Reba Harris is the executive director of Kokomo’s Gilead House, an organization she founded in 1998 to help women overcome addictions. For 20 years, she has done the fundraising, grant writing, volunteer recruiting, publicity generating, supplies begging, and counseling that have changed the lives of hundreds of women. Her own path brought her to this mission.
Reba grew up in Marion, Ind. Her early education was in a segregated one-room schoolhouse where opportunities were scarce. After graduation from Marion High School in 1958, she married Oscar Harris and moved to his hometown of Kokomo. At age 25, she began a 32-year career at Delco Radio Division of General Motors. Along the way, life presented challenges. She struggled with a food addiction she eventually conquered. After a series of surgeries, she found herself addicted to pain medication, an addiction that would last 23 years and give her a personal understanding of what it means.
During her last 10 years at Delco, she served as an employee assistance representative, helping employees deal with addictions and family problems. As she approached retirement, she decided to go back to college, and at the age of 57, graduated with her daughter as they both received diplomas from Indiana Wesleyan University. About the same time, Reba set about establishing the first program in Howard County devoted to helping women who are addicted to alcohol or drugs and who have been jailed or imprisoned. After three years of fundraising, The Gilead House opened its doors, offering the scriptural “balm of Gilead” to women with few good options. The Gilead House has continued to grow, thanks to public and private support. Now located in Kokomo’s former YWCA building, the organization provides residential care for up to 20 women, along with counseling sessions there and at the Howard County Jail for dozens of others.
In 2007, Reba was honored with a Governor’s Award for Achievement in Business and Entrepreneurship presented by Gov. Mitch Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman at Indiana Black Expo’s 37th Summer Celebration. She also was recognized with the 2007 Spirit of Sisterhood Award Gala sponsored by the Women of Wayman at Wayman Chapel AME Church. Reba attends Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, and is president of the board of the F.D. Reese Christian Academy there. Along with their daughter and son, Reba and Oscar have four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.