Ron’s Story: A Maze I Had Never Seen
Ron’s Story: A Maze I Had Never Seen
By: Sophie Beal When I asked Ron if he’d be willing to sit down and share his interesting story with me, he laughed. “People are always telling me how ‘interesting’ my story is . . . Interesting, huh? I guess that’s one word for it.” Truth is it’s hard to find words to describe Ron’s story. When he was done speaking—I was left speechless. He went from corporate consultant, to homeless, to Gateway resident, to cancer patient, to a healthy student with a bright future. Yet through it all, he has always been a brilliant man and a kind friend. At the end of the day, Ron’s message is this: Our destiny is greater than our history. Ron grew up in Newport News, VA, the eighth of nine children in what he describes as a “solid family unit.” He graduated high school in 1975 and went on to the prestigious Howard University in Washington D.C., where he joined the Air Force Reserve and graduated in 1979 with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Marketing. That same year, he got married and had two children soon after: his daughter in 1980, and his son in 1982. Ron had always planned on Law School eventually, but was “bit by the sales bug” after landing his first job with Toyota. In 1997, Ron founded his own D.C.-based marketing firm called “Marketing Solutions, LLC.” He chose to specialize in nonprofit consulting—creating programs to help organizations improve, working closely with historically black hospitals, and eventually was hired by Corporate Public Relations at AT&T. “I was always good at community relations—anything dealing with people,” Ron said. “And that was my life for over 30 years. Normal and good . . . working in marketing and sales.” Ron and his wife had been divorced for several years when he finally met another woman from Atlanta who he “thought” he was in love with at the time, so he requested a transfer to AT&T’s Atlanta office to be closer to her. At first, things were going great—Ron had a decent job and good income. During this time he was traveling often and playing a lot of golf. He even bought a new house in 2010. “Life was good,” he said, “I even wore the cap that said so.” Homeless at Hartsfield In November of 2011, things took a downhill turn. In the wake of the recession, AT&T was forced to do some layoffs. “I heard rumors, but never thought they’d mess with the marketing people.” But they did, and he was cut.
I had the perfect financial storm going on: all of a sudden I had no job, no income, going through savings like it was water (and in retrospect, I had not been saving enough). I had nothing to fall back on because I was in Atlanta with no family, no real friends, my relationship had ended . . . I had no network of support.Unable to afford his mortgage, Ron soon found himself homeless and began sleeping in the Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport atrium. The airport, to Ron, was a safe and familiar place because he had spent so much time there traveling during his consulting years. Every night, for a full year, Ron would sleep in the airport’s atrium with a duffle bag full of supplies (clothes, hygiene items, necessary documents, etc.). Every morning, he’d clean up in the airport bathroom and take the train into the city to look for work. “I went from flying to hardly being able to get on MARTA. That’s a long way down.” Ron explained,
I had been down before, but I had never been destitute. My pride and my ego were stripped. I had no frame of reference to know how to navigate this situation. It was a maze I had never seen. Reduced to my least common denominator—I became somebody I did not even recognize.Ron fought to maintain his sense of self and discovered a talent for public speaking with Toastmasters International speakers’ group, which he discovered through Clifton Sanctuary Ministries. And in it, he won several awards for his speeches even while being homeless. After a year of staying at the airport, others experiencing homelessness began to arrive in large numbers, thus drawing attention to those who had been there peacefully long before. The growing homeless population at Hartsfield Jackson became a problem for the city, so all those who had been staying at the airport and not flying were made to leave—Ron included. Ron was still looking for work a year after becoming homeless and felt discouraged. He no longer looked like the golf-playing, jet-setting corporate man he’d once been. He was advised by many to “humble himself” and search for low-paying jobs in restaurants and maintenance, but was unsuccessful even at that. During this time (2012), Atlanta had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 9%--higher than the national average. “How was I going to find a job if nobody was finding a job?” Ron asked, “I learned it had nothing to do with my education or experiences. The economy was just bad. And I was caught up in it.” After leaving the airport, Ron spent evenings in 24-hour places like McDonalds and Waffle House that didn’t mind him sitting in booths during the night. He accessed meals and services from the few social service organizations he knew, spent a lot of time at the Public Library, and walked almost everywhere.
