In 1972, Captain Andy Mathieu, a Navy and Coast Guard Veteran, and friend, Ed Dodson, managed an alcoholic rehabilitation center. This enterprise operated as an outreach of the Riverside United Methodist Church. Within eighteen months it evolved into a larger outreach becoming the first in the nation to experiment with the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.
“Rehabilitation with Dignity” was a dream of Roberto Perez, a lay preacher; Reverend O. Dean Martin, Pastor of the Riverside United Methodist Church; and Jack Sandstrom, Director of the Dade Community Correction and Rehabilitation Department. Together, they envisioned a halfway house that offered the means for those with a first-time offense the opportunity to rebuild their lives. In addition, they desired to establish an environment with caring people as a replacement for the hardened atmosphere ex-offenders were accustomed to.
Riverside House came into official existence in the fall of 1973, it opened as a joint project of Riverside United Methodist Church and the Dade County Correction and Rehabilitation Department.
A grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration provided the finances to maintain this program for the first two years of operation.
Cleveland Bell III became Executive Director of Riverside House in July of 1977. As a former ex-offender, Mr. Bell was no stranger to the feelings of frustration, anger, and rebellion often felt by those with similar backgrounds. Through the continuous outpouring of Mr. Bell’s personal life experiences with fellow men and women, and, the dedicated, hard work of staff and Board members, the ministry of Riverside House has reached thousands of ex-offenders through jail groups, out-client participation, prison outreach, and inner-city activities.
Today, Riverside House is a private, non-profit organization that has been successfully operating as a coed community residential reentry facility for over 42 years.