Love the Journey starts with hope

 Just like any startup small business venture, the startup nonprofit Love the Journey must deal with all the details of getting off the ground in a good way.

In this case, founder and CEO Arvin Montgomery brings to the enterprise tremendous experience, strength and hope. Solid connections with county government also helps.

Love the Journey offers a transitional program for individuals entering mainstream society after incarceration or drug treatment. Services include counseling, transitional living and cognitive workshops.

At this point, Montgomery maintains a halfway house with six male residents, all of them employed. He intends to expand the program with two more halfway houses for men and another house for women.

Montgomery has been funding the venture from his own pocket with help from his wife and two daughters. However, he recently received a grant for running the halfway house and has another grant pending.

Community support through funding or in-kind services could help Montgomery fulfill his dream of helping troubled individuals become productive members of society.

Personal history

Arvin Montgomery has a personal stake in Love the Journey, for his own life journey has posed many challenges that would have defeated lesser men.

Born 1953 in San Jose, Calif., Montgomery was into sports as a youth, chiefly competitive swimming and diving along with bowling and baseball.

“I was heavily into athletics,” he said, “ but I wasn’t really good academically. I had a pretty negative disposition.”

Small wonder. “I began experimenting with alcohol at age 10, then by age 13, I moved into methamphetamines, what we called ‘crank,’ followed by getting into heroin. From then on, I was kicked out of all my schools and was in and out of juvenile halls.” 

In 1968, after getting kicked out of a drug abuse shelter in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, he entered Mendocino State Hospital in Northern California, where he stayed until age 17.

He “graduated” to an allied facility in Tucson, Ariz., where he went to work as a youth counselor. “I stayed clean and sober for about two and a half years,” he said, “then I relapsed and was sent back to Mendocino.”

After a couple days back in the state hospital, Montgomery left. “I just couldn’t face going through their program again.”

For the next few decades, he said, “I was a consumer of corrections, going in and out of the penitentiary on drug-related charges, going in and out of rehab programs.”

Finally, in 1996, back in San Jose, Montgomery hit bottom. “I came out of two years in prison and for the next year had the worst run of my life,” he said. “I was too old for that kind of abuse. I didn’t have what it took it to do what I used to do.”

Further, California had passed a three-strikes law, “and I already was a five-time loser. I was looking at 25 years to life. I had to make a lasting change.”

 Recovery on Kaua‘i

Montgomery changed his life by moving to Kaua‘i in 1997 to rejoin his ex-wife and reconnect with their daughter. Another daughter earlier had been killed in an auto accident on the Mainland. The couple had another daughter before separating.

Montgomery found a job at Garden Island Disposal, where he worked for eight years. Dissatisfied with his life, he said that he made a deep choice in 1999 to go after his lifer vision.

“I had a dream of working in the substance abuse field,” he said. “I kept seeing myself working with those going in and out of prison and rehab programs. I saw myself turning around those cases nobody else wanted to work with.”

Montgomery’s solution was going back to school.

Through Kaua‘i Community College, he earned an associates degree in liberal arts in 2008. He then completed a bachelor of arts degree in psychology in 2010 from the University of Hawai‘i, along with earning certification as a licensed substance abuse counselor.

Montgomery landed a contract with state government working as a counselor in the prisons and jails on the Garden Isle, including the 130-bed Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center.

From this experience, Montgomery founded Love the Journey and eventually obtained tax-exempt status as a 501(c)3 organization.

Last February, Montgomery rented a house in Kapa‘a, where he now has six men residing. “I was able to secure jobs for them with two landscaping businesses,” he said, “so they are working hard and making money.”

All residential clients of Love the Journey are required to do regular one-on-one counseling with Montgomery, plus attend at least three support group meetings in the community every week, such as 12-step meetings or church support groups.

The clients also are subject to frequent, random urinalysis drug testing and breathalyzer tests.

“We have no time limit on how long they can stay in the house,” he said, “so long as we see sure signs that they are sincerely working to get back on their feet and get back into society.”

After seven months in operation as Love the Journey, Montgomery said he next plans to open a couple more houses for men “and we’re talking about opening a women’s house, if I can find a woman who is qualified to run it.”

He noted that women with substance abuse problems usually have “a lot more issues than men.” They may have children and histories of domestic abuse. “They carry more baggage, as a rule,” he said.

Funding the journey

Although Montgomery has been funding Love the Journey out of his own pocket, he aims to change the situation.

For his own livelihood, he works as an advocate for Hale Kipa, a private nonprofit agency dedicated to serving Hawaiian youth and their families.

He has a contract with the County of Kaua‘i to coordinate a program for underage drinking among youth ages 12 to 17. “We meet twice a week for 90 minutes and talk about risky behaviors like alcohol and drugs.”

The youth group is co-ed, so risky sexual behaviors get addressed, too, he said, “but we have to tiptoe around this because it’s a very touchy subject with some parents.”

Montgomery said he understands about the importance of family values. His own family is actively involved with his nonprofit enterprise.

His wife, Melinda Montgomery, is the chief operating officer of Love the Journey. Both of  his two eldest daughters from his first marriage are involved, as well. Aurora Deverill is the chief financial officer and Bree Deverill is the chief information officer.

Additional funding for Love the Journey comes from the family’s new small business, the Plantation Coffee Company, jointly owned by the Montgomerys along with daughter Aurora Deverill. 

The small coffee shop and catering company recently opened its doors in the Lihu‘e Plantation building at 2970 Kele St. and offers a full menu of affordable breakfast and lunch items.

“Love the Journey has been a joint effort of the entire family,” said Montgomery. “I have a lot of passion for the work, and we’ve all taken a lot of money out of our own pockets to make it happen.”

For external funding, Love the Journey recently received a grant from the Anna Sinclair Foundation for such household expenses as rent and furniture. He’s waiting to hear about a grant pending from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for additional support.

Meanwhile, Montgomery is looking for angel backers and donations of clothing, furniture, bicycles and non-perishable food, mostly canned goods. He’s also looking for two to three more homes to rent “in the right district” around Kapa‘a.

Montgomery said his biggest asset in the new nonprofit venture remains his connections in the community “from politicians on down.”

He cites relationships with the Mayor’s Office, the Anti-Drug Coalition, the Drug Court, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Parole Department, the Kaua‘i Police Department and other agencies on the island.

“It’s taken more than 10 years to get everything in place for Love the Journey,” said Montgomery.

“This is my dream, and it has been a labor of love,” he said. “I am really grateful that my family is involved, and we would not be able to do what we are doing without the support of all the wonderful people in our community. I’m really happy that I can give back to the community what has been so graciously given to me.”

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