It became hard to feel normal. I felt like I was losing my mind because everything that had been me wasn’t me anymore. I’d get looks from people who were still in the mainstream and I became paranoid when I felt like people were looking and judging me because of my bags or appearance. . . But sometimes it wasn’t even a look—it was a lack of a look. Not even acknowledging I exist. There’s nothing like walking down the street and being ignored.It wasn’t until Ron met Jill and Jenna at a free lunch hosted by Church on the Street in spring 2013 that he learned about Gateway Center. Ron, Jill, and Jenna (Gateway’s Mission Year interns that year) became fast friends. He told them his story and, because he was already an experienced public speaker, they invited him to join Gateway’s Faces of Homelessness Speaker’s Bureau—an extra-curricular program offered by Gateway to both residents and non-residents to empower those experiencing homelessness to tell their story and hone public speaking skills. For the next several months, Ron came to Gateway only to attend Speaker’s Bureau meetings and to say hello to Jill and Jenna on occasion. But things went from bad to worse for Ron in October 2013 when he suffered a pulmonary embolism due to a blood clot in his lung. Ron’s doctors decided that he could not return to the street, and so transferred him to Gateway’s Recuperative Care Program co-hosted by Mercy Care Clinic on our 2nd floor. “I couldn’t believe it,” Ron said shaking his head, “I had been to Gateway before, but only as a visitor and member or the Speaker’s Bureau. And now I was a ‘client?’” Ron was disappointed to be in a place he’d considered a ”shelter,” but learned quickly that relationships built under Gateway’s roof could be meaningful in the long term. Ron became friends with Gateway’s Mission Year and DOOR interns as well as Bec Cranford, GWC’s Volunteer Coordinator. He remained active in the Speaker’s Bureau, explaining “the Speaker’s Bureau was a good place to get my chops.” While at Gateway, Ron began thinking about what he could do to make a difference in the community. “I once told Bec that my dream was to run my own nonprofit and she told me that Georgia State had a nonprofit management program. I didn’t think it would be possible financially, but she just told me to trust God.” Ron remained at Gateway attending doctor’s appointments for the next two months before deciding to take advantage of a housing opportunity through a sponsor at Savannah Suites facilities, believing at the time he had found a marketing job with Delta Airlines. Mere days before leaving GWC for Savannah Suites, Ron was diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer. He was in and out of the hospital for months after his diagnosis, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Thus, due to his sickness, Ron was unable to go to his new job and his time at Savannah Suites ended. This time spent back on the street was the darkest for Ron. His health and his life both felt out of control and he wasn’t sure he would ever get better. He began drinking briefly to cope with his depression, but quickly decided that drinking was a waste—“it wasn’t for me,” he said. Reconciliation and Revival Around the first of the year, 2014, Ron made a conscious decision to do everything he could to live. Ron sought out counselors through a local church to help him mentally and spiritually and he began meeting with them twice a week.
Nothing about my situation had changed, but I had changed. It was good to be able to just talk and be listened to. They helped me navigate through that dark place. It cleared out my head and allowed me to see opportunities I couldn’t see before when I was bogged down with depression.One such opportunity available to Ron was SSI disability financial assistance because of his cancer. And another, most importantly, was an opportunity for education. Ron learned of a program through Department of Veterans Affairs that would pay 100% tuition for veterans to the grad school program of their choice. Remembering Bec’s suggestion at Gateway almost a year earlier, Ron decided to pursue a dual degree in Law and Public Policy offered through the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State. Ron studied for the LSAT every day for three months at the public library, took the test in March 2014, and scored well. A church sponsor paid for all of his application fees, and he found out in April that he had been accepted. Since his acceptance, Ron has been taking summer school courses in Fundamentals of Policy, Policy Analysis, and Statistics to prepare for classes in the fall. So far, he has gotten straight A’s and has developed close relationships with his professors, who are amazed that a homeless man nearly 40 years out of school is doing such amazing work. On top of all this, Ron was recently accepted to Georgia State’s Graduate Assistant program as a Teaching Assistant, which provides housing and support for members. Ron is on route to get his degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management, coupled with a Law degree by December 2015. And he intends to use it. “I don’t want anyone to tell me I’m not qualified. Being homeless does not qualify you to solve a problem; it just means you can relate to the problem. You need to know the knuts and bolts.” And what of Ron’s cancer? Ron has been cancer free since April 11th, 2014 and has been living his life to the fullest ever since. His relationship with his children is better today than it has been in years. His daughter, now 34 years old with two children, is sick with Fibro Myalgia and Ron talks to her on the phone almost every day.
