Ms. Lajuan was last released from prison in 2013. In and out of prison, always involved with drugs and alcohol, it’s been a long road for her to get clean and back in control of her life. In the throes of her addiction, she had to give up her three daughters because she wasn’t able to take care of them and give them the life they deserved.
She gave her oldest daughter to a family member at 5 years old, and didn’t see her again until her daughter was 21, after Ms. Lajuan’s last release from prison.
It’s been really hard, not being able to watch her daughters grow up.
But the last several years weren’t a good environment for a kid. At first things were OK - right after release, Ms. Lajuan had a good job as a housing manager at the halfway house she had stayed in herself. But she lost that job due to budget cuts, and got back into drugs.
Ms. Lajuan worked paycheck to paycheck, just making enough to get what she needed to use, and then repeated the cycle. Bills went unpaid, she shuffled from apartment to apartment, and couldn’t pull herself out of it.
Finally, in 2019, she hit a breaking point. Her addiction had gotten so bad that everyone had left her - boyfriend, friends, even her family. And it was seeing what she was making her 15 year old daughter go through that made this time in treatment feel like the last time.
In 2020, right after the pandemic hit, she went into treatment for 60 days, and after that moved into a transitional house for women that enforced sobriety. Finally, she came to Thrive DC seven months clean ready for a new start.
“At one point in time, I felt like I didn’t deserve a chance. People change. Thrive helped me get my self-esteem back, they made me feel employable again.”
Working with our Employment Manager, Ms. Lajuan started looking for work. In March, she got a job as a custodial worker with a great company, one that even came with benefits! It’s been a long time since she’s had a job with so much stability and security. And even better, she hit one year of sobriety in June!
Ms. Lajuan is now focused on keeping a steady job, while also getting her GED in her spare time. After that, she wants to attend college as a part-time student. And she’s closer again with her kids, focusing on a future that’s positive and full of hope.
“Thrive is always a good vibe, always a good energy. I cannot tell you the extent of the help here - whatever you need they’re going to make happen.”
“For all the people who support Thrive, who supported me, thank you for everything. Don’t stop doing what you’re doing, because someone will receive the help you’re giving. Thrive is a part of my life. THANK YOU!”
When Samantha was released from incarceration a month ago, she was worried. She had never had a job, she wasn't familiar with the DC area, and so she thought her re-entry would be difficult to navigate. She had heard of the obstacles from others; how background checks made it difficult to get a job, how people turned away when they find out about your past, how they weren't willing to give her a chance, how unforgiving the world was when it came to those with a criminal record.
And while Samantha was prepared for all of this to happen, her experience so far has been quite the opposite: people have been understanding and willing to give her a chance.
When she was released into a halfway house, the house told her about Thrive DC's Women's Re-entry Program and she started attending Kimberly Gray's classes.
"I've never felt supported and right away at Thrive Ms. Kim supported me, and I feel like I'm learning and retaining a lot from her. Her positive attitude shows me that she actually cares about my successes and is helping me to work towards the future I imagine for myself."
She didn't have anything - clothes, personal possessions, hygiene products - so Thrive set her up with everything she needed to get back on her feet. That first week, Ms. Kim helped Samantha create a resume and practiced interview skills with her. Then Ms. Kim took her to a local restaurant where she was hired on the spot.
When they hired Samantha, she was asked for an ID but didn't have one yet because of her incarceration. She was faced with a decision: should she be honest and disclose her status or hide her past from her new employer?
Samantha chose honesty, and while many returning citizens who choose honesty get turned away, her employer was appreciative and said he wasn't here to judge her and everyone deserves a second chance.
Samantha's re-entry has far exceeded her expectations so far and she attributes it to the people she has met and the nonprofits/organizations who are helping her work through both emotional and physical barriers: her trauma, guilt, and employment opportunities. For Samantha, having Ms. Kim to talk to and learn from has made her transition so much smoother: "someone like her is a complete blessing when coming out."
Kenny participated in Thrive DC's Real Job Opportunity Training Program, known as "Real Opps." This 18-week program helps individuals facing barriers to employment. The program included a six-week training with Chef Terrence Brown focused on soft skills and hands-on culinary practice, followed by a 12-week internship at a local restaurant. At the end of the course, students test for a food handler's license of ServSafe certification. The program also provides Kenny with a Metro card to cover transportation.
