On Nov. 14, 2000, Angelia Anderson snuffed her last cigarette, made up her mind to beat her crack cocaine addiction and walked inside the Victory Outreach recovery center in Denver.

It was the moment that’s led to staying clean for 19 years and a life dedicated to helping others suffering from addiction, homelessness and domestic abuse. Neither Angelia’s journey to that defining moment, nor her trials since then have come easy.

After high school in 1980, Angelia lost her grandmother. Devastated, she turned to alcohol and crack cocaine.

“I just didn’t care if I lived or died at that point. I didn’t care anymore. I just didn’t care. My life was, it was a mess,” Angelia said. “When you live in that lifestyle, and you have that mindset, that’s all you can think about is getting that drug, getting that drug, getting that drug. And you do anything. I’m telling you you would do anything.”

Treasure House of Hope founder and executive director Angelia Anderson embraces Nicole Thomas, back to camera. Thomas has been in-and-out of the program and visited for the first time in two years on May 24. Photo by Ali C. M. Watkins/Sentinel Colorado

In 1999, Angelia moved to Aurora from San Antonio, Texas hoping to escape a life of alcohol and crack.

It didn’t work.

She soon found the same life, in and out of motel rooms in the area, meeting dealers. When she didn’t have money, she would steal or trade sex for drugs.

“I was gonna die in that addiction,” Angelia said. “And I start having these visions of me opening a hotel door and one of the drug dealers or somebody I stole from just blowing my face off.”

The nightmares became too much. She decided to make a change.

Her cousin told her about getting involved in religion and encouraged her to call Victory Outreach, a Christian church network with nationwide partnerships.

“So I called and sure enough I spoke to the director there and she says, ‘Come on, sis. Come on.’ I was  just in tears.” Angelia said. “Every time I would drive going in that direction, somehow I wouldn’t go. It was two or three weeks before I got to 3030 Downing.”

But she finally went, she was ready to never drink another drop or smoke another bowl.

She made it through recovery. Then Angelia got her Colorado Addiction Counselor license from Center Of Community Excellence And Social Justice in 2009. Angelia wanted to help others with a similar past.

She worked as a case manager at the Bo Matthews Center, which opened in 2005 at the same location she’d gotten clean, for several years before being hired as the women’s home director for Victory Outreach Denver in conjunction with the center.

Athena Chandler holds her 4 year old son, Boston, at the Mile High Commissary kitchen, where Treasure House bakes their bread, on June 21. Chandler has her son over at the Treasure House living quarters every Friday. Photo by Ali C. M. Watkins

In 2008, she married her husband, Dwight Anderson, who shared a passion for working with people experiencing homelessness, domestic violence and addiction.

When Angelia was in recovery with Victory Outreach, she went on late night searches for women in need, called “Twilight Treasures Ministry.” This inspired the name of her own non-profit group.

“We used to go out at midnight, go out on the streets of Colfax, all up and down the alleyways to those apartments, those hotels that I used to do drugs in and we would go out there and talk to the women and try to get them to come out of their addiction.” Anderson said. “And I say, man, they just need a safe place. And that’s how I came up with Treasure House of Hope. Treasures needing a house with hope.”

Treasure hunt

Angelia and Dwight began housing three women in their duplex in Aurora while still working with Bo Matthews. When the center changed its focus to serving veterans, the couple felt a calling to start their own group. They called it Treasure House of Hope.

Donations poured in and they were able to expand to two homes. The women’s home is a safe house, purchased and remodeled with these donations. The men are quartered at the other location, which is rented.

Since its conception in 2008, the Aurora-based Treasure House has been serving recovering addicts and those dealing with homelessness through a one-year non-denominational Christian program, or a “Christian Discipleship Training.”

Loaves of bread cool, as Treasure House of Hope volunteers and program members bake and label the sweet treats for the next day. Photo by Ali C. M. Watkins/Sentinel Colorado

The only cost to residents is to follow house rules, stay sober and to bake and sell dessert breads. The main way they are funded is through individual donors and selling the bread, according to Treasure House board member, bookkeeper and volunteer Shelly Hough, who went through the program herself in 2013.

Every Friday evening, they bake nearly 600 mini loaves of banana, zucchini and pumpkin bread. Saturday through Wednesday, residents go on “bread ministry,” where they ask local businesses and pedestrians to donate $5 or whatever they can in exchange.

There are currently three women, two of who graduated from the program, and four men in the program.

The residents bunk in the same room, clean the house together and share meals like a family, and dub Angelia and Dwight, Mom and Dad.

Angelia encourages addicts by frequently saying God can forgive any action. Her experiences help her relate to the Treasure Hope residents.

“We get it and we’re gonna take your hand and walk with you during this journey. We’re going to cheer you on as you make the right steps,” Angelia said.

Mary Garcia

Mary Garcia was less than two months away from losing custody of her children when she was court ordered to move into Treasure House.

She has gone through seven months of treatment and is rebuilding relationships with her family. This last month she told her husband of 10 years that she loves him, for the first time. A concept she said she never understood before.

She was born in Liberty, Kansas to a woman who didn’t want to be a mother. Her father believed that Mary was conceived from an affair and threatened to abandon her mother if she kept her. Garcia learned that her grandfather stopped her mother from tossing her in a local river. She lived with aunts, uncles and her grandfather in tiny Cedric, Colorado until she was 5.

