ALTAMONTE SPRINGS – Sadie Holmes looked around at the massive array of Christmas decorations, ornaments, wreaths and nick nacks, and then sighed, as if to suggest for a moment that it all seemed too overwhelming to consider.
But even though Christmas is just a week away, she was still determined to push forward on a long-sought after goal. What some would see as clutter, she saw as opportunity – to take all those holiday items, festively decorate her home, and then open her doors to the community, as the host of a special Christmas event.
“We’ve been trying to do it for the last two years, to do a Christmas walk through,” Holmes said. “But we’re so far behind.”
Her house at 1280 Amanda St. in Altamonte Springs is certainly large enough for a Christmas walk through, and also appropriate for one, since the property is well known to fans of the television show “Extreme Makeover.”
Holmes lost her original house in 2005 to a fire. She applied for a makeover from the ABC network show, and a few months later, her application was accepted. Holmes appeared on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in February 2006, when the show’s crew built her a $400,000, 5,000 square-foot-house.
The house is also known locally for something else: the 2,000 square-foot-office that Holmes uses to operate Sadie Holmes Help Services Inc., a non-profit charitable organization.
On Saturday, Holmes was once again welcoming the community into her house, with a special holiday celebration to provide for children and families as Christmas approaches.
“Today was called The Gift of Love,” she said. “It’s what we do. We give toys to the children and gifts to the adults, and we have a dinner and we have prayer and gospel entertainment. “
It’s part of the mission, Holmes said, that she promised God she would faithfully stick with when she was finally able to beat her long-time addiction to drugs. And continuously promoting that faith in God, Holmes said, has been a central part of her organization’s mission.
“I do this from being an addict right here in this community,” she said. “I was court-ordered in and out of treatment for years.”
Then on Feb. 12, 1998 – a date she remembers very clearly – God cured her of the curse of addiction, she said. On that night, she was struggling badly.
“I said, ‘Let me go sit in the bathtub and pray it goes away,’ “ Holmes said. “I kept talking to God and crying and screaming. I asked God to deliver me from this, and I haven’t used drugs since. I said to God, ‘You didn’t make me to be dependent on anyone but you, so deliver me from the drugs so I can be dependent on you,’ and it worked. Just talking to God, I said ‘Thank you, God, thank you, Jesus.’ Then I asked him to show me my purpose on Earth.”
What God showed her, Holmes said, was the charitable mission that she founded in Altamonte Springs. Sadie Holmes Help Services Inc. has been operating for more than a decade now. She also opened a second charitable mission, close by at 622 Plum Lane in Altamonte Springs, to help the homeless.
“It’s a group home where I take people in from all walks of life,” she said. “When God blessed me with this house, I decided to open that house, too.”
Many of the people who come to the group home have recently been released from jail or prison, and following their incarceration, no longer have family or friends to stay with. Holmes said she’s only too happy to welcome them in, regardless of their criminal backgrounds.
“I don’t discriminate based on what they’ve done in the past because I believe everyone can change,” she said.
Not everyone who walks in the door, she admits, is ready to do that, or can easily adjust to being part of a group home.
“They come to me and we give it a try,” she said. “Not everyone works out. You just try to help them. They don’t all know what to do, and a lot of times this is when they will relapse or fall back into their old ways, because we don’t have enough resources. I can house them, but you have to change their hearts.”
That, she said, is where her faith in God gives her direction – and a sense of how to help the convicted felons who turn to her for help.
“The love of Christ can change them,” she said.
Some of the felons are resistant to that message, she said. They’re often angry at God and religion, because they look at all the bad things that have happened to them in their lives – including their prison sentence – and wonder why a loving God would have allowed it.
“Some say ‘God let this happen, and God let that happen,’ and I say, ‘No, it’s the choices you made that landed you in jail,’ ” Holmes said. “Some try to blame religion. But we also have some atheists who changed and found God.”
She clearly remembers one young man, named Alex. He was gay, and suffering from AIDS, and did not believe in a higher power, Holmes said. He would come to her religious services simply to mock it.
“He just sat there,” she said. “I said, ‘Why aren’t you participating? He said, ‘Because I don’t believe in God.’ I said, ‘You know my ministry. If you don’t believe in God, we can’t help you.’ So he just sat there for 10 days.”
And then something surprising happened, she said.
“On the tenth day, he opened the Bible,” Holmes said. “We said, ‘You don’t have to read the Bible, but we don’t want to hear your opinions, either.’ By the tenth day, Alex opened the Bible himself. After a while, he just started asking questions about it.”
To this day, Holmes is convinced that everything has a purpose in the eyes of the Lord – including a tragedy, like the fire that consumed her original home. She now believes God intended for the home to burn down.
After the Fire Marshalls office arrived to investigate the blaze, “They couldn’t find a cause,” Holmes said. “Then God spoke. He said ‘What are you crying for?’ They don’t know how it started, but we know it was God.”
For one thing, Holmes said she lost virtually everything she owned in that blaze – except for one remarkable thing: the county license she had obtained to operate her charitable organization.
“Everything burned … except my license,” she smiled. “God burned the building in order to let us do ‘Extreme Makeover.’ That happened a month later.”
To learn more about Sadie Holmes Help Services Inc., call 407-831-6374.
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