I used to ask God, ‘Why do I have to walk so much?’ But now I know it was so that I can go back and show my daughter how to walk again. I know what it feels like when it hurts to walk. I know what it feels like to seem like you’re not getting any better. Seeing me get another chance at life gives [my son and daughter] strength.Ron starts classes full time on August 25th with tuition fully paid by the VA. He still stops by Gateway when he's in the neighborhood to give hugs and show pictures of his grandkids. Ron’s journey out of homelessness is finally coming to an end, but his greater journey has only just begun. “There’s something I say to my kids every so often. I texted them each the other day and said: ‘Our destiny is greater than our history.’ And you know what they both said? ‘Amen.’
August Employee of the Month: Fred Payne
August Employee of the Month: Fred Payne
By: Sophie Beal Fredrick Payne (known by most as Fred) is an incredible and dedicated human being. He arrived at Gateway as a client, rose in the ranks, was hired, and quickly became one of our most valuable employees. Today, Fred is our 3rd Floor CSA, but is always willing to help out wherever he is most needed. Now that our Summer Interns' time with Gateway Center has come to an end, our 1st Floor Client Engagement Center requires extra help to compensate. Fred has not missed a beat--stepping up and helping our Lead CSA, Esque, to provide each person who walks through our door with the highest quality care. Fred approaches each new client interaction with patience and steady calm, often offering much needed advice and words of wisdom. During our interview, Fred was approached constantly and hardly had a moment to catch his breath long enough to answer my questions. He told one woman who was discouraged with her situation, "We all get tired, but we just can't give up." Thank you for your hard work, Fred! You've earned that trophy. Where are you from? I’m originally from Atlanta, by way of California. I moved back to Atlanta when I was about 12-13 years old. Where did you go to school and what did you study? I went to Atlanta College of Business and graduated, then went to Georgia State and graduated with a degree in Management, and then went to Russ Institute and studied Security. What led you to Gateway? I actually found the Gateway Center through one bought of homelessness that I went through over a weekend. I went to Peters Street. And one of the guys over there came up to me and said “You don’t belong here. This does not fit you. You need to go to Gateway.” I went to Gateway, entered the program, and eventually graduated. I was hired by Gateway and today I'm the 3rd Floor CSA. What inspires you most in your job? Helping people. Seeing them come back and acknowledge that I helped them in some way. That’s the best thing about it. When I see a client who was here once and they come back to remind me of what I did for them—that’s my reward. What is the hardest part of your job? Not being able to help someone in the way that they need help. Having to tell them no. One of the hardest parts was when I worked in the women’s and children’s center and they’d come in at 10:30 p.m. with children and we didn’t have space, so we had to turn them away. When you get discouraged, what keeps you going? Prayer. I have church members I call when I get to that point. Either that or I work out on my music on my keyboard—that lifts me up. What’s one memory of Gateway you’ll always remember? There are many memories I have from Gateway . . . Recently, there was a guy here who was ready to give up, but I talked to him just like I do with all of our clients. What started as a one on one turned into a group session and, low and behold, he listened. He decided to be patient, put the work in, went out there and found a job. Now he’s about to move into his own place. Another memory was when I graduated from the program the clients here threw a party for me. What do you like to do in your free time? I always tell the guys here—I never have any free time. I’m just as busy on the weekends as I am during the week. But when I do have time I watch movies, study, and work on my music. I do gospel, R&B, Jazz (but mainly Gospel). I perform every Sunday at church. Where is your favorite spot in ATL? According to my wife, my kids and my church members, my favorite spot is American Deli—but I think my favorite spot is actually home. If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be? Be patient. Keep focused. Keep the faith. Keep at it. Don’t give up. That’s what I keep telling the guys here. That’s what I’d tell anyone.
Donny’s Story: From Homeless to Lead Cook
Donny’s Story: From Homeless to Lead Cook
By: Staci Wright When I was first introduced to Donny Hampton, I could tell that he was the kind of person I could sit and talk with all day long. So when he agreed to an interview with me, that is exactly what we did. Donny grew up in Miami, Florida and shared stories of his childhood, his love for his mother and his passion for cooking at the young age of 7. As he showed me a scar on his ankle, he explained the story behind it.
