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Published: Wednesday, 12/3/2008

Filmmaker to depict Archbold's Shepherd's Circle

BY ANGIE SCHMITT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robert Keith interviews Jamilah Hood, an ex-addict and prostitute, now 'a sheep' aided by the Shepherd's Circle of Archbold. Robert Keith interviews Jamilah Hood, an ex-addict and prostitute, now 'a sheep' aided by the Shepherd's Circle of Archbold.
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ARCHBOLD - North Toledo native Jamilah Hood was 30 years old and in jail for prostitution when she began having a change of heart.

Eight years as a crack addict had taken its toll.

"I was tired," she said. "I was tired of going to jail. I was tired of selling my body. I was just willing to try anything.

"I knew that my way of living wasn't working for me."

To change her life, Ms. Hood began by reaching out to an Archbold organization known as the Shepherd's Circle.

The organization's founder, Cecily Rohrs, had been corresponding with Ms. Hood, who was serving her sentence in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio near Stryker.

Since its founding four years ago, Shepherd's Circle - a nonprofit organization supported by a number of Archbold area churches - has been offering people like Ms. Hood a second chance.

Now, an Ohio filmmaker wants to tell the organization's story - as well as Ms. Hood's.

Akron-based filmmaker Robert Keith heard about Mrs. Rohrs and the Shepherd's Circle in the summer, through a friend.

"I wanted to do a documentary about someone who had performed some valuable community service," he said.

He has since made Shepherd's Circle the topic of a full-length documentary. He plans to enter the film in international competitions, including the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals.

Last week, Mr. Keith was at the Zion Mennonite Church on Short Buehrer Road, filming Ms. Hood as she told the story of her transformation.

After Ms. Hood was released from jail, Mrs. Rohrs helped her find a temporary home and then an apartment. Mrs. Rohrs arranged for a Delta woman to serve as Ms. Hood's mentor.

Shepherd's Circle seeks to break the cycle of poverty through one-on-one counseling in responsible behavior. Each participant is paired with a volunteer from the community: known in the program as the "shepherd" and the "sheep."

A shepherd may offer material assistance, but the focus is emotional support and guidance. About 20 people, most of them from Fulton County, have benefited from the program, Mrs. Rohrs said.

The concept of the program is based on Mrs. Rohrs' belief that government assistance can help sustain people in times of need, but cannot help them break the cycle of poverty.

"We aren't there to get you groceries for today," she said. "They come with us for the long haul."

Ms. Hood turned to her "shepherd" when her grandmother had a stroke, and when she nearly relapsed.

She's been drug-free for one year. She has maintained regular employment at Wendy's restaurant and earned her GED. She's considering enrolling in college.

"They've changed my life definitely," she said. "I didn't have any hope. I was just going in circles. I just felt like I was lost."

The move from inner-city Toledo to small-town Archbold has been a dramatic change for Ms. Hood. But it helped to get away from some of the negative influences that had plagued her, she said.

"I just didn't want to be in that surrounding. It's just easy to get dragged off into something that you have no control over," she said. "It's been hard. It's just hard sometimes to appreciate that money, when you're used to instant gratification."

But her new life comes with a security she couldn't have imagined a few years ago.

"I don't have to worry about where I'm going to go when I get off work," she told Mr. Keith in last week's shoot. "I don't have to worry about going to jail. It's been a long time since I could just breathe."

Not all of Mrs. Rohrs' "sheep" are as successful and as determined as Ms. Hood. Another longtime client has suffered a number of relapses into drug use. But Mrs. Rohrs doesn't easily give up on her sheep.

"I will know Jamilah till my dying day," she said, "and we will be cheering for each other."

Mr. Keith expects the film to be completed in June. He hopes to premier the video in the Toledo area, perhaps in Wauseon, but has not arranged a time or setting.

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

aschmitt@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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