Bakersfield sobriety house giving addicts second chance by teaching construction, life skills

Arguably the No. 1 issue of concern in California for the average resident is the state’s growing homeless crisis. And while state and local governments continue to spend millions to house and feed the homeless, a Bakersfield building contractor is doing his part to help those in need get back on their feet.

John Sabovich is addressing what he believes is the root of the problem: addiction. Through a special work training program and sober living a house, he’s hoping he can give people a reason to stay sober.

If you visit one of his construction sites, you won’t see anything out of the ordinary. At one particular home renovation in Trabuco Canyon, Sabovich’s crew was hard at work to get the job done, but their shared goal wasn’t the only thing they all had in common.

The members of the construction crew all have shared experiences with addiction.

Nick Gulley’s addiction journey began when he started using “soft drugs,” like marijuana and mushrooms, around the age of 15. He later started using hard drugs like cocaine. George Lopez said he became an alcoholic as a kid. Michael Sims said he abused both alcohol and drugs despite watching first-hand as addiction destroyed his family.

Nick, Michael and George are part of Sabovich’s crew. Each of them went from homeless addicts to work together in construction. But traveling the bumpy road to recovery is another story.

Sabovich called the scourge of addiction and drug abuse a “true epidemic,” and said his personal experiences with it led to his mission to help these men and others like them.

“My daughter had a severe drug problem,” Sabovich said. “I had a very unique opportunity, even though she was an adult child, to intervene. Fortunately, through tough love, it worked.”

Sabovich said he saved his daughter and is now trying to save others. The building contractor by trade, is also the founder and CEO of the Epiphany Foundation — an idea that started with a suggestion.

“I was remodeling a five-bedroom house and I asked one of the [subcontractors]’What do you think I should do with this,’ and he said, ‘Have you thought about a sober living facility?’

So, John turned a Bakersfield rental property into a sober house, where Nick, Michael and George have found refuge while learning to stay sober. John realized these men, and others like them, needed more.

“I looked around and everybody was sitting around twiddling their thumbs and I said, ‘how is anybody going to go and get over this addiction?’”

That’s when he had the epiphany. He started a work exchange program to teach those struggling with addiction construction skills. They are also provided an allowance, clothing, room and board, and includes meals.

The program works like a classroom or an apprentice program. Sabovich will work on remodels or repairs and the men of the program learn hands-on skills.

“The apprentice program is the age-old way of teaching somebody how to do it,” Sabovich said.

The program is self-supporting and receives no government funding through tax dollars. The men learn marketable construction skills while staying sober, and it’s entirely voluntary. The men in the program are there because they want to be.

For some of them, their shared experiences dealing with homelessness and addiction have made it easier to stay on the right path.

“I am learning new skills I never knew before,” Gulley said. “It’s been really cool to learn and grow with a bunch of other guys that have had the same problems as me, people with completely different lives but one thing is common between all of us, and we can all relate to.”

The men all have a story and a goal related to their sobriety. Gully’s addiction destroyed his marriage. Now, he wants to get clean, and return to Texas where his young son lives with his ex-wife.

“That is the most important thing to me, getting back to him,” Gully said. “He is 3 right now… I do want to get back and be as good a dad as I can be.”

Michael Sims said he’s received multiple job offers since taking part in the program, but for the time being, he plans to focus on sobriety and helping the other men of the program.

“I need to be here,” Sims said. “I choose to stay here, because I tell these men, ‘I’m committed to you guys.’”

George is just 21 years old and has been an addict since a child growing up in Ontario. When his girlfriend kicked him out, he ended up in jail for assault, and then was living homeless on the street.

“I was tired of living like that, the life of chasing a beer, I was just sick and tired of it,” Lopez said.

He said the experiences he’s learned while being in the program will help him get his like together.

“I know I’m going to get back on my feet,” said Lopez. “I’m confident that I’m going to stay sober.”

While Lopez said he has reconnected with his mother in Ontario, Sims, who grew up in Santa Maria, is another story. The 45-year-old recovering addict whose father, brother and wife all died of drug or alcohol addiction has now begun repairing the relationship with his five children and several grandchildren. He has not yet been able to get through to his mother, who he says will not answer his calls.

“I don’t know how to make it right, and that bothers me, because I love her,” Sims said. “I wish I could go there and give her a hug and tell her I’m sorry, because I didn’t get that chance with my dad.”

Other members of Sims’ family said they hope his work in the program will lead to the first steps in repairing their relationship.

If you want to learn more about the Epiphany Foundation and its sober living home, visit their website or call 1-866-240-1100.

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