One of my favorite programs as a kid was The Wizard of Oz. Back then, it was a 4 hour program and when it would come on my mom would let me stay up late and watch it and she would go into the kitchen and make homemade fries. The next day, I decided I would try and make some fries just like my mama did. So, I get up and I put the grease on the stove and cut the potatoes while the grease was getting hot. I then take the fries out of the water and I drop them in the scalding hot grease and the entire kitchen caught fire. I got scared, so I grabbed the pan and I tried to carry the pan out the back door and some of the grease splattered on my arm and I dropped the pan on my foot.After that incident, Donny’s mother showed him how to properly cook and maneuver his way around the kitchen. By the time Donny was 9 years old he was preparing the family meals. By 19, he was already a manager at TGI Fridays. He worked his way through restaurants until he opened up his own soul food restaurant in Decatur, GA in 1985. His successful restaurant business came crashing down in 1987 due to problems with substance abuse and he ended up losing everything he had worked so hard for. While telling this part of his story, Donny referred to 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." By 1991, things were looking up again. Donny got married and was working on maintaining a healthy marriage and being a supportive father to his three daughters: Tasha (from a previous relationship), Jahsiland and Natalie. As his marriage began to fall apart, though, so did he. By 2004, he was divorced and back on his destructive path of drugs and alcohol. Money was running low, jobs were difficult to obtain and he hopped from shelter to shelter. He recalled one terrifying night when he was hit in the head with a steel pipe, robbed, assaulted and hospitalized for 8 days. After being released from the hospital, Donny knew he couldn't go back to the streets because he wouldn't survive. Instead, he secured a bed in the Training and Support program at Gateway in August of 2013. He told me the story of his first meeting with his caseworker, Amanda VanDalen, explaining that,
…Once you find people who truly care about your success, you hang on to those people. You appreciate those people and you let them know in every way shape and form that you appreciate those people. We had a person who cared about us and that was motivation enough to do what I had to do.Donny knew Amanda was someone who genuinely cared about him and his success, so he did not want to let her down. He was true to his word. Today, Donny is working as lead cook at the Peachtree Club and also as garde manger at the Sheraton Hotel. He has his own apartment and is enjoying decorating his place and getting in touch with his neighbors. “I’m so happy right now! I have my own place. I have my soberness and I’m looking forward to bettering myself in ways beyond simply having an apartment. I’m responsible for myself, I have responsibilities in my community and I have people I’m responsible to.” Since leaving Gateway, Donny has come back to visit and brought his family along for a tour; including two of his three daughters. “I wanted my kids to see what I had to go through to get back on the right track so they don’t make the same mistakes.” He wants his daughters to see him as a role model and someone to look up to and be proud of. “What I learned is to depend more on me and my skills and also to accept help from others. Help doesn't mean that you are handicapped, help means that you are getting fresh eyes; eyes with experience.” He concludes by quoting Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Second Chances: James’ Story
Second Chances: James’ Story
By Staci Wright When I first met James Kinard he was 15 minutes early to our meeting and he was alive with energy and soul - even at 8:45 a.m. He had just graduated from Atlanta Area Tech College on May 17 for Heating and Air-Conditioning. I could tell he was so proud and I could not wait to find out more about him. James is originally from a small town in South Carolina where the opportunities were slim. He was going to school for aviation maintenance, as well as working, but he could not seem to escape trouble. He was involved with selling drugs, fighting and shoot-outs, and found himself in and out of jail. He said it felt like he was “…always taking one step forward and being pushed two steps back.” It was not until his mother, Brenda, suffered from a stroke that James decided to turn his life around. He and his mother moved to Atlanta so she could obtain better health care and he could have access to better opportunities. His mother was doing well until Thanksgiving morning when she endured another stroke. Her doctors thought she might not make it but James said his mother was a fighter, and she kept pushing and she kept holding on. James became his mother’s full-time caregiver, even though it was very hard for him to see her suffer. James stuck by his mother’s side until she passed away in 2011. While caring for his mother, his girlfriend at the time was pregnant with their first baby, which she later lost due to a miscarriage. "You know it really hurt me when she lost the baby, then my mother passed away and then my girlfriend broke up with me, then my grandmother passed away," said James. "I lost my job, my apartment, contemplated suicide and broke down and cried and asked God to help me.” James tried to get back on the right track and decided to go back to school for heating and air and held a steady job at a warehouse. When the warehouse shifted to 12 hour work shifts that did not work with his school schedule, he made the tough decision to stick with his education and find an employer willing to work around his school schedule. Though, finding a new job proved to be much more difficult than he imagined and he eventually found himself without an apartment and out of unemployment funds. “I wound up staying with this person and that person, slept in a few people’s cars, went to the airport to sleep and was bouncing back and forth from place to place.” When one place did not work out, he found himself at Gateway Center in March and said it was the best thing he ever did. During his time in the Employment Program, James has held two jobs and was able to continue with his education. “I just kept praying and pushing and before I knew it, graduation day came.” Since being at Gateway, James has saved up enough money to get his driver’s license back, paid all his probation fees, got off probation, acquired affordable health insurance, saved up enough money for a car and is in the process of getting his record expunged. He says “…things are looking up.” His next step is to find a stable place to live that he can call his own and he will begin an apprenticeship program next month in his field. When asked what he has learned through his life experiences, James answers, “One thing I’ve learned is the whole aspect of being humble. Just be humble." In closing, James left me with this final statement. “I just thank God for everything. Anybody out there that’s going through anything, no matter how bad you think it is, just know that God is with you and he always gives you multiple chances. It’s not always as bad as you think it is; a rainbow is coming!” Thank you, James, for sharing your story with me and to the rest of the world.
