What’s Next… for our Graduates

It has been a while since I have posted and I wanted to move the conversation away from my past to the challenges, joys and hopes of men and women we serve every day.

This is a long conversation so it will come out in pieces, but the most exciting things is … it is being developed as I write. The end has not happened . We have a dream but reality has yet to come alive.

Here is the challenge we face:

Upon graduation  from our transitional programs our graduates are very excited. For many, it is the first thing they have started and finished  and this ‘first’ in their life may become the thing that saved their life. The graduation ceremony culminates in each man/ woman giving their testimony of their journey. It isn’t required but many men/women do want to do it. Those speeches are heart breaking while at the sames time hopeful. In the beginning of their journey with us some 24 months ago the men/women entered the door broken and hopeless and now I can’t say anything but WOW ; a miracle that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit. Their transformation is nothing, but remarkable.

So my question is “what now…” for many of the graduates that questions is answered by “I have no idea what’s next”. Our staff works tirelessly with outside agencies to help find the graduates housing and employment, however many will graduate with neither. I brought this dilemma to our staff and they came up with a potential solution that we call THE DREAM. THE DREAM is a pictorial depiction of our  mission and values as an organization with one big addition THE DREAM’s goal is Salvation, Housing and employment. The power of the pictorial is the entire staff is able to see how we can act upon those values in our daily work. It is becoming a very powerful tool.

The goal of THE DREAM is:

“…provide an opportunity for our clients to live in safe affordable permanent housing working towards a living wage job while walking in God’s light…”

Don’t let me get ahead of myself. I need to break down the issue a little before we get started.  HOMELESSNESS is a result of our societies inability to deal with POVERTY, Poverty’s main issue is HOUSING (people living in poverty have a daily struggle with affording their homes). The main issue that arises from housing is having a good JOB that gives the person the ability to afford it. The good job is unattainable today because the graduate does not have the SKILLS necessary to get that good job (when I say good job I mean a living wage job), so the challenge becomes getting our graduates the skills they need to get the job, to rent the home, to get out of poverty thus not being homeless. So our DREAM is to get our graduates the skills that are necessary to get the job. That skills development may start with teaching someone to read and may culminated is  our men/women graduating from Welding School  or becoming a Nurse’s Aid before granduation or after graduation depending on the length of the training.

More information: About 20% to 25% of our homeless population will require society to take care of them for the rest of their lives because of mental illness or another life-long disability. OK, as a member of society I am willing to support those men, women and children, however that leaves 75% to 80% of the population, some 470,000+ (numbers calculated from numbers provided by 1/12/2012 State of Homelessness 2012 – Chapetr One – Homelessness Counts  National Allaince to End Homlessness Washington, DC) nationally and 3,700+ (numbers calculated from numbers provided by 2011 Annual report on Homelessness In Earie County summarized by The Homeless alliance of WNY) in Erie County who are able to work. Our DREAM  is focused on the homeless population that is able  to work. We will always welcome everyone who comes to our door for emergency help and we will do all we can for them continuing to elicit the help of partnering agencies. THE DREAM is focused on the client’s who are able to change their life’s trajectory. We are also aware that a client needs to work through their addictions and issues before they can move forward. We are committed to helping them through that struggle and helping them understand the possibilities of walking a new path and giving them Hope for a better future.

This is only the beginning and I look forward to continuing with the next steps of THE DREAM as they unfold. Stay tuned…



