The Canaan Baptist Church is a fixture in Urbana. Take a leisurely stroll down Main Street on your way to Strawberry Fields or the Farmer’s Market, and you’ll see it on your left: a pleasantly weathered building that has had a home in the neighborhood for over 30 years. Don’t let the unassuming façade fool you, though. This small church is actually a large agent of social change.

The SAFE House (Substance Abuse Free Environment ) residential program has been in existence since 1984. It offers men battling addiction a way out of that vicious cycle and back into healthy, happy lives. A new facet of the program has begun this year with the inception of the SAFE House Writers’ Workshop/Literature Reading Group, which will meet tonight. The evening’s event will include public readings by group members and graduate students in the university’s creative writing program.

A University of Illinois outreach initiative, the group receives funding from Department of English, the Office of the Provost, and the Illinois Humanities Council. Fiction writer and graduate student Amy Sayre-Roberts will lead a creative writing workshop; in addition, a weekly literature reading and discussion group will be led by professors from the English department.

According to Sayre-Roberts says, “The idea of both parts of the program is to encourage self-reflection, discussion, critical thinking and analysis, and to empower the voices of these men, as all of these tools can be used as part of their therapeutic recovery from substance abuse.”

The program creates a familial environment due to shared experiences.

“Some of the men have been in prison, or are currently part of drug-court type programs, or have just decided they need to commit to getting clean,” says Sayre-Roberts. “Many of them are husbands, fathers, grandfathers, et cetera. They have a lot at stake in their lives as they work very hard to get clean. As part of their rehabilitation some take classes at Parkland, they perform sweat-equity jobs for the church, and develop the behavior to stay clean and sober for this year and after they leave the program. The SAFE House is an environment of support and brotherhood where respect, honesty and spiritual reflection is both encouraged and expected.”

The SAFE House Writers’ Workshop will join University of Illinois creative writing graduate students in a public reading of their work tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Espresso Royale coffee shop in Urbana (1117 W. Oregon Street). The reading is free and open to the public.