Road to Success
Road to Success
Below is an email one of our staff members received from a previous client. This gentleman came to the Gateway Center experiencing homelessness and jobless and is now in the midst of training to become a truck driver and on the 'road' to self-sufficiency. We continue to strive to change lives and end homelessness - one life at a time. "I've been running cross country on this second phase of my training. I thought I wasn't going to enjoy being back behind the wheel but I do and hopefully I can get through this last phase and get my own truck. I'm doing much better than expected! I want to thank you personally for your time and effort that you put into the computer lab and the people that come through there. Thank you and thank Gateway. I will be more diligent in keeping in contact with you man and I won't forget where I came from. Thank you again."
By Emily Emshoff We are happy to be sharing the success story of Zachary Leach, a previous client at the Gateway Center who was a part of the Veteran's Program and is now stably housed and self-sufficient. Zachary Leach came from Philadelphia to Atlanta in 2009 with the hopes of finding a job as a longshoreman in Savannah, Georgia. When his plans began to veer off course he found himself living in Atlanta longer than planned, with no job and no income. Zach began to live off his unemployment benefits, which lasted for two years. As his source of income began to dwindle, he found himself going down a path that was leading to a life he had never imagined for himself. “I never thought I had a drinking problem. I knew I had a drug problem, but I had stopped doing drugs in 1989. Turns out, I was substituting one drug for another when I turned to alcohol.” After living in an apartment for four months for free, the landlord told him he either had to start paying or leave. “I ended up staying in an abandoned house nearby. My depression set in, and I began to drink more heavily.” After taking advice from one of his friends, Zachary visited the Veteran’s Administration. He told them he was experiencing homelessness and an alcoholic. After visiting a few different shelters, he was referred to the Gateway Center in April 2013 and joined the Veteran's Program. “From the day I walked in the door at Gateway, I did everything they asked of me. I worked hard and eventually became a Residential Assistant. I finally had options for my life.” Zachary began attending school at Cutting Edge and became a certified barber and cosmetologist. After being an RA for seven months, Zach is now self-sufficient. He will be starting his new job as a barber, and he is in the process of moving into a two-bedroom condo downtown. He has also been sober for 11 months. “I can honestly say that Gateway has given me a great life. I no longer smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol; I don’t even eat red meat!” After living on his own for six months, Zach plans to return to Gateway and volunteer. He wants to help people who are in the situation he was once in. Zach says coming to the Gateway Center was the best decision he has ever made. “If you want a new beginning, start here.”
(Pictured above: Antyon's townhouse. He now has a place that he can call home.) By Jason Tatum I had a great conversation with a former resident of the Gateway Center earlier today. I asked him about his life, his experiences, and where he’s been, but I did not find him eager to dwell on the past. His story, as far as he is concerned, began the day he got out of prison. The day Antyon left prison, he had nowhere to go. He lacked money, a place to live, and family or friends to fall back on for support. He was without a lot at that point, but what he did have was a desire to make his life matter. Antyon knew that he needed work and he needed it fast. “I just got out there immediately and applied to everything I could find,” he told me. “I was willing to work right away so I got going on the hunt. It took me two days to find employment.” Antyon had spent just three days in a nightly shelter when a staff person at that facility told him about the Employment program here at Gateway Center. He made his way over to Pryor St. where he made a new friend and mentor in Christie Peters, one of our case managers on the third floor. “Ms. Peters gave me the tools I needed to reach self-sufficiency,” Antyon related to me. “I learned how to budget my money, save, and plan for the future.” Within 6 months of leaving jail and having literally nothing, Antyon was ready to move into an apartment of his own, paid for by his own hard work and dedication. Antyon enjoys the work he is doing at the moving company where he is employed, but he has his eyes on the future. “I’ve got a cool place and I’m in a good spot, but I know what I want to do with my life. My dream is to get a degree in Human Services so that I can counsel others and give back. I want to impact others and help change lives.” I asked Antyon what he thought about his experience with homelessness and being in one of Gateway’s programs. “I would recommend the center to anyone. Gateway Center has so many resources that were really helpful. They had the Department of Labor office right there in the building. They had a computer lab that was great. They even helped me get furniture. Anyone who needs help shouldn't hesitate to go.” Antyon has been living self-sufficiently for about two months. The job is going well and the apartment is becoming a home, but perhaps the best news he had, the thing that was the most exciting to him overall, was that he was now taking online classes towards that degree: that dream of helping others. --- Last year thousands of people stayed at Gateway Center in their journey towards self-sufficiency and out of homelessness. $10 provides meals for a day for one client. Every dollar counts. Make a donation today.
