An Ottery organisation is on a mission to change the lives of residents caught up in drugs and gangsterism.
Life Changers was started over 11 years ago by Brandon Eckardt who wanted to make a positive impact in his community.
Born in Ottery, Mr Eckardt, 39, was using and selling drugs in his teens but soon realised that it was not the life he wanted.
He is now a motivational speaker and leadership coach.
“I was involved with gang activities while growing up and in 2005 I decided to pull my life together and realised I can’t go on the way I was living. I got involved with a church group but at the same time I realised that many churches don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the relevant issues,” said Mr Eckardt.
He started with a feeding scheme but looked at a more holistic way to help the people of Ottery and other vulnerable communities.
“We use the feeding scheme as a medium. Through the feeding scheme we identify people who are in need of help. For instance we ask for the CVs of people who are unemployed and try to help them find jobs. We also try and grow people through life skills, computer training and drug intervention programmes,” said Mr Eckardt.
“Our model is to instil leadership skills in people so that especially our young people can lead their life successfully and lead their families successfully. That will hopefully break the cycle of gangsterism and drug use and we stay true to our motto ‘lend a hand – change a life’,” said Mr Eckardt.
The group also has a court diversion programme where offenders of a minor crime are referred to the Life Changers initiative. The person is assessed and is then eligible to be taken in by the organisation instead of being sent to Pollsmoor Prison.
“The offender goes through our programme and depending on their behaviour and attendance they continue with a three-month programme with us instead of the person getting a criminal record,” said Mr Eckardt.
Mr Eckardt said this is just one of the many ways the organisation tries to help reintegrate troubled young people back into the community.
“We offer them a different way out and options to change their lives,” he said.
The organisation also does gang mediation, runs leadership programmes and offers counselling, as well as a arts and crafts and programmes including job readiness, financial management and gardening training.
The garden training project has been running for the past nine months and is headed by Lindsey Isaacs.
Mr Isaacs, 39, had abused drugs for 26 years but has been clean for the past year.
He sought help from Life Changers and the organisation helped him kick his habit and also helped start the gardening project.
“Life Changers gave me a way out. They had my back all the way by realising my passion, which is gardening,” said Mr Isaacs.
He then had an opportunity to start his own gardening company called I Grow 4 * and now helps the organisation with their gardening programme.
“All my life I took from people to support my drug habit. They taught me at Life Changers to give back and the way I give back is to teach people how to plant and in the process make communities sustainable,” said Mr Isaacs.
Mabel Daniels, 44, has been involved with the organisation for about six months through a gardening project at her Rosedale flat home.
“Life Changers is a beacon of hope to the community. I can see the changes the organisation is bringing to the community and the people of Ottery.”
“They help the most vulnerable and with the gardening project they are not only feeding a community but are also bringing a community together.
For more information on the organisation, go to their website lifechangersfdn.org.za or contact their offices on 021 703 1104.