News 12 Special Assignment: The Potter's House: Cherrie's Story

Cherrie Potter's House

Cherrie Burdeshaw got the idea for the Potter's House when she was teaching Bible study in prisons, and she'd see the same women get arrested again and again and again. (WRDW-TV / May 7, 2012)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, May 4, 2012

MILNER, Ga. -- More than half of those arrested will be arrested again. Some are arrested a third, fourth, even fifth time. It's a problem that doesn't just overwhelm the jails and the courts. It overwhelms families, rips them apart and destroys lives.

But now there is hope.

It was born in a barn years ago, thanks to some wild kittens and a little girl who refused to give up on them, even when it hurt. Cherrie Burdeshaw remembers devising the plan that she believes planted the Potter's House seed. She would sit far away from the barn and throw food. The hungry kittens were happy to get it.

Each day, she would make sure the food landed closer and closer to her until eventually the kittens were close enough for her to grab. She says she'd hold them for hours, comforting them and petting them. After that, they were tame.

"Later on, the Lord showed me, I was training you from the time you were a child because you're going to get some women who are going to kick and are going to bite, and they are going to scratch," she said. "They're not going to want what you're trying to give them."

And all Cherrie is trying to give them is another chance at life.

For years, she's opened her doors to women who feel like the rest of the world has slammed one in their face. Drug addicts. Prostitutes. Criminals. She doesn't see them for what they've done.

She sees them for who they are.

"They are ordinary people, just like us, that made wrong choices," she said.

And Cherrie wants to help them make it right. Now, for the first time, Cherrie is also opening the Potter's House to television cameras, sharing her Potter's House with you.

Her idea for this place started years ago when she was teaching Bible study in prisons, and she'd see the same women get arrested again and again and again.

"It just always bothered me and I thought, wow, I wish I had a house. If I could just have a house and keep them in this house and take them to church, they'd be fine."

So, she bought one. Her mother passed away, and she used the money to buy a 1,400 square foot home. She then opened the doors to women who needed it.

"People thought, 'Wow. You're going to do that? You don't know what you're getting yourself into,' you know. I mean, they may steal from you. They may kill you. You don't know what they're going to do."

What they did was amazing. It was so amazing they needed more room. Cherrie bought another house. It was more than twice the size of her original Potter's House.

Still, her ministry kept growing.

In 2007, the pastor of Rock Springs in Milne invited Cherrie to move her Potter's House into a house right behind the church. He said he couldn't pay the bills but offered the much bigger home rent free. He promised the church would not interfere. It hasn't.

This former second grade teacher with no formal training for anything like this was able to keep growing her ministry. As the Potter's House evolved, Cherrie kept trusting her heart but still used her head.

"Well if they come in, especially if they've been on pills or alcohol, we send them to detox," she said.

After that, they move in. Cherrie is often their last hope.

"Most of them have tried to take their lives before they actually came here. I'd say, 80 percent of them at least," she said.

Cherrie says no one has ever tried that at the Potter's House. She also says drugs are not a problem either, even though most of these women have been drug addicts for years. Some have been using for decades.

"We had one girl one time try to bring some pills in, but that's it. Other than that, we've never had anybody," Cherrie said.

Perhaps that's because for the first time in a long time, the women have someone to lean on. When you first move in to the Potter's House, you stay in a room with 11 beds.

"After the first two or three days, usually they're fine. They fit right in."

Suddenly, people who felt like they were going through something all alone ... are never alone.

And they have structure. And responsibility. The women have chores and homework.

Cherrie teaches a class two hours every day. She also teaches them to take care of themselves again. A hair stylist gives them a free makeover, and the women help each other feel beautiful again.

Local dentists help them feel good about smiling again, too. Meth doesn't just destroy your life, it can destroy your teeth. The women get theirs fixed for free. The transformation is incredible.

On your second day in the Potter's House, Cherrie takes your picture. She hides it from you until you get a photo shoot five or six months later.

The before and after shots speak volumes.

"Wow. They just cry. Many of the girls just cry and say, I never knew I could look like that."

They are the faces of recovery. Restoration. Originally, Cherrie's program was six months, but she found it wasn't enough time. Eventually she added another month, which to her, seemed poetic.

"I was thinking seven is God's number of completion," she said.

The eighth month is a new beginning, which is why Cherrie insists her program is not rehab. It's a Christian discipleship program. After 12 years, there are a lot of disciples. Cherrie has never really counted exactly how many.

"I'm not really sure. Probably 500 or 600, maybe. 700?"

Cherrie has never held a fundraiser or asked anyone for money. The Potter's House operates entirely on donations.

So what's her secret? She says faith. And prayer.

"And I would tell him, OK Lord. You started this and if you want to keep it up, then you're going to have to pay the bills, and if you don't want to pay the bills, we'll just have to close the doors," she said.

After 12 years, the doors to the Potter's House are still open. In fact, they're never locked. The women who were prisoners of addiction are now free.

"The problem when they get in is getting them out. They don't want to leave," she laughed.

When they do walk out, they don't just look different to the world, they look at the world differently. They know this time is different.

This time, they're going to make it. Almost all of them do.

Now, two local groups are working to bring Cherrie's program here. Augusta Aglow and iCare are taking a big step forward with making it a reality next week. Cherrie is coming to Augusta to meet when them and to tour a temporary Potter's House. She is bringing a women with her who has been through the program and will potentially run the house as house mother. Still, they are going to need a permanent house.

They hope someone in the community will step forward to fill this need.

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