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Poverty’s Symptoms: What is the relationship between drugs and poverty – the answer is not a simple one and I will leave that up to the psychologists to decide. There are many reasons for drug abuse and drug abuse can be found in the inner city, suburbs and rural community however I want to focus on what we see at the Mission. The drug abuse we are confronted with often comes from an attempt by our clients to cover up past traumas; to hide from their pain and aguish. Many of those traumas could have been long past but still drive behavior today; abuse as a child from a supposed trusted adult, domestic violence from a partner or parent, and/or lack of love and caring. Think about it – even as adults we can look back very quickly to our past and see trauma that happened years ago and bring it forward like it happened yesterday. That feeling can drive our behavior and often drive us to a feeling of inadequacy which is often exposed when we are put into other high stress situations like poverty. Drug abuse or addiction of any kinds exists within a large percentage of our population at the Mission and we know this addictive usage has to be stopped before our client can have any hope of changing their life. How do we do it at the Mission – we don’t, God does. I mean it. The men and women come to us after years of addictive behavior, broken, hurt and hopeless. We humans can do little to end their history of addiction, but Jesus can do anything and we see these miracles daily. Our clients often initially come to use for a meal, a bed and maybe even some clean cloths which are all made available through the generosity of this community. They come not with hope but pure hunger and are bone tired. It is from this point that Jesus Christ starts his work. Jesus works through our staff and our clients to offer these man and women a message of hope through their actions, smiles and soft kind words; men talking to men and women talking to women – God works through each of them to pass on the message of hope, often not by quoting scripture, but by their actions. Think about it – your down and out and are devoid of hope, who best knows your plight then someone who was just there. No games, no lies – just the bare honest truth. “…if you want something different this place can show you the way…” Many of our men and women in our long term recovery programs got started based on an initial conversation with other more tenured clients in the program. Some stay and some leave but often they come back and start asking questions. No tricks, no gimmicks – just God working through men and women helping other men and women. When given a chance everyone wants to help. These man and women who come to the Mission are little different from you and I. They were born and someone was excited they were alive and the picture were taken and everyone was brimming with pride; then life happened many times based on the place they lived, the food they had or didn’t have, the healthcare they got or didn’t get, the love they got or didn’t get. Question: When you were little and you woke up in the morning did you know someone cared about you and loved you? What if your answer to that question was NO. How would you feel about yourself? How confident would you be when you went to school? How excited about life would you be? You just wanted to be loved. What if your love came from someone bad? Someone who used you? Someone who made you work for them? It wouldn’t matter; because any love is better then no love. Our answer to the situation our clients find themselves in is to provide them someone they can trust and who never lies, someone who is always with them; someone who loves them unconditionally – and that someone is Jesus Christ. Our Lord and Savior will always be with them – He will provide love, hope, forgiveness and guidance. We at the Mission guide our men and women to walk in Jesus Christ’s path, how to live a life He would be proud of and how to pass on His blessing to another just like ourselves. Our true blessing is that Jesus died for our salvation and for that He asks us to spread the Word. You may be asking what can I do to help and the answer is first “Pray” for all the men, women and children who find themselves living in Poverty. You can also volunteer you time and/or provide financial support to any organization that touches the homeless that would have a direct positive impact on this challenged population. Believe me any amount helps. We get donations that range from two quarters taped to a 3×5 card to large personal checks and each help our daily mission. Even if your path with the Lord is short or non-existent, get involved through the Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brother, Big Sister, any organization that helps the men, women and children who find themselves in Poverty. If you aren’t sure what to do call me and I will try and help. God bless you.

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Just Being There

My step-father recently passed away after 92 years. I should really call him my father because my relationship with him was for a majority of my life father and son. I worked for him right out of college in Texas. but more importantly he showed me how to be a man, fallible, but always honest and steady. I wasn’t always good at those things, but he made a good role-model. He was very successful financially however he held onto his mother and father’s Iowa values of honesty, integrity and hard working. He wasn’t the easiest man to approach but he was always approachable. The hesitation always came from the approach-er not him. He always spoke calmly unless something had to be done quickly or he wanted to express his dislike for what he caught you (me) doing (as I am writing this, I am laughing because I heard that stern voice often in my teenage years). The reason I am telling you this is because he took me to my first AA meeting after I returned from rehab. He sat in the car while I went into the meeting, just to show his support for me (sorry I am starting to cry as I write this). A very simple act but right out of the box I told myself that I would be OK, because he was on my side. He didn’t judge me, he didn’t question me, he was just with me. I pin my ability to stay clean and sober on four things – my relationship with  my step-father Bruce, my five children,  Jesus Christ and my wife Laura. They all impacted my life and they have kept me clean and sober for 22 years.  The main reason I am writing this is to let you know that if you have a friend or even an acquaintance that just the simple act of being there can have a profound impact on another human being. You don’t have to say any special words or perform any special ceremony - just be there. Actually for me the company was great and the quiet was even better. Don’t expect  accolades, those may come later but the purpose is to help another human being deal with their struggles. A couple of times Bruce sat in on open AA meeting  with me and listened. When we got back to the car he would ask general questions , not specific to me but specific to something he had heard. He wanted to understand through me. It made me feel special. I always felt a special bond to him. We never talked about it, but I knew he loved me. It is kind of like my relationship with Jesus Christ. I  talk to Him daily and thank him for all He has done for me, He speaks to me through my wife, through my pastor and into my self – He helps me just know what the right thing to do is. I know that He loves me.  Be a special person to someone else by just being there for them – I can also tell you by being their for someone else, helps you deal with your own struggles. Just open your heart the situation will come to you without even looking for it. Be safe, stay kind.

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I spoke to a business group this morning and I talked about Poverty, Homelessness and the Mission and I finished up talking about choices. We end up where we do because of the choices we make. I never looking into my future and said I can’t wait to become an alcoholic and an addict and loose everything when I get older. I got there through a series of choices I made. Each choice was made independently but the culmination of those choices ended up bringing me to hopelessness. It wasn’t any one choice but many choices made over a period of time. Today I am confronted with choices, as we all are, and now I think more about where those choices may lead. I still make wrong choices but today  I can choose to change that choice and make a better one. For some idiotic reason, I always felt compelled to hang in their with my choices right or wrong, but today I understand that I  can change those bad choices, admit my error to whoever it effected and vol-la, make a better choice.

