Transformed by Love -- The Walter Hoving Home
Beth Mann was scared. Diagnosed with multiple personalities and Schizophrenia, even with her drug-altered mind, where voices spoke to her constantly, she knew this was very likely her last chance for life.
Beth was being escorted to the Walter Hoving Home, a Teen Challenge center for women in Garrison, New York. Unknown to Beth, the home, established by John and Elsie Benton in 1967, was a place that regularly extended welcoming arms of love, acceptance, and transformation to women who were prostitutes, drug addicts, criminals, alcoholics, thieves — descriptions that, for the most part, described Beth perfectly.
The Walter Hoving Home is closely tied to Teen Challenge founder David Wilkerson. Wilkerson, realizing that the combined men and women’s center in Brooklyn, New York, was not the optimum combination, asked his friend and Teen Challenge assistant director, John Benton, and his wife, Elsie, to lead a new home just for women.
John, a credentialed AG minister, says that Wilkerson offered him a choice of several positions, but he and Elsie knew God had been preparing them to minister to women since early in their ministry.
John explains that while pastoring in Everett, Washington, Elsie and he began taking foster teen girls into their home in addition to their own three children. “The Holy Spirit put a seed in our hearts to work with ladies,” John says. “And when David Wilkerson offered us the position with the women’s center, we felt this fulfilled what the Holy Spirit had told us to do.”
Getting the location in Garrison was a miracle in itself. They found the ideal facility, but didn’t have the money to purchase it. Walter Hoving, the former chairman of Tiffany & Company, connected Teen Challenge with the Jones Foundation, who agreed to pay $15,000 a year on the mortgage until it was paid off!
The Bentons began the new center with 12 ladies in the program, and the numbers soon grew to 17 then 25, with the need always outpacing the available room and staff. Over the years, the Bentons have seen thousands of women come through the doors, many with desperately difficult situations and addictions, but few compared to Beth Mann.
“She was a tough lady to work with,” John admits as he recalled her entry into the center about 25 years ago. “In working with Beth, well, there were at least three different times that we were going to dismiss her from the program. But we always had a check — maybe we shouldn’t do that, maybe we just need to work harder to help her adjust to the program . . .”
John was “candy-coating” his evaluation of Beth. When he said “Tough,” the definition bordered on the physically impossible and spiritually miraculous.
“I grew up in a good home,” Beth says. “My mom and step-dad were married when I was 2 years old. They loved me, we went to church, but when I visited my biological dad, the family always had alcohol around and I began to drink. At the same time, I tried cocaine and developed a taste for it.” She was just nine years old.
Beth would keep her drinking and drug use hidden from her family and church friends for years, but during her senior year in high school, recreational use of drugs and drinking began to transform into addiction. When her parents dropped her off at college in 1988 for her freshman year, all restraint disappeared.
“That first night I got blackout drunk,” Beth says. “That first semester, 80 percent of the time I was in a drunken stupor or high. Needless to say, I didn’t do well in school. Addiction was in full force at that point.”
Beth dropped out of school, but before she did, she experienced a bad drug hit. When she came to the next morning, she started hearing voices. From that point on, she worked at trying to stay one step ahead of her family, who was desperately concerned for her life. But when they found her, she would move to a new town — a process repeated over and over.
At first, Beth was a functional addict, being able to hold a job, only to ultimately lose it for being caught drinking on the job or stealing from the company to support her drug habit.
“There is a few years gap in my memory due to the drinking and drugs,” Beth admits. “I would get drunk and then I would use drugs to stimulate me so I could go to work — I did this day after day. I would go job to job, living in my car, on couches, and detox centers where I would go to sober up so I could get another job and then start drinking and doing drugs again.”
By the time Beth turned 20 in 1990, Satan had her where he wanted her — she attempted suicide, multiple times. She would take whole bottles of pills with alcohol, but each time someone would just “happen” to show up and call 9-1-1. “I would wake up in the hospital and be so angry that I was still alive,” Beth says.
In November 1991, in a drunken stupor, she walked into a hospital, placed a gun on the counter, and asked for help before she hurt herself or someone else. She would be placed in the state psychiatric hospital where she was diagnosed with Schizophrenic tendencies and multiple personalities — conditions she believed were induced by her drug addiction. Her parents, unwilling to watch her kill herself any longer, made the difficult decision to let Beth know that she either had to straighten out or she didn’t have a family any more.