Kenny has been at Thrive DC for a year and credits the program with helping him secure a job. "After you finish your training, they help you find potential employment opportunities, they help you prep for interviews and then they help you get to work as well with the metro card," he says. For Kenny, this included hands-on experience with cooking and meal prep, which helped him secure a job at a local cafe where he works on the line.
In addition, Kenny helps at Thrive DC before and after his shifts at Panera; whenever he has free time. At Thrive DC, Kenny puts togethers bags of groceries and makes breakfast, which varies between eggs, sausage, oatmeal, grits, pancakes, and chicken and waffles.
Balancing multiple responsibilities may be a burden for some people, but Kenny is happy to be able to take on different tasks during this challenging time. He has gained many new skills, including learning how to handle food and communicate with different people, which have led to new opportunities.
"I learned a lot of hands-on skills, but also other skills as well. I learned how to communicate with others and best represent myself in a job interview," he notes.
Kenny also shares information about Thrive DC with others who he thinks could benefit from the organization's services. We will share updates on Kenny's progress and work in future features.
“What’s my favorite thing in my new house? It’s me!”
Brad isn’t what you typically think of when you picture the homeless. He’s never even spent a night sleeping on the ground or a bench outside.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t spend his time in the trenches.
Eight years ago Brad got divorced, and then soon after lost his house and everything he owned in a fire. Next he lost his job as a home health aide. Within a year Brad went from having a steady job with a wife and a house to losing everything, and turned to drugs and alcohol to dull the pain he was going through.
Fortunately he still had friends and family in the city, and was able to stay with people off and on while he struggled with homelessness and living in shelters.
While he was homeless, Brad learned the hard way where real help was available, and where it was just wishful thinking. With some programs, he would have to fight through crowds just to get a meal or attention from a case manager.
That’s why when Brad learned about Thrive DC, he was excited to find a place that could help him in lots of ways and give him personal attention.
“There are more resources on this side of town than in Southeast where the [801 East men’s] shelter is. At Thrive DC, this program is a lot – there’s the substance abuse group, job help, computer lab…getting the help you need is different here.”
“They also say ‘Good morning!’ when you walk in the door. That’s big. Having someone tell you good morning makes a big difference. Most places don’t do that for us.”
The substance abuse program was where Brad really started turning his life around. Dealing with addiction is a daily struggle, and he appreciated that Thrive DC’s program gave him options and didn’t just tell him what to do. He appreciated that someone like Gabriel, Thrive DC’s Substance Abuse Counselor, was on his side no matter what and offered him a safe place where he could get away from his addiction.
Thrive DC offered Brad a place to escape during the day from the drugs and alcohol around him, and the substance abuse program became a supportive environment to get him back on his feet. About 9 months after he started coming to Thrive DC he finally got into housing.
“Being able to cook and clean for myself is the best thing about being in a home. I’m a neat freak! I love being able to choose what I cook and keeping my space tidy just the way I like it.”
Right now, Brad is focused on getting his life back together. Now that he has a house, the next thing is getting re-certified as a home health aide and paying his own way. After relying on his friends and family for so long, he’s looking forward to being independent again.
“If I could say one thing to all the people who support Thrive DC, I would say ‘thank you.’ You really don’t know how much you are helping. You don’t see the progress, but if you help one of us you help all of us. Everyone is looking for a miracle, but they don’t come around every day.”
“But I got mine!”
It took Brad nine months with Thrive DC to get sober and get out of homelessness. For many clients it takes even longer than that.
Change takes time.
To support our clients and give them the time it takes to change, consider joining our Next Step Team as a monthly donor. Not only will your donations be easy and automatic, but the steady gift each month will give our clients a firm foundation to build from.
Cornell is 57 and lucky to be alive.
He got into drugs by smoking weed when he was just 13 years old; as he got older he moved onto harder things. His parents both did drugs, not that Cornell uses that as an excuse; but he recognizes that it was his environment that helped shape who he is.
That’s why he’s determined to change his environment now.
Cornell has been coming to Thrive DC since it opened in Columbia Heights, almost 10 years ago. He’s been homeless for even longer than that, bouncing between family members, shelters, and sleeping outside during the summer.
He wanted to live with family members, but didn’t for two reasons: he didn’t want to expose his nieces and nephews to his lifestyle, and his family wouldn’t put up with his drugs and joblessness.
