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Billings thrift store helping sober living residents integrate back into society

Legislature consider bill to regulate sober living homes
Thrift Store
Posted at 5:54 PM, Jan 11, 2023

From the outside, Gratitude in Action thrift store located on the South Side of Billings might look like any other thrift store, except for one major difference— it's owned and operated by an organization that runs sober living homes.

Customers can find items sold in any thrift store in town, but they find something unique in the employees. All have lived in a sober living home, and their job has turned their lives around.

When employee Pete Guapo walked into Gratitude in Action three years ago, he was lost.

“I got here – didn't have nobody didn’t have nothing," Guapo said.

And then he met Terri Todd.

“Basically, she was like ‘whatever you’re going through, don’t worry about it. Let’s just get you home.’ And I was like home? I guess let's see what home looks like,” Guapo said.

Terri and her husband Richard Todd run Ignatia's House sober living homes in Billings. That day, she took Guapo to one of the four that they own in town for what Guapo believed would only be a couple-day stay.

“I decided I liked it, and it was what I needed," Guapo said. "I liked that we were all in the same situation. I didn't feel like I was lower than anybody."

Guapo ended up staying for 13 months, living in the home and working at the thrift store, which he still does today. Except now, he's three years sober.

"It's just a really good opportunity for them to learn how to be employed again," Todd said. "That was part of why we did it."

Terri Todd worked closely with Jodie Hart and others developing the thrift store. It was a big project that took years to develop, but they said that Guapo's story is exactly why they wanted to link the thrift store with their sober living home residents.

“They’re regaining their life back and learning how to live sober," Hart said. "To be able to see that is everything I’d hoped for."

Guapo credits a lot of his sobriety to both the thrift store and sober living home, but others around Montana have received more negative reviews. On Tuesday, a state legislative committee heard a bill sponsored by Republican state Sen. Barry Usher of Billings that would increase regulations on sober living homes, which some lawmakers say is needed to ensure the safety of residents living in and nearby sober living homes.

Terri Todd and her husband are among the supporters of the proposed legislation.

"They’re not trying to harm anybody. They’re just trying to make sure that we provide safe stable housing,” Todd said.

Todd was in Helena for the hearing and said she heard from many opponents, including other owners of sober living homes. No vote was held Tuesday.

Regardless of whether the bill passes, Todd says she'll continue to help people like Guapo as often as she can.

“People don’t get to sober living on a winning streak," Todd said. "So, we realized that for the foundation to grow it had to be bigger than us."

And Guapo said it's nice to see how much has changed for him and the store in three years, and noted they are both in much better shape today.

“I mean how the store cleaned up, reflects how I cleaned up, so that’s pretty cool," Guapo said. "I never even thought about it like that, but that is pretty cool."