Member Story: Gary

Gary, a St. Louis native, has been involved with CEF since participating in the Opportunity Class earlier this year. The road that brought him to where he is now is long, but it began with a decision to take steps to overcome his addiction. “I was down in Florida for a little over a year and I moved back to Chapel Hill,” Gary said. “I was dropped off at the men’s shelter and that’s when I decided that I needed help with my alcoholism. That was fourteen months ago and I haven’t had a drink since.” Overcoming addiction was not easy, but Gary was committed to quitting, and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, often three days a week for six months. “Once I got focused on letting go of the bottle I wanted to pursue better things, get a job to where I could hold a job and I couldn’t do that in the shape that I was in,” he said.

Once Gary found the support he needed through AA, he began exploring new ways to make progress when he found CEF. Gary participated in the twelve-week Opportunity Class and, after completing it, got a job working for the PTA Thrift Store through connections he made in the class. Through the class Gary learned to budget his money, in addition to building lasting relationships. “I became friends with all the CEF people either through Talking Sidewalks or the CEF program,” Gary said. “We just all pulled together, networked. Financially, they are still helping me out, showing me how to manage my money to the point I can become functional.”

Asked what was special about CEF compared to other social service programs, Gary said that difference was the relationship-oriented approach. “They care. They care. They really do. I’ve been around [other] places but they didn’t really take the interest or the time to get to know you like CEF does.” Working with CEF member advocates, Gary has set both immediate and long-term goals for himself. “Right now I’ve got a goal of saving up two thousand dollars to get me a place of my own, so I can have my own keep,” he said. “My long-term goal is to restart a handyman service and maybe hire a couple of people.” Speaking from his own experience with CEF, Gary has this to say to others working through similar problems: “Hang in there. It’ll come to you. Don’t give up on yourself first of all.

CEF will provide the information needed and they have been a great help to me. So just hang in there.” He understands the hesitation some experience before they join CEF. “I didn’t want to come at first,” he said. “I said no, if I can’t get a job it was because of me. I wasn’t the type of person to really go out and ask for help, until I got sober, then [I realized] I was able to lean on someone else. It’s ok to ask for help, what you do with it is on your own.” Gary has made amazing progress since reaching out and joining the CEF family.

Interview and Article by: Tim Longest

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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