students. This is his third year participating in the project and made the most of the group’s visit to Exodus Homes.

“This year I took more time to listen and had more of a connection,” Killian said. “I want to do justice when telling a person’s story. I don’t want to get anything wrong, and it’s a little bit nerve racking.”

Fellow senior, Alex Gibbs, is performing for the first time in this year’s civic engagement project and was inspired after seeing the show for hospice last year.

“I thought it was amazing, especially to work with an organization like this, having a group of students do so much good with creative arts,” Gibbs said. “I think this year’s story is a very important story to tell as well because not only is it dealing with homelessness, but it’s also dealing with substance abuse.

“I think it’s important to show people can change, and there is hope if you need it.”

Walker said the public needs to hear these kind of stories, to know that Exodus Homes is in the community to help people who have “burned all their bridges and have lost everything due to their addiction or incarceration.”

“We have a track record of success and believe it is never too late for anyone. Nothing is too hard for God,” Walker said.

Exodus Homes is located at 122 Eighth Ave. Drive SW in Hickory. For more information, call 828-324-4870 or visit exodushomes.com.

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