The Well is deep
Two of the main figures at the nonprofit ministry in Chico tell their stories and share how The Well has changed over its 16 years
A tiny paper sign taped to the door going into the office of David Kroessig, CEO/administrator of The Well Ministry of Rescue on the north Esplanade, reads, “Try our Sundays. They are better than Baskin-Robbins.”
Kroessig (pronounced “Kressig”) and Neil Bennett—co-founder of The Well, along with his wife, Janet—were seated inside the small office decorated with framed pictures of Jesus, the Last Supper and majestic sailing ships.
On the wall behind Kroessig’s head hung a framed diploma from the Association of Christian Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors Institute showing that he is a certified substance-abuse counselor.
Bennett began our interview by recalling the modest beginnings of the nonprofit Christian rescue mission and residential treatment facility. On Nov. 1, 1993, he and Janet converted a 12-foot trailer in the back yard of their Broadway Avenue home into a small homeless shelter, able to house four people at a time.
“It took us from June 1992 to November 1993 to [do all the paperwork to] get the corporation together as a nonprofit charitable organization,” said Bennett, “and then we became a mission. … We started taking the homeless off the streets and giving them a home.”
After adding a second trailer to the Broadway property, the Bennetts relocated The Well in 1995 to a two-story, eight-bedroom house on a ranch in Durham that housed 13 men.
A seven-bedroom home on Fourth Avenue, housing 22 men, came next, followed by a fourth place on Marigold Avenue in 1997—a two-storied house with a pool and a separate bunkhouse—that could take in “a little over 30 guys,” said Bennett.
The Well moved to its current location in 2000. Bennett and his wife live in a small second-story apartment above the facility. Since 1993, The Well has grown via several incarnations—each one a little bigger than the one before—into the 60-bed facility that it is today, reliant in part upon the generous donations of goods and services from various individuals and businesses in the community.
“We’ve always lived really close with the guys,” said Bennett, who gets up every morning between 5 and 6 to begin his day of overseeing his ministry of rescue.
The Well takes in men with substance-abuse and/or living-skills problems. Eleven of The Well’s residents are parolees living there under an agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The Well also oversees a residential treatment home for 14 women called The Sarah Home for Women (“That’s my wife’s baby,” Bennett said), as well as a drive-through lube shop, The Well Experience restaurant, and The Well Ministry of General Contracting. Well disciples (they are not referred to as “clients”) have the opportunity to learn a marketable trade before they graduate from the facility’s 12-month, 12-step, Christian-based program. All vocational programs are headed up by graduates of The Well.
Bennett credited the two times he stayed in a rescue mission in Grants Pass, Ore., in the early 1990s (before he married Janet), being homeless in Chico at one point, and becoming a born-again Christian with giving him the conviction that “God wanted me to start a mission.”
The 66-year-old Chico native, whose ancestors came to the area during the Bidwell era, briefly explained what led him to his years of wandering and substance abuse.
“In 1973, I was busted and was sentenced to federal prison for five years [he served only two] for conspiracy to possess unregistered firearms, and I became a drug addict after that—crank. I’d never used drugs before that.”
Kroessig is also an ex-substance abuser.
“I was on the streets in Chico in 1998,” Kroessig recalled, “and it was suggested that I might want to get in recovery. That was my attorney’s suggestion, because I’d been arrested again for drug charges.
“I’ve been here [at The Well] for 11 years, but my first year was as a disciple,” Kroessig continued. “I was a ‘backslidden’ Christian when I came here—meaning we believe in Jesus, but we’re not listenin’.”
After graduation, Kroessig stayed on as a missionary and has been an administrator for nine years and CEO for five.
“We take in hurting and wounded people,” said Kroessig, “many of whom have lost their way in life. We get referrals from probation, parole, behavioral health and The Esplanade House [a transitional shelter for homeless families with children].”
The Well also takes walk-ins right off the street.
“When people call on the telephone, they often ask me, ‘What does it cost to go through The Well?’ ” Kroessig continued, “and I tell them it’s the price of obedience.”
The Well’s mission statement makes it clear that that obedience is to “the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God.” Well disciples are expected to attend on-premises Bible study as often as 15 times per week and church twice every Sunday. In addition, each disciple is required to do certain assigned daily chores, as well as learn a vocation at one of the training facilities, such as the restaurant or the auto detailing shop behind the restaurant. All the men eat together (and say grace) at every meal, like a big family.
And, of course, they are not allowed to use drugs or alcohol, or even tobacco. Random monitoring sees to that.
“We don’t ever kick anybody out of here, but if they continue to choose to do what they are not supposed to, they’re asked to leave of their own choice,” is how Bennett put it.
More than a thousand men have come and gone through The Well’s doors in 16 years, with many repeats and many success stories. But Kroessig shies away from giving out hard numbers.
“Success rate? I’m not even going to speculate because success is an abstract term,” he said. “It means so many different things to so many people.”
Instead, he told a story of two men walking toward one another on the beach. One man keeps bending over, picking something up and throwing it in the ocean. As the men get closer, the one man can see that the other is picking up stranded, dying starfish that have been washed up by the tide and tossing them back into the water.
“How can you expect to make a difference? There are hundreds and hundreds of starfish,” says one man to the other.
“It made a difference to that one,” replies the man, pointing to a starfish he has just thrown back into the sea.
“It made a difference to that one,” Kroessig repeated. “The need is big. We’re just filling part of it.”
“I remember this one man, who started out broken and wounded, and as he went through the program, he healed himself,” said Kroessig. “He ended up going to China as a missionary to spread the gospel over there. He tells me he went and taught some of the same things he learned here.”
“Most everything that goes on here, I have been through it,” Bennett said. “Been there, done that. I really believe that’s why the Lord put me in this position.”
“Because we’ve come out of it ourselves, we’re familiar with what it takes to come out,” said Kroessig. “If a guy is willing to walk through that gate, man, he’s overcome a lot of barriers already.”