William Tolbert, 66, Ends Homelessness and Discovers Vocation

Mr. William Tolbert is living, breathing proof that it’s never too late to change. At the age of 66, after over 15 years of chronic homelessness, Mr. Tolbert experienced a 360° shift in his outlook on life thanks to GWC.

Mr. Tolbert, an Atlanta native, passed by Gateway thousands of times before finally coming inside. He struggled with addiction all his life, served in the army before discharging in 1974, and became caught up in the criminal justice system, which led to his being repeatedly turned down for housing. Tolbert made several attempts at recovery throughout the years, but nothing stuck.

That all changed on May 29th, 2014. William received a medical diagnosis for depression and a doctor’s note which explained that his condition would improve with access to steady housing. As a result, Tolbert entered Gateway’s former Pre-Treatment program for addiction recovery. Under case manager Will Parish’s guidance, Tolbert learned about the nature of his disease and what it takes to overcome addiction. After graduating from Pre-Treatment, Tolbert entered into Gateway’s Upward Program, which offers fraternal support, day-to-day structure, and help with  job/housing search.

“I came here with an attitude of indifference and intolerance,” William explains, “I was mad with everyone who tried to help me because they weren’t doing what I wanted right then. But before I left Gateway, I was working behind the [Client Engagement Center] Desk, so the shoe was on the other foot.”

In fact, Tolbert discovered a deep love for serving others during his experience at Gateway Center. Gateway staff noticed quickly that he was a role model within the residential community, so Tolbert was invited to join the Gateway Center “Resident Assistant/Intern” program. It was through this role—supporting others who were entering into Gateway programs and attempting to end their homelessness for the first time—that Tolbert truly experienced a transformation. LaBaron Brown, the Resident Assistant Program Coordinator, had a huge influence.

“Gateway gave me the opportunity to find out who I really was. Mr. Brown told us we had to reinvent ourselves—I’m 66 years old! It’s hard for me to reinvent myself, you know. But I learned that I had to be empathetic. I learned that I had to treat other people the way I wanted to be treated. I changed my attitudes and behaviors—and that’s what recovery is.”

After almost one full year at the Gateway Center, Mr. Tolbert was hired by Crossroads Community Ministries to support others on their journey toward self sufficiency. And on April 27th, William moved into his very own apartment! Today, he’s reconciled with his family, children, and grandchildren and is working part time to help transform the lives of others the same way Gateway’s staff transformed his own.

“I’m overly grateful for everything that Gateway has done for me. I’m right where I’m supposed to be right now. I like going home to my own house. I’m truly happy. And I think this is what God wanted me to be all along. This is my vocation: to be a helpful servant. And the blessings just keep coming.”


Congratulations William Tolbert! We will miss your kind spirit at the Gateway Center, but are so proud of all that you’ve accomplished.

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