BATTLE CREEK – The moment was admittedly more emotional for James Sunnock than he thought it would be.
Standing inside the once abandoned home at 24 Arthur St. on Wednesday, Sunnock, lead pastor of Victory Life Church, held back the tears ready to slip over his wide smile.
Victory Life Church purchased the 104-year-old home from the Calhoun County Land Bank Authority in 2021. In partnership with Hood Church, Victory Life has since converted the space into a faith-based rehabilitation home dubbed “Hope House.”
“We thought this was originally going to be a 10-month project, but then COVID-19 hit, costs went through the roof, supplies disappeared and we just could not abandon this project, we believed in it so much,” Sunnock said during Wednesday’s grand opening ceremony. “We’ve had to persevere through codes being redefined and prices and materials. It is really overwhelming to walk in and to see the level of excellence and that we did it.”
Hope House is a collaborative project spearheaded by pastor Raul Maysonet of Hood Church and Sunnock. The house was purchased through the Land Bank’s Transform This Home program for $20,000, receiving roughly $400,000 in renovations — the majority funded through donations by church members — ahead of Wednesday’s grand opening.
Hope House will have up to six residents, who will ideally live in the home for a year upon completion of the Haven of Rest Ministries’ Life Recovery Program for single men dealing with substance dependency, homelessness, or both. The first residents are expected to move in by the end of the year.
The Hope House program will follow the Oxford House Recovery Homes model of a self-run abstinence program but will be faith-based. Maysonet will manage the home and lead meetings and prayer groups, although residents are free to attend any church of their choosing. Residents will be required to find work and pay rent, which will be based on their individual earnings, and each will hold various roles in the residence such as house president, house secretary and chore coordinator.
“Even the house itself got a second chance,” Sunnock said. “It’s a great representation of what can happen when a community is willing to invest love and resources. It means revitalization and second chances for people and the home.”
Maysonet, a former gang member from Los Angeles, said he has been sober for nearly 10 years after finding his calling while imprisoned in Vancouver, Washington.
After his release, Maysonet lived at an Oxford Recovery House, where he began addressing his personal trauma. He said his younger brother and mother each died separately by homicide.
In many ways, Maysonet feels the Arthur Street home, abandoned for years before it came into possession of the Calhoun County Land Bank Authority, represents his own life.
“It was broken, it was hollow, it was abandoned, nobody cared about it,” Maysonet said. “But it took a conglomerate of people coming together from every walk of life, every race, every color, to come together to make this a reality.”
Maysonet connected with Sunnock through the help of Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker.
Reviewing crime data in the city with local clergy in 2017-18, Blocker said he began to realize that churches in the downtown Battle Creek area were right in the middle of these concentrations of violence and often lacked the resources of the more affluent, suburban churches .
In subsequent one-on-one discussions with Sunnock and suburban pastors, Blocker urged them to direct their resources and support inward.
“This is about not just restoring people but also community and neighborhood and this is a good physical manifestation of that,” Blocker said of the Hope House development. “Churches in America today love to go everywhere else and help other populations but the reality of it is, among my cops and clergy, we were able to show that that need is right here.”
Maysonet and Sunnock said they hope to open additional rehabilitation homes in future years. Above all, Maysonet said the focus is on changing lives and helping people improve their chances of avoiding relapse.
“To give dignity to the men that are coming into this house is the No. 1 priority, to let them know that they are loved, that they are accepted, that they’re no longer abandoned,” Maysonet said. “People have not turned their backs on you, the community cares about you. This is proof.”
Contact reporter Greyson Steele at [email protected]