Mike and Jessica Vecchio and Rourk and Ashley Dymond couldn't keep the smiles off their faces as they walked around the old Emerald Coast Rescue Mission on Friday afternoon.

  FORT WALTON BEACH — Mike and Jessica Vecchio and Rourk and Ashley Dymond couldn’t keep the smiles off their faces as they walked around the old Emerald Coast Rescue Mission on Friday afternoon.

They are with Project Hope, a Christian nonprofit based in Houston that has leased the Hollywood Boulevard building for the next three years.

“Our mission and our heart are to help people who are lost,” said Mike, executive director of Project Hope. “We want to provide hope to people who are at the point of giving up.”

The non-denominational organization runs a 12- to 14-month residential recovery program for people who want to recover from drug and alcohol addictions and debilitating depression.

For the two young couples — who are all recovering addicts — the work is a labor of love.

“I call it a Jesus boot camp!” Jessica said. “It’s definitely very structured. … There’s no nicotine and every minute of every day is planned.”

In Houston, Project Hope serves men and women, but the Fort Walton Beach center will house only men 17 and older.

The Vecchios will continue to work fulltime n Houston but plan to visit the area frequently. The Dymonds will run the local center, with Rourk serving as program director and Ashley doing a little bit of everything.

“I just like to serve,” she said. “I know what it’s like to start over as a drug user and have nothing. I want to help people see that that’s not how they have to live.”

The center, which is expected to open sometime next week, brought 10 of its more advanced students from Houston to serve as mentors in the Fort Walton Beach program.

Project Hope doesn’t employ licensed mental health counselors or use 12-step programs.

“It’s Christ-centered,” Mike said. “We teach out of the Bible. We believe that’s where the answers are.”

Project Hope’s students are encouraged to get their GEDs if they choose but are not permitted to hold jobs.

“Addicts are looking for any excuse to get high —whether it’s something celebratory or negative,” Rourk said. “A job environment provides a lot of those triggers. Here they will be in a more controlled environment.”

After students have been in the program for a few months, they learn a variety of skills within the program, helping out with answering phones, kitchen duties and intake, he added.

Many students go on to work for the agency and some have even become staff members.

Project Hope has no ties to Fort Walton Beach, but Mike and other staff members were feeling called to grow the ministry to another city. When the group’s president visited Fort Walton Beach on business and saw the building, the team felt it was a good fit.

“We instantly saw a need,” Mike said. “And we’ve had a lot of local support so far.”


WANT TO HELP?

Project Hope plans to start a bag lunch distribution on weekdays and one community meal a week. If you want to help out by volunteering or with donations, call 1-877-491-3816.