After a grueling custody battle and her grandfather’s declining health, she was placed in her parents care again in Longmont. Her parents would hit and kick her on a daily basis. Garcia was told that love did not exist.

IHOP server Marie Lovato purchases bread from Treasure House residents on June 19 at the IHOP in the Lakewood City Commons. Photo by Ali C. M. Watkins

“She was like, ‘you’re supposed to tell me: ‘Mom, I hate you.’ And I was supposed to tell you back, ‘I hate you, too,” Mary recalled about life with her mother. “So, I grew up like that, you know, telling my mom I hate her and she would hate me. And I thought that was love.”

Mary said her parents favored her two younger sisters. Those girls got hugs. Mary got chores. Her sisters played with their friends. Her mother put cigarettes out on Mary’s thighs.

By the time she was 6, a cousin began sexually assaulting her. Mary was abused until she got pregnant at 15. Afraid, she didn’t tell her parents about her rapist or her pregnancy.

The mother of a close high school friend helped her discretely get an abortion. Her friend’s mom told Mary to go home, pretend like nothing happened and to get some rest. Her parents beat her when she got home.

“My mom grabbed me by my hair,” Mary said.  “She started dragging me all over the kitchen and the living room and telling me to clean up, that the house was trashed, which it wasn’t.” While “I was getting beaten by my mom,” her sisters turned their attention from the beating back to the TV.

Her father joined in, kicking her until she hemorrhaged and passed out. When she woke up, she painfully walked to a police station and filed a report. Then, she made plans to get away.

A year later, she met Eduardo Garcia, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He would be her first husband. She lied about her age so she could marry him. The marriage gave Mary a way out of the house, Eduardo a way to stay in the U.S. and the couple two children. Today she has seven children.

Nearly a decade ago, Mary became addicted to methamphetamines. She said that crystal meth helped her cope with her lurid childhood. Among addictions and having seven children, her troubles got the attention of social service officials. But she didn’t stop.

It was her uncle’s death that convinced her to get help. On July 9, 2018, she was getting high with her uncle. Without knowing there was fentanyl in the crystal meth, he took the first hit. He overdosed.

Anthony Morales flips through hsi bible on June 19 during Treasure house’s daily devotion.
Photo by Ali C.M. Watkins/Sentinel Colorado

“And right there he collapsed in my arms,” Mary said.  “I was like, ‘Oh my God, he took the death that I was supposed to take.’ So that made me turn around and say, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t.’”

Before her uncle’s death, she promised him she’d get sober for her children’s sake. She kept her word.

She made her way from the police to Treasure House. Clean for seven months, she’s trying to put back a life that includes children who range from 6 to 25.

Anthony Morales

Anthony Morales took one hand from the steering wheel to point to the road. About a month ago, his 19-year-old nephew died in a crash near South Wadsworth Boulevard and West Crestline Avenue in Lakewood. He was driving drunk.

It’s a life Anthony said he knew well. He was living a life run by alcohol and heroin.

When Anthony went to retrieve his nephew’s items from police and an impound lot, the bloody car-crash details made him realize how many times he’d also endangered his life.

“It’s something that I got to carry for the rest of my life to have that picture in my mind, but it’s a reminder not to get behind that wheel drunk ever again,“ Morales said.

That was seven years ago. Morales ended up at Treasure House and has been clean and sober since 2012. He returned to the program as a volunteer 10 months ago. He lives in a private room in the men’s house and drives the residents to bread ministry. Every other week his 9-year-old son stays with him.

When Morales was only one year older than his son, he joined the Eastside ChiCi 30 gang in Denver. It wasn’t long until his first encounter with police ended him High Plains Youth Center, a private juvenile detention in Brush, Colo. He said it was a violent existence.

The facility was abruptly shut down in 1998 for poor management and hostile living conditions, following a boy’s suicide, according to the Washington Post. Morales thanks God for giving his son the childhood he never had.

Athena Chandler, Treasure House of Hope graduate, places a tray of banana bread into the oven on May 24. She completed the year-long program on May 4, and still volunteers her time to the bread ministry while she saves up for her own place. Photo by Ali C. M. Watkins/Sentinel Colorado

“I’m so grateful and thankful that he don’t have to think about them things. The only things he thinks about is games and, you know, Fortnite and things like that,” Morales said. “I was thinking about surviving already at 10-years-old, and violence.”

As he grew older, Morales found himself collecting misdemeanors. He described watching both of his parents and two sisters going to jail or struggling with substance abuse as a family curse. Morales found his drug of choice, heroin.

In 2012, Morales was on the lam for beating a man, when he came across an aunt with whom he would drink and do drugs. She’d changed. She told Morales she found Jesus.

“I was like, ‘Dang, I want some of that. Whatever she gots, I want to get it,” Morales said.

Morales was caught by police and let out on bail. He decided to get help and convert and joined Treasure House of Hope. When he went through the recovery program, the house had a small demand and baked just 20 loaves of bread a week. They’re now nearing 600 and growing. When encouraging the current residents, he compares their recovery to the dessert bread they bake.

“You might mess up an ingredient. All right, but you got to continue to stay in that process and, and looking at six years later, look how beautiful it is and look how many lives we have touched,” Morales said. “You can’t just put the mix on this shelf and then put it in the bag ‘cause it’ll be all mushy. You got to go through that fire.”