By Emily Emshoff We are happy to be sharing the success story of Jerome Lucas, a previous client at Gateway Center who was a part of the Life Changers Program and is now stably housed and self-sufficient. In 2012 Jerome had a job working at a restaurant, and things were going well. When he unexpectedly lost his job and was denied unemployment benefits, he found himself with nothing, and nowhere to turn. “It was so much stress. Everything started to pile up on me.” Jerome unfortunately suffered a stroke on Mother’s Day and was desperately in need of assistance. His daughter brought him to Gateway at a point when he was not even able to walk. “I met Vince Smith (Executive Director at Gateway Center) and he ended up being my best friend. He got me a walking cane.” Jerome became a part of the Life Changers program where he worked closely with several case managers as he healed and worked to turn his life around. When he arrived at Gateway, he had no income, and his Social Security benefits were pending. After working with case managers, he was awarded his Social Security benefits and was then eligible for an income-based senior living apartment. After completing the Life Changers program, Jerome was able to apply for an apartment, was accepted and moved into housing. One of our case managers was kind enough to give Jerome a TV and a chair as a start to furnish his new home. “It was nice to realize the apartment and the stuff in it was all mine, and nobody could take it from me. I couldn't get put out.” Jerome says the biggest lesson he learned was that when you are going through hard times, you have to keep your head up and some good will come along; you will meet some good people. “If it wasn’t for Gateway, I wouldn’t even be here. Nobody else cared as much as they do at Gateway.” Last year over 4,400 unique persons stayed at Gateway Center in their journey towards self-sufficiency and out of homelessness. $10 provides meals for a day for one client. Every dollar counts. Make a donation today.
Profiles in Change: Meet Emmanuel
Profiles in Change: Meet Emmanuel
Emmanuel came to the Gateway Center when he needed help. Now, he is giving back to the place who gave so much to him. Emmanuel is a part of our Residential Assistant program. RA's are similar to leaders in a college dormitory, but are also picking up training and skills that they'll be able to take forward in their careers when they leave the Gateway Center. One of our awesome interns, Sophie Beal, got to know Emmanuel and she realized that he had a lot of wonderful things to share. When she asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview on camera he happily agreed! This video is the very first in what will be a series titled, "Profiles In Change.” [video width="640" height="480" mp4="/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/profiles_in_change-_meet_emmanuel_640x480.mp4"][/video]
Local Mobility: Chris’ Story
Local Mobility: Chris’ Story
By: Molly Chris and I were scheduled to meet at 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. I arrived at his dorm on the second floor a few moments early and one of the case managers gave him a ring on his cell phone to let him know that I had arrived for our interview. I sat in the Recuperative Care unit, admiring the health facts and client artwork hanging on the walls for a few moments until Chris came rushing in the door. “I’m so sorry I am late- I ran here from the library…I guess you can tell since I am sweating!” Chris apologized. I, of course, was not offended in the least bit at his tardiness. I would soon find out that running back to Gateway from the local library was no small feat, and, had I met Chris a few months ago, running would not have been an option. In 2011, Chris was diagnosed with a severe neuromuscular disorder called Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to produce antibodies that block the muscle cells from receiving messages from the nerve cell…in other words, movement and muscle control are difficult if not impossible. When Chris was diagnosed a few years ago, he was living independently. Not too long after his diagnosis Chris was notified that his landlord had not been making proper payments, and that the house where he was renting a room was being foreclosed. Chris moved in with his uncle, but his health prevented him from work and it soon became evident that he needed medical intervention. Grady emergency room, Chris was discharged onto the street with no housing options that would suit his physical state. After a few months of living in shelters and hopping from relative to relative, he knew he needed a long term solution so that he could gain control over his diagnosis and live a functional life. In the late fall of 2012, after having exhausted all of his family connections and options for short term shelter, Chris was finally referred to the Gateway Center Recuperative Care program. Thanks to the caring and extensively talented staff from Saint Joseph’s Mercy Care, Chris is now more mobile than ever, and no longer worries about where he will eat or sleep each day. Chris has been with us at Gateway now for four months, and can’t contain his joy when he talks about how far he has come. “I was at the library looking at apartment applications all morning, and time just slipped away from me!” he exclaimed, still apologizing for being late. I just couldn’t stop smiling as Chris told me about his apartment search. Just four months ago, he could hardly walk, and now he is running all around town, preparing to move into self-sufficiency with the support of a whole community of social and medical workers. Chris is the physical manifestation of so many client stories at the Gateway Center. When folks walk through our doors for the first time, they are hurting, some can hardly walk upright. We strive to be a place of healing and empowerment; and not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. My hope for all of our clients is that they can not only get back on their feet with the help of our programs, but that they can all get to the point where they can hit the ground running!