But things didn’t start changing until he joined Thrive DC’s Substance Abuse group.
There he met Gabriel Fabre, the Substance Abuse Counselor. Gabriel accepted Cornell for who he was without judgment, but never stopped encouraging him to be better. And eventually, it was that combination of acceptance and encouragement that got through to him.
However, it still took months for Cornell to be ready for sobriety; before this he had lived in a fog for years, and was nervous about what it would mean to make a clean break from everything. Cornell had a long relationship with drugs and couldn’t envision life without them.
In fact, the first time Thrive DC offered him a chance at rehab he turned it down.
Finally, though, he was just too tired.
The second time Cornell had the chance for rehab he was bound and determined to make it happen. He called the facility for three days straight to make sure he could get in as quickly as possible.
Cornell graduated from his drug program January 4th, just in time for the New Year. For the first time in a long time he can think clearly. And since he’s been out, Cornell has been going to every meeting he can find, at Thrive and outside Thrive, to keep himself focused and away from the life he’s known for 44 years.
“I thank God for allowing me to reach 57. I’m still young enough for a second chance, to get a job and put a roof over my head.”
Our Substance Abuse Program is available in both English and Spanish. Along with educational presentations about the effects of substance abuse, it also offers a safe place for people with addiction to talk about their struggles with a supportive community.
Andre moved to DC last year in November from Tampa, FL. He had heard about a good job and had a friend he could stay with for a little while until he got on his feet.
But when he got here, both the job and the friend fell through.
That was hard.
Andre became homeless with no friends, no money, and no prospects for a job. He got involved with drugs while struggling to cope with his situation, but they only helped him sink further into frustration and depression.
Fortunately, it was some of those friends he was getting high with that told him about Thrive DC. Normally reserved and quiet, Andre checked out a few places before settling on Thrive DC.
He didn’t talk to anyone at first, but the hospitality of volunteers and staff drew him out bit by bit. He finally started opening up to Gabriel, the Morning Program Coordinator & Substance Abuse Counselor, and Gabriel encouraged him to come to group therapy.
It took a while for what Gabriel was saying during group to sink in. But Andre kept coming back to Thrive DC because of the encouraging staff and how helpful the services were.
This was the only place he could take a shower or do laundry.
This became the place he checked his mail.
The food here was good and plentiful.
One day Andre looked up in Gabriel’s substance abuse group and realized he didn’t want to get high anymore. He wanted to get clean, and he wanted to finish his college degree as a PC specialist!
Andre is still living in a shelter, but he’s attending school and will finish his degree next year. He’s been working on computers since he was 14; his dream is to one day own his own business and help customers with designing web pages.
He’s been clean now for four months. Andre is still coming to Thrive DC for services, and uses the computer lab to do his homework. For the first time in a long time, he’s excited about his future.
Angel had second thoughts the first time he walked into Thrive DC.
“That sandwich meant everything to me. I had no money and no place to go. That sandwich said ‘don’t give up, stay strong.’”
Angel needed help finding employment. He was living in a friend’s closet paying $200/month just to have someplace to sleep at night. But Thrive DC was able help him out with a job right away. Less than a week after Angel came looking for help he was set up with a job at a local grocery store.
Angel respectfully let Thrive DC know that he was going to quit his job, and went to a friend with a painting company for work. When there was work to do it was a good arrangement; but every day was a risk that he might not get a call, or the job wouldn’t be big enough to pay his bills.
Eventually he ran out of options and came back to Thrive DC.
This time things were different. Angel came looking for help right when a position was opening up at the International Monetary Fund for cleaning work. The Thrive DC staff was impressed with Angel’s drive and demeanor, and immediately recommended him for the position. After a formal interview process and background check Angel was hired!
Angel’s just started his new job and will be making $15/hr with benefits. He plans to stay in the small one-bedroom apartment he’s been renting now for a year and save up money. Angel has a plan, and never wants to worry about becoming homeless ever again.
When Charlie lost his job he knew exactly where to go.
Charlie was born and raised in the District, and he’s known about Thrive DC ever since it was called the “9:30 Club” downtown because it served breakfast at 9:30 AM. Whenever he was down, hungry, or lost his ID, Thrive DC was there as a place he could count on.
This time was no different.
The day after he lost his job Charlie was at Thrive DC asking about the employment program. He was there every day working with our job coaches to set up an email and rebuild his resume.
