A Tribute to the Heartbeat of the Charis House
Over the past 2 weeks, we’ve told the story of Ms. Debbe Jefcoat, her work leading to the creation of the Charis House, and how her leadership and guidance impacted so many lives over her 21 years of service in social ministry. This week, we let several of those who have worked alongside or been mentored by Ms. Debbe through the years pay tribute to the special woman they know and love. When asked to share their thoughts about Ms. Debbe, one response was overwhelmingly common – “she loved.”
The House Managers play a vital role at the Charis House. House Managers work day and night (literally) to nurture, protect, disciple and care for the women who have trusted their futures to the Charis House. Ms. Debbe relies on the House Managers to gently but steadfastly guide the women in their care, and they in turn look to Ms. Debbe for leadership and encouragement.
“I first spoke to Debbe over the phone about 15 years ago,” said Ms. Darlene, one of the Charis House Managers. “While I could not see her face, it was easy to see her heart. I felt like I had known Debbe all my life and knew we would be friends. When I think about the precious friend I know, two words automatically come to mind: love and mercy. Debbe pours her heart and soul into each client who enters the program, and she does the same for her staff. When I think about her, I think about Matthew 5:14-16. ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’”
“Debbe understands her essential mission as a Christian to the world. Her light has clearly shown forth into the numerous lives of the ladies she has served throughout the years she has been at Charis House. I am proud and grateful to call Debbe a friend. I wish her the very best that God has for her in this new season of her life. She will be missed.”
Ms. Vanessa, another Charis House Manager, agrees. “Knowing Ms. Debbe in her leadership is like knowing a faithful servant. She has poured out so much love and grace to so many who have come across her path. She has a special effect on so many women and has helped many over the years as if they were her very own daughters. So many people come into our lives, and then leave the way they came. But there are those precious few who touch our hearts so deeply that we will never be the same. Ms. Debbe is one of those people. I love and respect her to the fullest as a leader and friend. I thank God for her. When I think of Ms. Debbe, I see her as a loyal, respectful, gentle, God-fearing woman of faith! Her love, amazing grace and respect will never be erased from the memories of Charis House!”
Charis House Therapist Karen Cox agrees. “Ms. Debbe has a fierce and protective loyalty to ‘her girls’. She defends, protects, and speaks the truth in love to them, not only while they are in the program but even after they leave. She establishes strong relationships with the ladies. She is typically the first on their list of people that they maintain contact with once they graduate, because they want her to know when they are doing well and they desire her continued guidance. She has never hesitated to go above and beyond in support of ‘her ladies’. Whether that means cleaning out her own closets to offer them clothes or shoes they need, traveling hundreds of miles to be there for someone in a time of need, or putting her own life on hold to help them when she can, Ms. Debbe does it. She operates from grace. She is compassionate. She is able to be firm when necessary, but those situations always end in grace and a call for restoration.”
Karla Humphrey is one of the women who learned firsthand from Ms. Debbe. Karla graduated from the Charis House and says that because of Ms. Debbe, her time at Charis was not just about recovery, but so much more. “She taught me how to be a disciple of Jesus, how to be a respectable lady, and how to be a wife and mother. She always told me, ‘Not everyone deserves to know everything about your life, Karla! Choose your audience wisely and never cast your pearls to swine!’ She taught me that my past did not define me, and that God has a great plan for my life! Ms. Debbe is the epitome of a Godly woman. I love her more than she’ll ever know. She is my spiritual mother, and I’m so grateful for the years I got to sit at her feet and glean from her vast knowledge and wisdom!”
Stan Lollar, Executive Director of Ministry Village at Olive from 2008 to 2019, considers Debbe a dear friend, and describes her as a loving, merciful bondservant of Jesus. “…Until you get in her doghouse. When you have a conversation with her, and she begins fluffing her hair, it’s time to backup and take a break.” Those who work closest with Ms. Debbe agree, as several mentioned that when Ms. Debbe starts fluffing her hair, “That’s a sign that you better pay attention, because it’s about to get serious.” Others said you might also hear, “Oh, to the NO!” when Ms. Debbe is ready to let someone know that something needed to change.” And usually, she was right.
