Warning: In order to honor the true stories of our veterans, their experiences are presented to you as told and may include difficult themes such as sexual assault, substance abuse, and suicide. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Growing up, John had a good family, a good childhood, and the knowledge that great things waited for him. But as a young boy exposed to an environment where crime and drugs were common, John was taught feeling comfortable on the streets meant being strong.
At age 13, John used drugs for the first time, making him vulnerable to addiction. Although he continued to use throughout his teenage years, John never lost hope for better things and decided to join the Navy on his 20th birthday.
Combining his ambition with his intelligence, John quickly rose to the rank of Petty Officer Second Class aboard the USS Plunger, taking on the heavy burden of maintaining the air quality control of a nuclear submarine. John proudly recalls once saving his sub and everyone on board by quickly repairing a broken atmospheric regulator. For the first time, John had rank and responsibility, but he was unable to overcome his drug dependency.
Despite his clean military record and excellent record, he was released from serving on submarines due to substance abuse and served out the rest of his enlistment in the Navy. John returned home. And his struggle with addiction returned home with him, leading to homelessness and prison.
Then, in 1995, John suffered one of the most traumatic moments of his life.
John’s mother suffered from a massive heart attack and as her life ended, he considered ending his own. Still struggling with addiction and in and out of homelessness, John stood, one foot off the railing of a bridge until someone he described as an ‘angel’ asked what he was doing.
A blessing in street clothes, the police officer helped John down and drove him to the hospital where a social worker connected John with rehabilitation at a treatment center. With his community rallying around him, John’s pastor connected him with a place to call home – The Malachi House. There, John found new people and a new purpose.
Today, John has realized the life he always wanted and deserved as a man, husband, father and leader. Now, the Director of Outreach Services for the United Way of Forsyth County, he has dedicated his life to helping veterans struggling with addiction and homelessness.
In this role, he works with the local Built for Zero team in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, North Carolina to ensure people are connected to the support they need to exit homelessness. Winston-Salem has been a part of the Built for Zero initiative since 2015, committed to driving to zero veteran homelessness in their community. John has now become a part of a community fabric that ensures that others like him receive the support they need to overcome challenging pasts and live their desired lives.
Thanks to John and his commitment to make his community a better place, we have a story about perseverance and a future full of triumph, support and hope.
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