Men who turn to Northland-based Hope Thru Housing, a residential drug-addiction and alcohol-treatment center, must make a difficult decision.

President, CEO and founder Dennis Kerr knows that signing up for nearly two years of therapy and vocational training is a daunting commitment. It's one he made when entering a treatment facility in Durham, North Carolina.

What it came down to, Kerr said recently at the HTH Farm Market on Columbus' northwest side, was realizing two years to get one's life back was nothing compared to 30 years of substance abuse that caused it to fall apart.

"The behaviors and the patterns didn't happen overnight, and they can't change overnight," Kerr said.

In preparing to launch Hope Thru Housing in 2010, Kerr said, he opted to follow the "entrepreneurial model" of the organization in North Carolina, where he had gotten clean and sober and where he worked as a staff member for 10 years.

The central Ohio native returned home to be closer to his aging parents and to replicate the program that had done so much for him.

The initial enterprise to provide funding for treatment services, first offered in 2012, was a Christmas-tree lot in 2011, Kerr said.

Hope Thru Housing, which has offices on Huntley Road, operates a residential treatment facility in east Columbus that can accommodate five to six men, the farm market at 2340 W. Dublin-Granville Road and a lawn-care service.

The operations and businesses are staffed primarily by Hope Thru Housing residents, according to the nonprofit organization's website. It allows Hope Thru Housing to provide services free of charge and is consistent with its goals of creating a sense of community and allowing residents to take responsibility for themselves and their treatment, according to the website.

"Work's an important part of the therapy," Kerr said.

About 60 percent of the operating costs for Hope Thru Housing are generated through the farm market and lawn service, he said. The rest comes from private donations.

Stephanie Stranges, Kerr's stepdaughter and development director for Hope Thru Housing, said the farm market in particular allows program participants to interact with the public as they begin to put their lives together.

It allows customers to see that drug addicts generally don't fit stereotypes, she said.

Initially, Stranges said, people shopping at the market have no idea the employees helping them are in a residential treatment program.

"When they found that out, it's pretty powerful that the face of recovery is just like all of us," she said.

During the last three months of the two-year program, participants are required to find regular jobs in the community.

"To me, one of the biggest things is the longevity of the program," said HTH house manager Tim Shepard, who went through the same North Carolina facility as Kerr. "Twenty-one months in-house is a great benefit."

Kerr has plans to expand Hope Thru Housing to a program able to treat as many as 50 people at a time, including women, whom he said are underserved. A four-unit apartment building is undergoing rehabilitation and will allow expansion of the program to 14 people. It will allow the east Columbus residential facility to be used for women.

Down the road, Kerr said, he plans to purchase homes in need of rehabilitation that later will be sold to low-income residents after Hope Thru Housing participants have worked on them while learning a trade.

"That really is the most important thing," Kerr said. "Work ethic is something they've lost or maybe never, ever had."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1