Pastor Manuelus Reacco leaned back on the couch and let out a deep sigh and yawn. “Excuse me,” he said. “It’s been a long day.”
Indeed it had. His-months long project getting a new building to be home for the life-changing Transformation House had finally come to fruition and, on this day, they were having an open house so that the public and the media could see what Reacco had worked so hard for.
“It’s been long since January,” Reacco told Madison365. “I’ve been here every day from sun up to down and when you find yourself in a situation like I’ve been going through, people step back and want to see. They assume you’re going to fail. Once you get it to where you need to get it, then they jump in. Or they want to wait until this one specific thing and then come in. But, anyway, because it’s your vision you got to sit back and do what you gotta do to make sure. And I’m a winner. I ain’t no quitter. I don’t know how to stop when I got a vision of what I want. It’s my vision.”
There’s nothing handed out cheaply or freely in the line of work Reacco has chosen. The Transformation House is just that. It’s a place where men come to learn the skills that they will need to turn their lives around from whatever hardships have transpired. Homelessness, incarceration, addiction, you name it. All of the men who come into the house are expected to give a full commitment to change.
Transformation House is a 46-bed housing facility that helps men find the path they need to work on all kinds of recovery, self-esteem and personal beliefs. But it is no place for anyone who isn’t willing to do the work. The men who live there are required to participate in structured meetings covering things like substance abuse, personal hygiene, financial management, job readiness, budgeting and money management. They are also required to have a job or be actively seeking one, maintain absolute sobriety from drugs or alcohol, meet with a case manager and participate in stress and anger management training.
There’s nothing false about Pastor Reacco. His words are measured and pointed. In the Bible there is a passage that says as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another, and that has been a theme of recovery. Those who grew up in the Church might recognize the concept that God is no respecter of persons, as old school deacons and preachers used to say, meaning that nothing is given freely to anyone that is not available to the next person.
“You see, I used to be an alcoholic,” Reacco says. “A dope fiend, gang banger, get in trouble. God changed my life. And so if he changed my life, he’ll change the lives of these men. What I do is, I give them the love of Christ, so my love for them is unconditional.’”
Transformation House’s mission statement is that they encourage men to be men and empower them to be better fathers, become self-supporting, heal old wounds and overcome personal demons.
Right now there are 26 men living in the house. On the second floor of the building are at least 30 single bedrooms, community bathrooms, a number of community rooms and a refrigerator. Since it was a beautiful day outside and there were miscellaneous people walking around as part of the open house, most of the men were outside when Madison365 toured the facility.
One of the focuses of Transformation House is rebuilding for the residents what it means to be a man and a father. Transformation House fights against the notion that men should be macho, tough or stoic. A lot of the guys who come in have had their self-esteem shattered by the circumstances of their addictions or arrests or poverty. Reacco says they work hard to build a more positive self-image that is not shame-based or reliant on tough guy stereotypes.
It was a long road to get to this point. Since opening in 2012, Transformation House has helped over 680 residents and approximately 80 percent of them have become self-sustaining, sober and employed success stories. With things going so well, Reacco decided to expand. In May 2018 they closed the old Transformation House on Jefferson street and, in January, Reacco bought the old Santa Maria Nursing Home on 430 Clay Street in Green Bay with the idea that it would be able to house 46 men instead of 30 and also be in a neighborhood that would be a better environment.
But neighborhood residents voiced concerns about safety and security of the neighborhood, and some balked at the idea of troubled men being in the area. Reacco, however, fought tooth and nail. He made sure there was good security at the House, that it was properly staffed and that they were strict about who was able to live there.
Reacco says there was intense back-and-forth between the Green Bay City Council and the Planning Commission, with stipulations and requirements being tacked on that felt excessive.
“It was passed by the Planning Commission, went to City Council, was kicked back to the Planning Commission and passed again, went back to the City Council again and they wanted to send it back to the Planning Commission yet again but the Planning Commission said ‘You gotta keep it right here’. What they did is they gave us a whole bunch of stipulations and stuff that we had to fulfill and stuff like that. Not believing that we could. But we did, and the Planning Commission said if they fulfilled all of the obligations you all [the City Council] gotta let them move forward. So we did and so they had to pass it.”
In April the City Council approved them to go ahead with the building.
“Then it went from there, went up to the building inspections, so it stayed there for a month and a half, which I was trying to figure out why. Because it was a nursing home before. Their requirements were much higher than what we were doing. In the end they had to pass it. They made us spend tons of money, but God blessed us awesomely. And so three weeks ago they let us open up the doors. We have 26 guys here right now and our limit is 46. We’re filling on up.”
Already there are success stories happening. Reacco says that some residents have been looking for work and, in the meantime, signing up for classes at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC).
“I look at all these guys as good men, no matter what their background is,” Reacco said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t let your past dictate your future. You do and be whoever you want to be.’ Now I’m seeing all these guys go over to NWTC, taking up courses. This guy came to me a couple days ago and he said, ‘Look, Pastor.’ He showed me his NWTC student ID. I said ‘There you go!’”
Transformation House is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. They need donations to help them maintain the life changing programs that the men utilize to overcome addictions, homelessness and incarceration.