Transformation Part 3: A Legacy

              Charlie at graduation

Charlie, a new graduate of Atlanta Mission, struck out on his own to rebuild his life after addiction. But despite the warning from Josh, his counselor, to get a completely fresh start, he went back to his old job. It didn’t take Charlie long to realize that Josh was right after all.

The restaurant job he had worked before involved long, stressful hours, and it put him right back where he’d been when he entered The Shepherd’s Inn. “It created the old anxiety,” he says now. “It was pulling me back down.”

Concerned he would fall back into his old drug habits, Charlie quit and reassessed his options. He got a delivery job with a regular schedule and now lives with his twin sister. Although he considered joining the National Guard, he’s decided to become a substance abuse counselor himself.

Charlie regularly comes back to touch base at Atlanta Mission and visit Josh. “Josh is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. We’re really close,” he says. And Josh has been very supportive of Charlie’s career decision, coaching him along. Charlie’s ambition is to intern for a year and then pursue a college degree to obtain his drug addiction counseling license.

 

A two-way street 

The relationship between Josh and Charlie is anything but one-sided, however. “He taught me,” Josh says. “I learned not to give up on people who are having a rough time, to be patient when they’re struggling through something. This experience has reinforced a spiritual lesson for me. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Atlanta Mission serves many people of different faiths, Josh adds, but it’s the demonstration of love that bridges that gap. “It’s a natural evolution to greater faith because of the environment here,” Josh says. “The residents have tried everything else by the time they get here—so why not this?”

Josh uses Charlie’s successful transformation as an example to other Atlanta Mission residents.

Charlie explains, “You have to really want it and not just go to please someone else.” Part of his transformation involved moving away from codependence, he says.

 

Looking ahead

When asked how he envisions his future, Charlie speaks about having a wife and children someday, and working at Atlanta Mission or someplace like it. Of the way it’s changed his life, he says, “God was right there, pushing me along a little at a time. I felt like I was alone—but I never was.”

As for Josh, he knows he made the right decision and sees himself working at Atlanta Mission for years to come. The transformation of both men has led them to a better understanding of their purpose in life. Josh explains: “Atlanta Mission made me realize what life is really about. Working here makes life seem worth it.”

 

Transformation Part 2: The Meeting

                                            Joining forces

When Josh, a new counselor, and Charlie, a new resident, met at Atlanta Mission, each was seeking spiritual healing in his own way. Josh was looking to make a real difference in a career he was passionate about, mental health counseling, and felt he had absolutely found a home at Atlanta Mission.

Charlie had a different mindset, however. He arrived at The Shepherd’s Inn from North Georgia looking for a change, hoping to quit using drugs during his stay, and then leave there and find a job. His sister, with whom he’d been living, had insisted he get help, and he was doing that. But he was wasn’t looking for any kind of transformation beyond that. The unexpectedness of what happened next makes it all the more exceptional.


The first encounter

Charlie wasn’t enthusiastic about his first counseling session with Josh. “I had a lot of anger,” he remembers. “I had my walls up.” Years of trying not to show any emotion, including grief over his father’s death, had led him to contain negative feelings. But the truth was, he wasn’t solving his own problems, as he told himself he was—he was running away from them with drugs and denial.

Charlie was part of Josh’s first class of men. The group numbered three in all, and Charlie was the de facto leader, Josh says. At first, Josh picked up on Charlie’s resistance. But something amazing happened: Josh started to see other things in Charlie, like how committed he was in making his family proud of him, and Josh resonated with that sentiment. He knew he would have been homeless himself at one point but for the caring and support of his own family. Josh had to admit that he and Charlie were more alike than different, and he soon realized that counseling Charlie was a lot like counseling himself.

Charlie, in turn, picked up on the fact that Josh genuinely cared about him and his group. “We were so much more than a paycheck to him,” Charlie says, “and we realized he really wanted to help us.”

Charlie and his groupmates made a pact that they would get through the program together and graduate from it, with help from Josh. The transformation had begun.


“They needed to forgive”

A big lesson that Charlie and his group had to learn was that they needed to be accountable for themselves and their own emotions, even the negative ones. “Theirs was a different kind of brokenness than anything I’d seen before,” Josh says. “It went much deeper. They didn’t really understand what authority—or love—looked like. And they needed to forgive themselves and the people around them.”

Through Josh’s support and help from his groupmates, Charlie began to deal with his feelings instead of running away from them. And then one day, in Josh’s office, Charlie allowed Christ into his life. “After that,” Josh says, “Charlie grew faster and stronger.”

Charlie adds, “Once I started actually dealing with my problems instead of running away from them, I realized there’s so much more to life than just worldly concerns. That day in Josh’s office took my life to the next level.”


In body as in spirit

When it was time to graduate from Atlanta Mission, Charlie and his groupmates did it together. They’d kept their pact.

One of the most remarkable outward manifestations of Charlie’s transformation is his weight. When he entered Atlanta Mission, his weight topped out at 375 pounds. When he left just over a year later, he was at 290, and now he’s at 250. “I love myself now,” Charlie says. “God invested so much in me, even when I didn’t think I deserved it.”