A former youth pastor, Bruce Ammons, attempted to help Beth get into Teen Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, but they were maxed out at the time. However, the center knew of an opening at the Walter Hoving Home, which is also part of Teen Challenge, USA (a ministry of AG U.S. Missions), in New York.
“There were a lot of reason they shouldn’t have accepted me,” Beth says. “I had severe mental health issues to the point that the addiction was nearly secondary. But I was later told that they (John and Elsie) prayed about accepting me and felt like the Holy Spirit told them to let me come.”
As Beth was being driven by ministry staff to the home from the airport — a one-way ticket gifted to her from her church and immediate family — fear began to overwhelm her. But when she saw the sign in the home’s yard stating, “We Love Our Girls,” a peace settled upon her.
“For the first time in a really long time, I felt hope,” Beth says.
“It’s very much a family atmosphere at the home,” says Joyce Racine, business manager. “Mom B and Dad B (as the Bentons are referred to by the women at the home) welcome the women with love. A lot of the women who come to the home, didn’t have a decent home life before . . . the whole thing of Mom B and Dad B has created a family atmosphere that makes a tremendous difference in the life of the gals here.”
Beth agrees, citing how the love and care she felt through those working with her made a significant difference.
Yet her path was not one of instant success. What took most people 12 months to complete, took Beth 18. The Bentons and the home’s staff struggled with the difficulties and doubts Beth presented. At times, the staff debated whether Beth needed to be removed from the program due to her behavior. At other times Beth, filled with self-doubt about making it through the program, wanted to leave, but was still desperate to be reaffirmed and freed from her addictions.
Beth vividly recalls the day she chose to rededicate her life to Christ. “The staff came around me and started praying for me about the voices I was still hearing,” Beth says. “I was baptized in the Holy Spirit with the gift of speaking in tongues, and I’ve never heard the voices again!”
She began to read and memorize Scripture, developing her relationship with Christ. But even while her spiritual transformation was taking place, Beth knew she still had to face the judicial system for crimes she committed, including a federal charge for a crime she committed against a bank that carried a penalty of up to 40 years in prison.
“When I completed the program [at Walter Hoving], I went to court,” Beth says. “The judge dropped a lot of the charges and sentenced me to just 8 months in federal prison and to make restitution — it was a miracle!”
If the story ended there, with Beth serving God, her debt to society paid, and the Bentons able to reflect on another successful graduate, all would be well. But there’s more!
When Beth was released from prison, the Bentons gave her a job at the home. For the next 25 years, she would be under the leadership and mentorship of the Bentons, working as the business manager at the Walter Hoving Home since 1995. She would also meet and, years later, fall in love with and marry a local AG pastor (Tim Greco). And just recently, Beth, who was once on the verge of being institutionalized or at least incarcerated for decades, was appointed CEO of Walter Hoving Home.
“Beth has a passion for developing women into leaders to be used in church/parachurch ministries and in the marketplace and fulfill their God given purpose,” observes Joe Batluck Sr., president of Teen Challenge, USA. “Beth is also the first female to be elected as regional representative for the Teen Challenge national board.”
Of course, the Bentons’ ministry hasn’t been solely focused on Beth. They’ve ministered to thousands of women through the years and witnessed countless miraculous transformations. In fact, John has written 44 books telling the stories about God’s transforming power in the lives of some of the women, including
One Lady at a Time, and books with just the first names of the women, such as: Carmen, Debbie, Vicki, Tracy, and Lori. Elsie explains the books are often given to women in jail to read and give them hope, with many contacting the home after reading one of the books.
The Walter Hoving Home now has two more locations — Pasadena, California (where the Bentons are now located), and Las Vegas, Nevada. Later this year, a fourth home, a home for women with children, will open in New Jersey.
And then, on May 4, 2017, an anniversary gala/alumni reunion will celebrate 50 years of ministry at the Walter Hoving Home in New York. Beth says that so far they’ve located graduates in 33 states, doing everything from homeschooling to working as corporate executives to ministering at AG churches.
Reflecting, Beth offers the key to her miraculous transformation and the ongoing success of the program: “At the Walter Hoving Home, people fall in love with Jesus.”