Cameron Birk and Bowman Crego celebrate Jeremy overcoming addiction.

Transformed By Renewing Of The Mind: CDA’s Sustainable Addiction Recovery Program

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On any given Thursday evening, a small men’s group gathers at their shared residence in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The group, seeking to recover from drug and alcohol addiction, meet as part of their transitional housing program, ABSOLUTE Ministries.

Amidst their hectic schedules, the men of ABSOLUTE Ministries prioritize their weekly chapel nights. These gatherings, led by Bowman Crego, 28, are a time for worship, Bible study, and life-mapping sessions. The group shares their vision for a healthier, addiction-free life during these moments.

Crego began working at ABSOLUTE full-time in 2023 after overcoming addictions of his own. In his role working at ABSOLUTE’s men’s facility in Coeur d’Alene, he walks alongside the group as they re-enter the workforce, integrate into a local church, and develop practical living skills.

“To have ministries like this is so important,” Crego said. “We’re actually taking members and teaching them how to live.”

Absolute’s weekly chapel night at the CDA men’s campus.

Operating in 13 dwellings across Western Washington and Kootenai County, ABSOLUTE Ministries provide support for people coming out of rehabilitation programs. Their mission is to assist these individuals in leading successful lives, free from drug and alcohol addiction. This support spans six crucial areas: housing, full-time job placement, transportation, financial structure and guidance, Department of Corrections and legal assistance, and an authored mentoring program.

Cameron Birk, 40, founded the 501c3 in 2009. His journey began six years earlier when he enrolled in a rehab program for his addictions, and began working there after completing the program. Frustrated by the high rates of recidivism and the struggles of those sincerely seeking renewed life, Birk was inspired to create his own aftercare program for those genuinely seeking a new path.

“A lot of times, people think that being successful in recovery is just about housing or having a stable place to be,” Birk said. “But life has so many more facets than that. When one area of their life falters, all the other dominoes fall too. A comprehensive approach is required, especially in the critical time after rehab completion or getting out of a highly structured environment.”

In addition to receiving support services, program members participate in a weekly class/chapel time and complete a workbook designed to facilitate a new way of life. The benchmark-based curriculum provides instruction on practical skills such as maintaining a job, saving money, obtaining transportation, meeting new friends, and eating healthy. Developing these everyday competencies shows members “how to be sustainable and live a healthy, upstanding life.”

“I’m not a believer in doing time – just watching the earth go around the sun and calling it a success,” Birk said. “People’s motives have to change. They must achieve things, engage in new processes, and have something happening on the inside that achieves observable progress.”

Birk authored the college-accredited workbook, which earns members 45 college credits upon completion. It’s divided into four seasons (chapters), each containing a dozen benchmarks and coaching videos. Each season’s benchmarks are nearly identical and build on each other. The intention is to equip individuals with the internal structure to stay disciplined, eventually not requiring the program’s structure.

“We’re developing a new rut,” Birk said. “It’s a new regular rhythm; a new regular pattern of living that they learn to appreciate, enjoy, and value. After a while, they do it because they appreciate the results. In the beginning, they do it because they are told to. It has all the facets of everyday life, but with limited structure in the areas they would otherwise falter in.”

As part of their program, members are required to initiate a mentoring relationship with an individual of their choice from their church. These volunteers must complete a 60-minute online curriculum and pass a background check before serving with ABSOLUTE. These local church goers regularly meet with, support, and instruct their mentees as their “intentional friend.”

“The goal is ultimately to get these individuals who are in our program grafted into the local church,” Birk said. “We do that through this mentoring relationship.”

“They don’t need another set of programs to do,” Crego said. “We need people who are willing to walk alongside individuals to teach them how to live.”

This relationship allows members to practice “ugly honesty,” another benchmark in their curriculum. Birk said this “means telling the truth no matter how ugly it is because we’re accepted because of Jesus.”

“If we’re honest, we’re all messed up and need saving,” Bird said. “So, let’s say it and move forward, thanks to God.”

The average stay in the program is twenty months, however Birk measures success by members demonstrating measurable progress in specific areas of their life “with the staff team and limited structure around them.” Individuals become eligible to “season up” or graduate by finishing their goals and the benchmarks outlined in their workbooks.

“At first ABSOLUTE is very involved; they’re facilitating the process,” Birk said. “But as they journey through the four seasons … it becomes sustainable. And when they leave Absolute, the only thing that changes is where they sleep at night. It’s genuinely seamless.”

Birk, right, celebrates John’s graduation from ABSOLUTE.

Seven Spring 2024 graduations will be celebrated at the program’s May 31 fundraising event in Auburn, Washington. At the Coeur d’Alene men’s facility, recent graduate John secured his own housing, paid off his debts, obtained his driver’s license, and involved himself in a local church community. Another member recently graduated after overcoming fetal alcohol syndrome and learning to read while in the program.

ABSOLUTE also received a new member from the Kootenai County Jail after Crego witnessed to him and baptized him on Christmas Eve. Last year, another program graduate in Washington won Employee of the Year in a large school district because their infectious attitude changed their workplace culture. These are just a few examples of life-altering success.

ABSOLUTE’s influence extends beyond Washington and Idaho. The program’s authored model has been used to start another transitional housing program in Montana with another in the works in Oregon. The team recently met with a Tampa Bay, Florida-based group to open a women’s program there. The group plans to return to the Northwest soon to be trained and equipped to take the model back to Florida.

“The model is built and replicable,” Birk said. “What makes us different is that it’s authored, developed, and put on paper. It’s a limited-structure program that can be replicated all over. We essentially make rehab programs more successful. Too many people are completing rehab programs only to go back over and over. It’s unnecessary and very expensive, and sadly, some people don’t make it back.”

ABSOLUTE’s members currently number 44 and come from a variety of backgrounds. All applicants must be at least eighteen, have completed a rehab program, and have a desire to follow God. Additionally, they must be willing to work full-time, be challenged and mentored, not registered as a sex offender, and pay a monthly tuition of $1,200.

Member tuition will fund 48% of ABSOLUTE’s operating expenses during the 2024 fiscal year. Personal donations, business sponsors, and grants comprise the remainder of the budget, totaling just over 1.3 million dollars. 

“Donors like to give because the members pay for about half of their cost from their own earned income,” Birk said. “That means they care. That’s good news for donors. We’re serving people who really want to change.”

ABSOLUTE currently operates a single facility in Idaho for men; however, several women from Kootenai County are presently enrolled in women’s facilities in Washington. ABSOLUTE’s next goal is to open a house for women in Coeur d’Alene. The program will be hosting a fundraiser to raise half of the cost needed to open a facility, which will be $75,000. They are still looking for a multi-family property for the women’s program.

The event is scheduled later this year, on October 4 at 5:30 p.m. and hosted at Lake City Church in Coeur d’Alene. Funds will be raised through business sponsorship opportunities, a silent auction, and a donation opportunity at the dinner event. Further details are on their website.

As a ministry, Birk’s mission with ABSOLUTE is to invest in people who need another shot at life, just like he did. Referring to Romans 12:2, he seeks to break the cycle of addiction by allowing the Holy Spirit to renew one’s mind, which “means new life for this people group.”

“It means sustainable life,” Birk said. “It also means supernatural fulfillment no matter the circumstances. The circumstances can suck, and a lot of times they do, but there’s a joy and a peace on the inside that surpasses the circumstances and empowers us. Let’s be honest; that’s what we all need.”