Next up

In the third and final part of this series, we’ll get a glimpse of what Charlie and Josh are doing now, and how the transformation that began that first day of counseling has shaped their lives since then.

 

Transformation Part 1: The Beginning

In this three-part series, we’ll explore the power of transformation through building strong relationships at Atlanta Mission.

This is a story of two men with widely different backgrounds and life circumstances who ended up transforming one another’s lives. Let’s start with how they both found their way to Atlanta Mission.

 

Josh

             Josh and His Wife at Graduation

Josh was drawn to counseling at an early age. As a high school student, his exposure to psychology classes, his desire to help others, and his mother’s role as a lay counselor for teenage mothers made him a natural. His friends sought him out to talk through their problems during lunch periods, and this led to his achieving a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies, and later a master’s degree from Richmont Graduate University in professional counseling, specializing in trauma and addiction.

Before joining Atlanta Mission, Josh was working as both a church and secular counselor, but he was having difficulty making ends meet. He wanted a stable environment in which he could settle down, but his financial situation stood in the way. With his strong drive to help others, he also wanted to be able to accomplish more with his skills and knowledge.

He knew from experience that solving such a personal crisis involves a complete willingness to make a significant transformation, even if it requires sacrifices. His faith prepared him to recognize the right opportunity when he saw it. He believed with all his heart that if he were open to change, he would be led in the right direction.

Then it happened. When he learned that Atlanta Mission was looking for a staff counselor, he saw his path. He applied right away, getting his application in just at the deadline. He felt so positive that he told his family that same night, “I just know the job is mine!”

His family was skeptical, but he was not. He felt in his heart he was meant to be at Atlanta Mission.

Atlanta Mission’s lead counselor saw Josh’s resume come in. Although she’d already held interviews, she felt as though she needed to meet with him before making a decision. She scheduled an appointment, and Josh was right—the job was a perfect fit. He says about that interview, “Right away, I just felt like I was home.”

 

                                        Charlie

Charlie 

Meanwhile, Charlie was in a crisis of his own, but he was reluctant to admit it. He’d lived in North Georgia his whole life, but had lost his father to cancer at age 16. He started smoking marijuana, then over time, began using painkillers and cocaine.

“I was holding down a job—I was a functioning addict,” he says. But he was spending most of his paycheck on drugs. Then one day his boss drug-tested him and the results came back positive. At that point, Charlie’s boss insisted he get help, and did some research on where he could get it. He discovered Atlanta Mission. The Potter’s House, one of Atlanta Mission’s campuses for men, was not far away, but Charlie spent only about 24 hours there and left, going right back to getting high. It was so close to home that it was too easy for him to get his supply and fall back into his habit.

His anger simmered, and he felt a lot of resentment toward everyone. “When you’re an addict, you always feel like the victim,” he says. He kept his emotional walls up, trying to numb his loneliness and misery, but falling deeper and deeper into addiction.

Charlie was living at his sister’s house, but she had young boys, and finally she’d had enough. “You’re not welcome here until you get help,” she told him. With very few options and wanting to set a good example for his nephews, Charlie decided to head to Atlanta to The Shepherd’s Inn. He needed a change of scenery, but he also needed a change spiritually. “God was nowhere in my life,” he says.

 

Next up

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss how the relationship between Josh and Charlie developed, and how it began a transformation for both of them.

 

Homeless Children and Delayed Speech

It’s a documented fact that homeless children are at great risk for delayed speech. According to a study cited by the National Institutes of Health, 75 percent of homeless children ages 3 and 4 had language development problems.

The lack of stability in their living situation and the trauma experienced by homeless women result in these mothers not speaking to their children during their important developmental years as much as women in less stressful circumstances do.  The result is reduced vocabulary, impaired language development, and even slowed critical thinking and comprehension. By one estimate, an at-risk 3-year-old has heard 30 million fewer words than a more affluent peer.

Helping kids catch up

The NIH article does report some good news, however: These same kids rapidly caught up to their peers when they were exposed to age-appropriate language-building activities. Their reduced language abilities, it turns out, are not about poverty as much as lack of access to learning experiences.

To address this issue and break the cycle of homelessness and hopelessness, Atlanta Mission is working with the Spread the Word program, a $1 million dollar grant opportunity provided by PNC bank and administered in partnership with the Atlanta Speech School and Children’s Museum of Atlanta. Program facilitator Crystal Gibson works with moms to create a culture of language that they’ll be able to pass along to their children.

Breaking the cycle of silence

In a Spread the Word session at Atlanta Mission, one of the moms participating left in the middle and didn’t return. She later came back to apologize to Crystal. She had gone to the bathroom, she said, and couldn’t stop crying after watching a video. In that moment, she realized that her low self-esteem and feelings of not being heard were creating the same problem for her child—she needed to develop her own voice to help her child develop his.

