Crystal Hill-Hover, a former drug offender and recovering addict, has turned that unfortunate experience into a promising venture.
Under a pilot program, Hill-Hover, 40, is one of only a few ex-felons in Minnesota who have been granted a business loan guaranteed by the US Small Business Administration (SBA).
Mentor Paul Kusterman, a former police officer and law enforcement officer who has worked in the addiction healing field for years, is also an investor in Hill-Hover’s Twin Cities Wellness Center & Recovery Gym.
Kustermann, a former partner and manager of Restoration Counseling & Community Services (RCCS) in north Minneapolis, helped her plan her business.
“Crystal was dropped off at RCCS by a Minnesota Department of Justice pickup truck with a box of her belongings,” Kustermann recalled. “Her drive was obvious. She was outstanding. Committed to recovery and lifestyle changes.”
Hill-Hover evolved into a sober case in five months and inspired others, he said.
“She has a big heart,” said Kustermann. “She was someone I could stand behind after she was a client.”
Hill-Hover’s entrepreneurial vision was to eventually develop their own holistic treatment facility, providing physical, mental and emotional support, as well as support through partner agencies and non-profit housing and employment organizations.
The fact that Kustermann and two other investors pledged more than $120,000 last year to help start the Twin Cities Wellness Center impressed bankers at Alerus Bank, which secured a working capital loan earlier this month secured $210,000.
Angela Kazmierski, Hill-Hover’s SBA credit manager at Alerus Bank, and Julie Stewart, Alerus’ commercial lender, said Hill-Hover was outspoken, persistent and showed character, in addition to having a credible business plan.
“Crystal is the rare criminal borrower,” Stewart said of Hill-Hover’s two felony convictions and 16 arrests.
“However, she made us believe with her effort and determination,” she said. “And the people on our team saw that this could work. Crystal did what it took to get that across the finish line.”
The Twin Cities Wellness Center achieved profitability in June with sales of $90,000. The loan proceeds will help expand the in-demand facility from 32 to 48 customers by the fall.
Hill-Hover was a good student who dropped out of high school in Ohio. She had started using and selling marijuana. She eventually followed her mother into using and selling methamphetamine. Long-term use of meth is highly addictive and can lead to mental and physical deterioration. And death.
Hill-Hover moved to the Twin Cities in 2000, near her grandparents. She had worked for a pizza chain in Ohio and got a job as a store manager at the company here. However, she could not get rid of her addiction or finance it with drug sales.
She began turning her life around in 2015 during a second stint at the Minnesota Women’s Prison in Shakopee. Hill-Hover also had a son. A third conviction for drug abuse would mean federal prison and loss of custody.
Hill-Hover completed a recovery program and a rigorous “boot camp” program of physical training and personal development. She also earned a high school equivalent and an MBA in business. Hill-Hover had a plan. And the power to carry them out.
She remained close to 63-year-old Kustermann, who spent 10 years in the Army before moving on to the police force, prison work and then community-based recovery. He increasingly saw the problems faced by many prisoners, rooted in disadvantaged childhoods, dysfunctional families, school fights, and chemical dependency.
Hill-Hover envisioned her own recovery center and healthcare business in Kustermann.
“Paul is like the father and mentor I never had,” Hill-Hover recalled. “My father died of alcoholism when I was 15. I have nothing but love and respect for him. And he’s been there for me since the RCCS recovery program.”
Hill-Hover said her business works because it is customer-centric, customizes treatment with a comprehensive assessment, and tracks progress. Most of the Twin Cities Wellness Center’s clients are ex-convicts. The atmosphere is professional but supportive and informal.
“They know they’re surrounded by people who have been in their shoes,” Hill-Hover said.
The Twin Cities Wellness Center’s income comes from private insurance, Medicaid or other government assistance, patient payments, and families. Depending on the service, it can cost $100,000 or more over a year. But it’s cheaper than cycling through prison for years.
“Crystal has positively modeled and influenced hundreds of people over the past several years,” said Kustermann. “This stuff helps people fix and restore.”
An earlier version of this story had the wrong titles for Alerus’ Angela Kazmierski and Julie Stewart.