Many of your know Russell's story and have been touched by his life, whether you are a volunteer at Gateway, have heard him speak with the Speakers' Bureau, or work with him as Gateway Staff. We want to share an exciting new development is Russell's life! Russell was recently certified as a Peer Specialist, and we are proud to announce that Gateway has hired Russell to work with our PATH tem in doing outreach to clients with mental health issues and/or clients who struggle with substance abuse. We are so proud to call Russell a part of the Gateway Center team! Below is an excerpt from an email thast one of our partners, Back on My Feet, sent out to their members...you can see how lovely it is to work with Russell and how many lives he has touched through these words: "Hi Everyone! We hope you are all having a wonderful week. It is always so amazing to see members moving forward. You may have seen this post on Facebook, but I’d like to share again how proud we are of Russell Thurman, one of our Residential Members from Team Gateway. If you have ever run with Team Gateway or have ever been to an event with Russell present, you have likely been lucky enough to see his smiling face. Russell’s enthusiasm is simply infectious. Russell recently completed a two week training to become a Peer Specialist, which is a mentoring/counseling position for individuals with dual diagnoses (mental health and substance abuse). He has been hired as a Peer Specialist for the Gateway Center, and through this opportunity Russell will be able to serve and inspire so many other people. We are SO PROUD of this tremendous accomplishment!!"
One of our clients, Barry, shares his story in his own words: I was born in rural West Central Ohio- about half way between Toledo and Dayton. We lived so far out in the country; we had to truck in sunshine. I had a typical childhood…everyone in the family was dysfunctional. After high school I continued my education at Ohio Northern University, one of the most prestigious private universities in the Midwest. In 1972, one month after I turned 21, I passed my state boards and because one of the youngest licensed realtors in Ohio. I was fortunate to have a great mentor and I was well on my way- my future was assured. I only associated with other salesmen who were more successful than i- I wanted to know what they knew and do what they did. I emulated their work habits and I mimicked their social activities- and that included the consumption of alcohol. In 1976, I left real estate to pursue my sales career in other areas….and my drinking increased. From time to time, my family and close friends suggested that I might have a drinking problem. No way, not me. I know how to drink just fine! Besides, no matter how much I had to drink the night before, I was always at work the next day and I got the job done. Time passed and things became worse. My drinking increased and minor indiscretions became major problems. Problems bosses could no longer ignore. Appropriate action needed to be taken, first came the verbal warnings, then the written reprimands, and, finally, the terminations. Each job loss brought a new pledge to stop drinking. A period of sobriety, a new job, and life became good again. It was easy for me to believe this qualified me to drink normally. I resumed drinking, and for a while I was okay…but soon I was drinking as much as ever and eventually I was unable to hold a job. In 1772, I thought my future had been assured. By 2000, I had become a hopeless, helpless, homeless alcoholic. On December 23rd, 2010, I entered the treatment/ recovery program at the Gateway Center. Like rekindling a fire, the case managers at Gateway gave proper guidance patience and love to rekindle a glimmer of hope within me. My goal every day is to keep my fire of recovery burning. As I get older, I dream of leaving the world a better place. If I affect the life of just one other person in a positive way, I will have made a difference!