While he was here, Thrive DC’s emergency services kept him going. Services like meals and grocery bags helped him stretch out a thin budget until he could get back to work.
Between Charlie’s determination and his job coaches at Thrive DC, the hard work paid off. Less than two months after losing his job Charlie was hired full-time for his first ever supervisor position! Not only did Charlie bounce back from unemployment, he’s now doing better than ever.
“Ya’ll are a great organization,” Charlie said when asked about Thrive DC. “If you need real, true help…Thrive DC got it.”
60 days ago. That’s when Vincent’s life changed.
“I felt like killing myself. I don’t want to feel that way no more.”
Vincent struggled his whole life with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. He would get a job and lose it. Live with a friend and lose that too when the drugs and money ran out. For the last 10 years he’s been homeless, living where he can to get by.
Through it all, Thrive DC was there with him.
“I’ve been coming to St. Stephen’s since I was 5 years old in day care, and I’m still coming here 40 years later. But Thrive DC has been a true blessing. It’s helping me so much.”
For the last couple of years, Vincent has been coming to Thrive DC every day. He’s talked to people about his addiction and been to rehab programs, but nothing worked. He never really believed he could get off drugs for good.
But when he met Gabriel, the new Substance Abuse Counselor at Thrive DC, that changed.
“Gabriel looked like an angel. He said ‘I’m going to help you. Just come to group. Just come.’”
“He showed me a better way. I thought I was going to die.”
After a couple of weeks Gabriel was able to convince Vincent to enter a 30 day treatment center. But he wasn’t quite ready.
“I told Gabriel I needed to get my clothes, my clothes. I didn’t want to lose them. He said that he would hold onto them for me. But I was so high, I walked out of the church to get my clothes and fell down the steps. I messed my hand up pretty badly and didn’t come back.”
Vincent later got arrested for drinking, and realized he had reached a “Do or Die” moment. When he was let out he immediately came back to Thrive DC. And Gabriel was waiting for him. Together they signed Vincent up for a 30 day treatment center and this time it stuck.
Vincent recently completed his program and couldn’t be happier. Gabriel has helped him get into 6-month transitional housing near Thrive DC, so for the first time in 10 years Vincent has a safe place to sleep at night and a support group just a few blocks away.
“Now that I’m clean, the plan is to work with Thrive DC to get a job, save my money, and get a place of my own. Then maybe I can help people like I was helped. Maybe be a counselor like Gabriel.”
“I hurt a lot of people with my addiction. I lost my family, I lost my daughter, but I’m going to get all of that back.”
Right now our community is working with Vincent to help him stay sober and find employment. We have six months until his time in transitional housing is up to get him back on his feet and stable.
You can be a part of his journey by donating $25 right now to support Vincent and clients like him. Or, if you want to provide consistent, steady support from homeless to housed, consider joining our Next Step Team as a monthly donor.
Eight months ago Antoinette moved from New York City to Washington, DC to be with her boyfriend. But life here was difficult without a job and without any prospects to get a job.
She went to Skyland Workforce Center hoping to get help, and that’s where she found Thrive DC. With encouragement from Thrive DC’s Employment Specialist, Antoinette applied for the Real Opportunity program and was accepted.
Antoinette enjoyed everything about the program, which gave her extra incentive to get up early each day so she could make the trip from Anacostia.
The Real Opportunity Training Program was a great learning experience for Antoinette, exposing her to new cooking techniques and practices she’d never considered, everything from managing a pantry and rotating stock to the different kinds of cuts for meat. But what she learned most was to have patience…with others and with herself.
Antoinette drew strength from the people around her – the Thrive DC staff, her instructors, and her fellow program participants. The spirit of cooperation and respect was something she hadn’t planned on, but was incredibly thankful for.
Once Antoinette was placed at Dos Gringos for her externship, her learning continued. From chopping ingredients to stocking shelves and washing dishes, Antoinette gained experience in all aspects of the kitchen. She impressed her manager at the restaurant so much that once her externship was over she was asked to continue – as a paid employee!
Antoinette now feels more stable and looks forward to someday becoming a chef and perhaps owning her own business. She hopes to one day help others who are in situations similar to hers because: “If you’re going to take, you’ve got to be willing to give.”
Want more information on Thrive DC's Real Opportunity Training Program? Click the link to learn more about our comprehensive program supporting people out of homelessness.