For many years, the Rev. Darlene Watley desired to make a tangible difference in the lives of people, particularly those who affected by substance abuse, homelessness and mental illness.
As a person in recovery, she had first-hand experience in surviving a disease that can swallow your life, destroy your outlook and drown you in depression. But, thanks to the help of others, she turned her life around and wanted to help others achieve that same stability.
So, in 2002, Watley decided to transform her dream into reality by starting Chosen Gospel Recovery Ministries and 15 years later, the nonprofit is changing lives all around South Los Angeles.
Chosen Gospel Recovery offers person-to-person outreach to the homeless and addicted, transitional housing for single women & women and children, and spiritual enlightenment to the lost and confused. The group’s educational component provides various skill-building training in communication, conflict resolution and eliminating risky behavior.
Describing her fulfillment since founding the ministry, Watley declared, “It’s a desire of mine to give back to my community and this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life besides giving birth to my five daughters. To serve others is the most rewarding thing I could have ever accomplished.”
Watley, who also serves as pastor of Faithful Zion First Fruits Ministry, utilizes space attached to the church building to run Chosen Gospel Recovery’s programs. The campus contains a sanctuary, a daycare and seven rooms attached to the edifice where women and children can reside for up to a year.
“We reunify women with their children through our program. We get DCFS cases closed. We educate and empower our women to understand things, like risky behavior, that caused their homelessness. We help them build skills and we work with them hand-in-hand,” she explained.
The housing divisions are named Ruby’s House I, II and III, after a woman with the same name who Watley said “took me in during my darkest hour, loved me with the love of Christ and pointed me in the direction of recovery. My program is designed on my experiences with her.”
Music is another arm of Chosen Gospel Recovery. Singing “gospel recovery songs” in a variety of styles, Watley and group members regularly appear at churches and social events around Southern California. Also, every October, they are featured performers on the Wave stage at the Taste of Soul, L.A.’s largest family festival.
“The music ministry is where we are able to open up the portals of people’s soul to minister to them through songs, many of them that we’ve written and vocally arranged ourselves,” said Watley, who added that Chosen Gospel Recovery recently released a new CD of their music.
In addition, spiritual nourishment takes place via Faithful Zion First Fruits Ministry’s Sunday worship services and weekly Bible Study and prayer meeting. Choir rehearsal and liturgical dance practice also occur during the week.
“Our members are people that were non-believers, out of the church, from different religions, different cultures, bound up by drugs and alcohol, suffering from mental illness – all of the people that society says are throwaways and they were stigmatized by that. But they’re up in here praising God and serving one another. That’s what God wants us to do,” she shared.
To keep the all of the ministry’s programs operating, Watley credits the assistance of her co-pastor, the Rev. Carolyn “Cookie” Brown, and Faithful Zion First Fruit’s ministerial team who share their talents and expertise in several capacities. As for funding, Chosen Gospel Recovery organizes fundraisers as well as accepts financial donations and contributions of items like furniture, blankets, towels and toiletries. Sponsorships and mentorships are available as well to aid youth and college students.
“This ministry is the Great Commission in full effect. This is what the Bible tells us to do,” said Watley. “Our statement of faith is based on Acts 2:42-47. They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowshipped to the breaking of bread and prayer. That’s what we really practice here.”
Chosen Gospel Recovery Ministries is located at 3939 W. Slauson Ave., in Los Angeles. For information or to volunteer or donate, call (323) 244-6902.