April Fisher met Ben for the first time in 2007 at a Greyhound bus station in Columbia. Years later, waving at each other through the window of a cop car, they thought they would never see each other again.
Throughout their relationship, the two faced substance abuse, homelessness and prison. April got out of prison two years ago and reconnected with Ben online, leading him to purchase a bus ticket to Columbia for a fresh start with the love of his life.
They’ve since gotten back on their feet with the help of Love In the Name of Christ, or Love INC, a faith-based nonprofit that connects churches and community agencies with those in need, and the Extra Mile program, a 16-week program offering transitional housing for families experiencing or facing homelessness.
Love INC is one of many organizations supported by Heart of Missouri United Way, which raises funds and supports volunteer networks to help local social service organizations. In 2017, United Way provided $105,805 of Love INC’s $806,851 budget.
Donors can designate their United Way contributions directly to Love INC. Donations help provide household essentials and survive financially, said Jane Williams, co-founder and program director.
April and Ben are celebrating two years of marriage, graduation from the Extra Mile program, new-found faith and a successful renewal of the lease on their apartment.
The two met on MySpace, and after Ben witnessed April get hit by her ex-husband on Skype he saved money to get a bus ticket from Indiana to Missouri. Ben had been homeless in his hometown of Indianapolis for many years, with a record littered with drug charges and a lingering feeling of hopelessness he couldn’t shake.
“I was mean,” Ben said. “If you had met me then, unless you were helping me get drugs, I would’ve spat in your face and not talked to you. But I knew in that moment I had to come see her on only a couple dollars and blind faith.”
They were initially separated when Bill was arrested for possession of narcotics and spent several years in prison. Alone and back in her hometown of Sedalia, addiction began to retake April’s life. She went to prison for a year after being arrested for burglary and possession of illegal substances.
The two have now been clean for more than four years. With two stable jobs, one in sanitation and the other in sales, they recently renewed the lease on their apartment in Columbia, making it the longest they’ve stayed at a residence of their own in more than 10 years.
“I am clean because I built a new life, and Love INC and Extra Mile have been central to that,” April said. “My church has been central to that. We are in our second lease which is completely unheard of.”
The two lived in an Extra Mile Compass House from September to April 2018. The residence allowed April and Ben to save enough money to lease a place of their own, and aided them with paperwork and processing.
Residents of an Extra Mile Compass House must be families facing or experiencing homelessness. Residents are able to stay for 4 to 6 months and must graduate the Extra Mile financial classes program. Financial coaches are volunteers of the program.
“Donations go toward neighbors in Columbia trying to make ends meet,” Williams said. “Specifically for in-need families, donations provide essentials to help us help them have better lives. These are people struggling to make ends meet who are able to get skills and turn their life around.”
April returned to Boone County after getting out of prison in 2016. Her former Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor told her about the transitional housing programs Columbia offered, such as Love INC.
April applied to several around town. It was during that time that Ben returned, and together they applied for housing at Love INC, which at the time didn’t have space for them. April and Ben started living together at a motel and decided to get married.
The programs offered at the three Extra Mile Compass Houses in central Columbia include finance and budgeting classes. After several months, April and Ben were able to move into a small apartment where they are living today.
It’s the longest the two have stayed in a single residence.
The lessons about finance taught through Extra Mile stays in the forefront of April and Ben’s mind.
“I can hear a voice in my head when I’m buying something saying, now Ben is this a want or a need,” Ben said.
The program offers more than just monetary relief and knowledge. The two built relations and gained a support system of people who wanted to see them succeed.
“We were able to get more than skills through these programs,” Ben said. “I used to try and find things I never had as a kid growing up like family and trust in other people. I had a rough upbringing so things like family wasn’t what I had, and now I do. If I could go back to the day before I came here, I would do everything the exact same.”
April and Ben hope to one day work with the program that helped them get on their feet in Columbia, and operate a food bank and soup kitchen of their own to help people going through the problems they experienced.
“I want to give other people the helping hand I got,” April said. “It’s funny how the more you receive the more you feel like giving.”