In this context especially, the old saying, “Children should be seen and not heard,” is not only wrong, it’s destructive.

Crystal says her experience at Atlanta Mission’s My Sister’s House was unlike any other she’s had in the Spread the Word program. “It pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me dig deeper to intentionally meet the participant needs,” she says. Atlanta Mission residents are in a particularly difficult situation, but one which motivates them to transcend it, do better for themselves and their kids. To address that need, Spread the Word partners provide parent engagement sessions, language-rich family field trips, books, coaching, resources and research based strategies.

 The work of Spread the Word

The key concepts of the parent engagement sessions are threefold: building responsive relationships, enhancing conversational partnerships, and increasing interactive reading. It strives to promote conversations not only among parents and children, but within a supportive community. That’s the key to developing good communication skills that will help a child break out of language impairment—an issue that can make it difficult for a child to break free from a cycle of generational poverty and homelessness. The residents aren’t the only ones who have experienced positive change from working with the Spread the Word program. Crystal says, “It’s really fulfilling to help these moms and others to also dig deeply within themselves to discover strengths they may not have known they had. I feel that’s a part of my life’s purpose.”

 

The 2017 Atlanta Mission 5K Race Recap

2017_Race_to_End_Homelessness

On the morning of February 18, 2017, Atlanta Mission residents, community members, and volunteers turned out in force for the annual 5K Race to End Homelessness. It was a timely event—just a week earlier, the overnight temperature had dipped below freezing, so sleeping outdoors was especially dangerous.

For those people with nowhere to sleep but the streets, the race offered hope: For each registration, Atlanta Mission provided someone a night of shelter, including a warm bed, a hot shower, a decent meal, and an opportunity for life-transforming services.

On race day, 250 volunteers gathered at Centennial Olympic Park downtown before daybreak to set up. As the runners began to arrive, over 3,800 of them, they prepped with stretching exercises and fun dance warmups. The upbeat crowd consisted of young and old alike, men and women from every walk of life, including shelter residents.

Atlanta Mission’s CEO, Jim Reese, said at the time, “It’s so exciting to see these people come downtown and say, ‘These people matter.’ We can’t thank them enough.”

When the sponsor’s mascot, the Fidelity Bank lion, fired off the starting shot, the excited runners took to the downtown Atlanta streets, where they would race north toward Georgia Tech and back, past the CNN Center, Atlanta Mission’s large men’s campus, and the World of Coca-Cola.

The fastest time was turned in at 16 minutes, 47 seconds, but for many, it wasn’t about speed. With Atlanta Mission clients running alongside their supporters, it was an empowering experience for them to connect with others in the community and to realize they are cared about.

The Atlanta Mission 5K Race to End Homelessness is an annual event and is one of the last Official AJC Peachtree Road Race Qualifying Events. It’s one of the largest 5K races in Georgia, and it’s growing every year, with the 2018 race expected to be even larger.

Not only did participating in the race help race participants break out of the isolation that is so much a part of homelessness—for some it simply meant the opportunity to accomplish something. As one resident proudly said, “I’ve never finished anything in my life. The way that I’m going to feel today when I cross that finish line is the way I’m going to feel when I graduate.”

 

 

Learn what it means to be a Faithful Friend

Faithful Friends donations provide vital services

It’s surprising how powerful an ongoing friendship with someone you haven’t met can be. The Atlanta Mission’s Faithful Friends program allows monthly donors to help more than 1,000 people of all ages every day, providing shelter and safety, food, educational services, career development and counseling to get residents back on their feet.

If you donate now, the Atlanta Mission will help your gift go even further. When you become a monthly contributor, your first monthly gift will be tripled by an anonymous donor—up to $75,000! You will provide critically needed support to those experiencing homelessness throughout the year, and you’ll receive periodic updates on the lives transformed by your generosity.

For about the cost of a week of morning lattes, you can provide 10 full meals a month to hungry adults and kids or other essential services—and three times that for the first month with matching. Your consistent, generous gift will also provide a safe place to sleep, a shower, clean clothes—basics we so often take for granted—and these vital services will also be increased threefold the first month of your donation.

By automating and spreading your giving out over the course of the year, you provide everything a person needs to get back on their feet, find a fresh start and have hope for the future.

How can you triple your impact? Go to our Faithful Friends page and sign up to be a monthly donor. For your convenience, you may have your tax-deductible donation automatically processed from your selected bank account or card every month. Sign up to contribute $10 a month or more, and you’ll receive a welcome kit, including an Atlanta Mission tumbler.

Hear how your giving has changed the lives of our friends in their own words:

“From your generosity each month, you have walked alongside me and lifted me up.”

“You’ve given me the opportunity for my life to be transformed.”

“Because of your friendship, I have hope.”

But our Faithful Friends are doing much more than just contributing to the physical needs of Mission residents: they’re providing hope, a chance at personal and spiritual transformation, an education and a future.

How else can you provide so much for so little?

A famous man once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Make a richer life for yourself and give someone else a fresh start on theirs by becoming a Faithful Friend today.