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.
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.
Nicole Price is our Women In New Directions (WIND) Program Coordinator. WIND helps women transition from prison back into our community, and helped 26 women last year navigate post-incarcerated life.
We sat down to interview Nicole about her program. For more information about WIND, or to ask for help, click here.
To read about the success of one of our program participants, click here.
I generally pass out information packets to transitional homes and give workshops at homeless shelters. The organization Consultants for Change is a big help in getting the word out to the women who need support services the most after coming out of prison.
Just a few of their external challenges are finding jobs, housing, childcare, getting transportation to and from interviews, and basic skills (things like using a computer).
Internally, the biggest challenge is self-esteem. Many women experience tunnel-vision and get discouraged when they experience a setback. They also struggle with basic life skills like conflict resolution and overcoming resentment.
Too often they also begin to internalize the labels placed on them such as “homeless” or “convict” and begin to use them for themselves. A big part of my job is helping them remember that this is something that has happened to them, but it doesn't need to define them.
It depends on how long they've been there. Prisons don’t always have the best people working for them and they take it out on the women stuck there. It creates a barrier of trust when they come out because of how inhumanely they've been treated.
It’s a very long road and many women struggle with accepting that a change actually needs to happen. They've been in a routine of unhealthy and self-harming actions that have seemingly worked for years so they’re hesitant to try anything else, especially if they have a chance at failing. It’s all about getting them to a mindset of being willing to work for it.
Being there and being available. I promise them that I can help and I need to keep that promise. I can’t have them coming into the office and asking for me and then finding out I’m not there, then giving up and leaving: I could lose their trust.
They need my attention, time and dedication because I may be the only person willing to give it. I always remind the ladies that they’re never at a dead end, there’s always an option to try. I encourage them and provide them with options to pursue, and I’m there for them at every step of the way.
It’s all about the fear of failure. When something doesn’t work, it’s followed by disappointment and discouragement. For most people it’s easy to bounce back after a failure, but these women already have such low motivation and self-esteem that it really hits them hard.
The thing I struggle with the most with these women is getting them to commit. We require a lot of their time because our services cannot be taught and internalized by coming in once a week. We provide addiction services, help with finding a job, and a cognitive restructuring program.
Thrive DC wants these women to succeed; but to do so, it’s partly on us and mostly on them. It’s hard to get them to that place to commit to our extensive program.
That we still have women who are willing to bounce back after they lose a job or relapse with their addiction. If they are still committed to achieving success after all that they have been through, it makes me want to work that much harder with them to help them achieve their dreams.
It’s especially encouraging when women ask for help after they have found some stability, but before they reach a crisis. It’s hard to ask for help, and it’s a healthy sign that our women are gaining control over their lives and are self-aware to know when they need help. And I’m happy to give it to them!
Running the WIND Program is a full-time job and a half! If you would like to volunteer and help Nicole, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator directly at (202) 503-1533 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to support our efforts financially, you can donate directly by clicking here.