Eugene’s Story: Change is Possible
Eugene’s Story: Change is Possible
Eugene Henry, 63, wears a crisp suit and carries a briefcase in hand at all times. His friends and family call him "Bubby." He's an older gentleman with grandkids and a twinkle in his eye. Mr. Henry arrived at Gateway in December 2013 and, although he was in a new and unfamiliar place, he had an air of confidence that I would come to know as characteristic. What I did not know at the time, however, was what Mr. Henry kept inside that briefcase of his ... "Trophies," he calls them. Momentos from the past: awards, letters, and, most notably, a photocopy of a wanted sign featuring a younger-looking version of himself. The photograph is worn, but his likeness is undeniable. Could this really be the Bubby Henry we've all come to know and love at GWC? Eugene spent 17 years in Federal Prison before coming to Gateway. And although he made some big changes during his time in prison, Eugene found himself on the streets with nowhere to go for several days before he sought out Gateway Center's help. "I'm not the same person I was when I went in," he explains during our interview, "I dug deep into myself and when I came to Gateway, I made a conscious decision to help other people." Eugene did help people. He was quickly recognized by his case manager as a role model for other clients and was promoted to Resident Assistant--helping our case management team and mentoring his peers. Eventually, he rose to "Resident Intern" and began working with staff and gaining customer service skills. Mr. Henry was respectful and always went out of his way to be kind to those who needed his help. While we spoke, Mr. Henry began to pull out pages from his briefcase and lay them carefully before me on the table. Certificates of achievement, letters of recommendation, and even an award given him by the Speaker's Bureau for his role debunking stereotypes about homelessness in Atlanta, one story at a time.
"These are trophies to me. I want to frame them and put them on the wall of my new apartment. Sure, maybe they didn't come from Georgia State, Emory University, or Harvard, but it means so much to me. I carry them around to remind me of where I've been ... And where I want to go."Eugene was a mentor before he arrived at Gateway and continues to mentor others on their journey long after. He often returns to Gateway to volunteer and help out at the front desk. About Gateway he says, "Gateway is a special place. I wanted to have my own key to my own apartment. Now I have both." Congratulations Mr. Henry. We couldn't be more proud!
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.
Reggie Miller's two teen boys and his 3-year-old daughter have kept him going over the past few months, which have been among the toughest in his entire life. Reggie, 47, worked and lived on-site as the maintenance man at an apartment complex near downtown Atlanta. He was proud of his work ethic, and says he often took the initiative to make small repairs or respond to a resident's request – even in the middle of the night. So when he was called into the office one Friday, he was shocked to learn he was being fired due to the worsening economic climate. His savings quickly dwindled, and Reggie soon found himself homeless. He was stunned. "This was my first time on the streets," he recalls. "I never thought I'd be in that position. It was tough just to find a place to use the restroom or wash my face." "You feel like a nobody. When it's raining, you have to get under a bridge. You get sick. It's cold out. There's no medicine. It gets to you." For several days, he went hungry. "I was too proud to go into a soup line," he says. "You're so ashamed. You don't want your friends or anyone to know what's going on." In January 2009, after three months on the street, Reggie was able to register at the Gateway Center. Reggie was happy to be off the streets, but he was wary about life in the center. On the street, he had to keep his guard up. At the Gateway, he worried about living with total strangers and not getting meals when he wanted them. He wasn't sure how he'd relate to the staff or how they'd react to him. After a few weeks, though, Reggie found that he wanted to return the kindness he received from those he encountered at the Gateway. "If I'm eating a meal, I walk around to make sure everyone else has their tray, too," Reggie says. Reggie spends time every day in the Training Program Center on the 3rd floor of the Gateway Center. There he looks for jobs that match his skill set. He immediately flags anything regarding maintenance work, but he's also scanning for warehouse opportunities. In the long term, he wants to get an HVAC license and get back to using his hands. "When I was working, I was dependable," Reggie says. He also schedules regular visits with his children. "They're what keeps me going," he says. "I want to reunite with my family. I miss waking up in the night and seeing my daughter and sons. I know somewhere, somehow, this is going to happen."