“You can’t tell Debbe’s story and the Charis House’s story without acknowledging the supportive role of her late husband, Coach Jay Jefcoat,” says Stan. “Through the very long work hours, the late-night phone calls, the ups and downs, he was her teammate and partner. Before his illness, he would come to the Charis House at 6:00 am to walk with the ladies. He loved the ladies of the Charis House, he loved God, and he loved his wife. Under Debbe’s leadership, Charis House grew from 1 house to 3. Debbe is the heartbeat of Charis House. With input from many people, a heart to learn about the evils of addiction, and – most importantly – prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she has developed what I believe is the premier addiction recovery program in Pensacola. It has been my privilege and honor to know and work with Debbe for almost 30 years – 9 of those years at Ministry Village,” continues Stan. “Together, we saw women healed from addiction, and families reunited. We also dealt with the painful reality of relapse – even attending the funeral of a graduate who ultimately died from her addiction. Through it all, Debbe has been a loving, merciful bondservant who never gives up on an individual. In Psalms 136, the Bible says 26 times, ‘for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’ That is Debbe’s message to the ladies that come to Charis House. ‘God loves you. Jesus died for you. And there is freedom from sin and your past through His Grace.’”
Bobby Price, a member of the Ministry Village at Olive Board of Directors, says, “No one loves the girls at the Charis House more than Ms Debbe. She loves them unconditionally and with tough love if necessary. The Lord gave her an unbelievable passion for the ladies’ ministry, and that passion and love has been the driving force that developed the Charis House program into the successful program that it is today.”
Jeremy Portmann (Executive Director of Ministry Village at Olive, 2019 – present) agrees. “Debbe is the most dedicated person to a program that I have ever seen. Just unbelievably dedicated. She is a mother figure to the women, making sure they always get what they need. No one would ever doubt how much she loves all of the women of the Charis House. It is not uncommon to get emails or texts from her during all hours of the day and night. She takes phone calls from the jail whenever she needs to, talking to women who are hoping to be released to the Charis House. She is always available, without hesitation. Charis House is not an 8 to 5 job, and Ms. Debbe knew that and loved it anyway.”
Perhaps the best description of Ms. Debbe’s life of service comes from Pastor Ted Traylor, whose vision to support the needs of our community challenged Debbe to help create the Charis House back in 2007. “Debbe Jefcoat has walked many ladies from jail to Jesus. She is a lady of tough love and tender mercy, and one of the greatest team players ever to serve on the Olive staff.” And as she retires from her day to day duties at the Charis House, Ms. Debbe is already praying and making plans to return to the local jails to keep finding women who she prays will become future Charis House graduates – walking more ladies from jail to Jesus, even during her retirement.
More than 150 women have come through the Charis House under Ms. Debbe. Not only has she impacted their lives, but her efforts have been multiplied when you consider the great number of family members who have been reunited with healthy daughters, mothers, wives and sisters. In recognition of the time, prayer, dedication, and love Ms. Debbe Jefcoat has poured into the lives of hundreds of women through the Charis House, Ministry Village at Olive and its Board of Directors are happy to announce that the Phase I home of the Charis House will now be dedicated and named The Jefcoat House. We look forward to sharing the legacy of its namesake with the women who pass through its doors in the future. As Ms. Debbe says, “We never retire from serving the Lord.” Through this dedication, her name will continue the work she began — serving the Lord at the Charis House for many years to come.
✝️ The Charis House is a non-profit Christian-based residential substance abuse program for females. The program is designed in 3 phases, each offering stages of recovery that provide the necessary tools for a practical transition into a new lifestyle free of addiction. The faith-based recovery program addresses the client’s personal relationship with God as the foundation for healing and wholeness. It requires a willingness to change and adhere to a controlled, strict and disciplined environment, allowing life-changing experiences to occur. There is no fee to apply.