Today we are sharing a success story through the Regional Commission on Homelessness. Thanks to the wonderful collaborative continuum of care, we are able to work with other service agencies to help end homelessness for families and individuals. Read about Chris' story: Chris Spann was born in Marietta, GA in 1974. He and his two half-brothers were raised by his single mother and he remembers never having to go without and always getting what he wanted. Chris never dreamed he ...would become homeless. Chris first became homeless in 2010 due to many factors like lack of income and a substance abuse problem. “I felt pathetic,” he said. For two years, Chris stayed anywhere from hotels to the streets to shelter beds. “I just stayed wherever I could.” Last year things finally started to look up for Chris. One day while he was visiting the The Gateway Center for services, one of his peers suggested that he talk to someone from the Regional Commission on Homelessness’s PATH Team. He did, and started seeing a case manager who has now helped Chris connect with services for his mental health and substance abuse issues. He also learned how to be self-sufficient. He moved into permanent housing in November, and couldn’t be happier. In his free time, he enjoys riding motorcycles and playing with his children. He’s most proud of his three children and his devotion to finding better solutions for his problems. Thanks so much to the Regional Commission for being an invaluable partner! Together, we can end homelessness. One person at a time.
Ernesto: Homeward Bound
Ernesto: Homeward Bound
Today's post is from our Volunteer Coordinator, Bec Cranford. She recalls one fo the first clients she heped translate for at the Gateway Center: With a trash bag of belongings in one hand, and his cane holding his balance in the other Ernesto inched through the doors of the Gateway. The elderly man spoke little English, did not possess identification, and could not remember much about the past few weeks. He sat quietly in our client engagement center waiting to get a place to rest for the evening. Tears rolled down his leathered face. Ernesto could not remember where he resided before his arrival to Atlanta. He could not even recall how he got to Gateway, sometimes thinking he was currently in Miami or Charlotte. He suffered a major head injury as a result of a work related fall. He said his coworkers left him for dead. Caseworkers, coordinators, and partner agencies worked around the clock to help Ernesto. He would remember bits and pieces of his story occasionally and share them with anyone who would listen. It was very difficult to track down family or friends, but he remained confident that we could help him. Each day, Gateway would spend time with him double checking parts of his story and looking for leads to locate his family. We called hospitals, police stations, and post offices. Everything appeared to be a dead end. He never lost hope. He smiled at everyone with tenderness and called us “hermenitas” or “hermanos.” We really believed he meant it. He knew we were his brothers and little sisters, and that we could get him assistance. We worked with translators and specialists. We partnered with many agencies. One day he recalled the name of a hotel where he had stayed during an extended work project in Charlotte. We searched the internet for hours. We located something similar, and called the number listed. They had no record of his stay. We thought it was another setback. We told him about Charlotte. Ernesto appeared to jump if not for his cane tying him to the ground when we expressed the possibility of returning to Charlotte. Our directors and case managers worked tirelessly to fill in the missing pieces. Ernesto leaned on his cane and on my shoulder as we walked out to the bus stop one day. He suddenly recalled a name. The news became the breakthrough we needed. Now we had a name and a potential address. Our C.O.O. made calls to an agency in Charlotte who agreed to house Ernesto while he located his family. Every time we mentioned Charlotte to Ernesto he would grin from ear to ear and ask me, “When can I go home?” We were able to get Ernesto back to his precious Charlotte; a place where he could receive healthcare, a place where he had community, and a place where hope glimmered. He was slowly recalling his friends, family, church community and the time period before his accident. He regained some mobility in his arm, and his eyes seemed to hold new light. Ernesto gathered his belongings and boarded the Greyhound to Charlotte, thanks to the efforts of Gateway. He smiled from his window and say “Gracias, Hermanos.”
As featured in our August newsletter; here is Russell's story of success! Russell spent most of his adult life as a successful working man with a beautiful family. One day, however, he was introduced to cocaine. At first, he thought he could stop at any time. Then suddenly, his paycheck would go directly to support a weekend binge. His wife and children felt alienated. Cocaine enchanted him and became his priority over work, family and everything else. Soon, Russell found himself sleeping under bridges and in abandoned buildings- driven from his family and employment by his addiction. It wasn’t too long before Russell hit rock bottom. After deciding that he was ready to end his addiction and homelessness, Russell came to the Gateway Center. He committed to a life of clarity and sobriety and began encouraging other men to do the same. Staff at Gateway quickly recognized Russell's leadership abilities and invited him to be a part of the Resident Assistant program. Russell continues to serve Gateway as a Resident Assistant in the Veterans’ Program on the fourth floor of the Gateway Center. He has reconciled with his family, and was able to see his daughter graduate from law school this past spring. Russell is now highly involved in his children's lives and now has a beautiful grandbaby who he gets to see regularly. He is a deacon in his church and also a member of the Back on My Feet running team at Gateway. Russell believes his faith and his support network through Gateway, and other agencies helped him to change directions in his life. Russell is currently attending a training to become a certified Peer Specialist and has the goal of working in social services.