If we make the choices that end us up where we are; then we can make a choice to try and end up in a good place. That’s really good news because by making better choices I can get myself to a better place. I also learned, much to my amazement, that there are a lot of people willing to help me make good choices and if I am not sure which choice is best then I just ask for help. This “asking for help” was always a foreign idea for me, as I always felt I was supposed to know. This feeling has been with me ever since I was a kid. My Mom and Dad were divorced and my Mom worked hard and I just felt I should try to figure things out on my own and that progressed to thinking I should  know everything. Pretty silly when I write it down and see it in black and white. I still find it hard to ask for help, however every time I do it I say to myself, that was easy, but I still struggle.

So there you have it, the secret to life – make good choices and when you are not sure ask someone you trust for help and then make better choices. My wish for all of us is to try this and see how it goes. For me that trusted person is often my wife. She is smarter than I am and makes much better choices about life then I do. God put her in my life because He knew I was struggling and guess what, I make better choices because of her and her counsel.

Here’s to making better choices - hip, hip hurray

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I was recently interviewed by a news reporter from weekly business newspaper and during his questioning he asked how did I happen to come to the Mission for work. I told him my story and revealed to him that I was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. This expression of bewilderment crossed his face ( my words, not his – I know he was thinking are you sure you really want to tell me that – you know I’m a reporter) He asked a few more questions and moved on. When the article came out last week he talked about my addictions and wrote in the article my comment to him about secrets –“it’s the secrets that we keep buried deep inside that end up hurting us.” My thoughts are that if I reveals my addictions then I can’t be hurt by it. I do know that by revealing my addiction that it will limit me in ways I may never know. A call that I will never get, a limitation someone will puts on me, I will never know, but for me revealing my past challenges is important because as an addict secrets were my life. Those secrets defined my life inside my mind. After a while I started believing I was the persona that I had made for myself, not the real person I was inside. With no secrets what you see is what you get. By eliminating secrets (well most of them – I have been known to sneak a donut and not tell anyone about it – sweets will be my downfall now) I simplify things in my life. The complications that secrets brought into my life were overwhelming.

I have to say revealing your past or divulging your secrets is a personal decision. For me it was the right one, but for others it may not be the right time. Revealing my secrets didn’t hurt anyone else overtly, but other’s secrets may hurt someone else and I am not in favor of hurting anyone else. Again, this revelation has to be a personal one and you have to go into it with your eyes wide open. You may not be voted onto the school committee if people know you were an addict or you may get funny looks when people meet you and put 2 & 2 together – Oh you’re the one. That may just be the paranoid mind that still lingers, but I want to make sure your know that by talking about your personal issues may have some consequences – for me it was a necessity in order to live my new life.

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During my time in rehab my three children 13, 11 and 8 are wondering “where is Dad?” This is the hardest part for me to even talk about today, because for much of their early childhood I wasn’t much of a Dad. Today they say they didn’t see it but I know they are protecting me and maybe themselves. The good news is their was no violence in the household.

Their lives changed pretty dramatically after their Mom and I divorced as they were in an apartment living with their Mom having moved from a custom home built on five wooded acres of land at the end of a long driveway.  They left a life of few concerns and came to a life with new worries and concerns. I know that was very hard for them however their Mom did a great job getting them through that time. Knowing that my addiction and behavior was directly responsible for changing their child hood forever still hurts today. I guess we are all the product of our lives as my Mom and Dad divorced when I was about 13 and it changed my life. My Dad was an alcoholic and regrettably for all of us he never found peace. The sadness I feel for my relationship between my Dad and me is that I could never count on him. I knew he loved me but he would never be there, whether for a hockey game or anything. My brother brought him to my college graduation just so he wouldn’t miss than. I was the youngest of four in my family and the only one to graduate from college and if my brother wasn’t there he would have missed that too. It is ironical because he got his MBA and education was always important to him. Lots of irony in addiction; you easily become the person you never wanted to be.

My three kids are in their thirties and late twenties and we talk and email one another but never spend much time together. We blame it on the distance but also know we may want to have our own lives now and maybe forget the past. We am the past. I love them to death and would do anything for them, but I give them their space which, at the end of the day, may be easiest for all of us. I celebrated my fifteenth wedding anniversary in March and my wife and I have two boys and they are about the same ages that my older kids were when I changed their lives. I am a little scarred and excited that I can be their for my kids today. What might seem a small thing to most people was huge for me. I took my 8 year old to a Bison’s baseball game (Triple A) and we stayed through the entire game and had a blast. I never did those things with my older kids because I could not trust myself with them and if I did I would leave after the 5th inning or 2nd period to make sure to get them home safe before I had too many beers. After 21+ years of sobriety I still remember that fear. That’s the sadness of addiction, but I wouldn’t trade my sobriety for anything.

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Feeling better…early recovery

I am telling my story of addiction but am focusing on my recovery because addicts know where they are/were and my telling of my addictions and losses, is less helpful, then focusing on recovering because that is still going on today after 22 years.

A little side-note, in church last Sunday, one of my friends came up to me and asked me if I would be willing to meet a family whose son just returned from California. I was told prior ‘he is dealing with addiction’. For those of us in recovery, we immediately become experts to our non-addict friends. I guess they feel we can relate and may offer some hope to the fellow addict. I selfishly never mind talking to anyone because  it helps my recovery because it keeps it ‘real’and current for me. I need to keep it fresh because I will become complacent. One of the reason’s I love the Mission is when I feel complacent I go and sit with the men who are in early recovery (less than 90 days clean) and it brings me right back to the insanity I felt while I was using and couldn’t stop. I asked him if he was ready and he mumbled. I wish I had more but it’s not a time for cool; it’s time to get real and if you aren’t ready then the time isn’t right.

That’s the saddest thing of all. I had to lose everything before I would admit I had a problem. That loss affected my family more than it affected me. I can live on peanut butter and tuna casserole for a long time alone, but what I put my family through was very sad. For me, I had to fight for recovery. Not using didn’t come natural… using came natural. I was happy to find out that as time passed the fight got different – not better, but I am able to manage and have developed a tool bag of actions and dos and don’ts that really help. Even today during high stress moments, I open the tool bag and grab a hug or a place that exists in my mind that is very calming. Someday I will tell you about my mountain top.

The key to my early recovery  was remembering that if I hadn’t used in the last hour then I was doing good. I would tell myself ‘Don’t be strong, strong is arrogant and arrogance is what helped get me here, be committed and do something for someone else and get out of my head. I loved chopping wood for other people – there is nothing like sweating to make you feel better and a side note is that you sleep better when you are physically tired. Sweat means sleep – I think that’s what the AA  means by “keeping it simple.” I never had anyone refuse to let me chop their wood. For me is was great because on this side is a stack of logs and on the side was nothing and few hours later on this side there was nothing and on this side this was a stack of chopped fire wood. The people would always try to give me money, but I would ask them for home cooked food – they choose. I would say “make me your specialty”.  I ate like a king. The wood chopping in the beginning was pretty bad. I had no stamina so after a few pieces I would have to sit but after a few weeks I got stronger and would at least be able to show something for an hour’s work.

Whether it’s choping wood, painting - just find somehting you like to do and that makes you sweat. The sweat is the important part. Also do something that doesn’t require many tools because they are hard to work in the beginning and you are probably poor and can’t afford anything anyways. Also make sure your effort is helping someone else because if your track record was like mine; helping others had not been a normal thing to do in the near past unless it was directly related to getting ‘more’.

Look forward to hearing from you…

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Well let the blogging begin… my hope for this Blog is to start a dialogue about issues that have affected my life and many of the people I meet on a daily basis as Executive Director of the Buffalo City Mission. Addiction, homelessness, kids, spouses, recovery, hope, God, family, violence, and relationships are all intertwined within each other.

Like spaghetti, every piece touches another. My goal is to provide a place where we can discuss and learn from one another, through it provide a glimmer of hope and support, and make sure everyone knows they are not alone. I am no expert, however I do understand being hopeless and losing everything and the struggle back. I will post to keep the conversation going.

Here we go… Twenty-two years ago, this summer, I was residing at a rehab center in Western Massachusetts just figuring out I had a problem with alcohol and drugs. This begins to speak to the insanity I was feeling at the time. I had lost everything, my wife told me she was divorcing me (after 17 years), I was afraid I had lost my three kids for ever, my sporting goods store was foreclosed on and I had six figure debt. I had convinced myself that the problem was not me, but circumstances and other people, so if I changed those then everything would be OK. I didn’t think I had a problem until I was two weeks in rehab and realized that the guy staring back at me in the mirror each morning was the problem. That realization was the beginning of digging out of hell. One of my counselors asked me a funny question one day. He asked me,”When you drink a bottle of wine what do you do with the cork after you open the bottle?” I thought it was kind of a strange question but I told him “I threw it away.” He said, “So you never expect to ever put the cork back in the bottle”.

That was the start of suddenly learning that my behavior was directly tied to my addiction. Addiction serves behavior or visa-versa behavior serves addiction. This wine bottle thing seems a little trite but it was a revelation for me to starting to understand…understand what I am not sure but I felt I was heading down a new road and I wasn’t drinking or using, so my mind was starting to slowly clear. I could actually hold a thought for a while and think about it.


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