In late September, I knocked at the Shalom House door looking for shelter. This was a big step for me. See, I had spent a lifetime living on the streets, selling drugs and surviving as best I could. I never had a “real” job, and had never had a legit address – I never lived in my own apartment.
My name is Johnny and this is my Hope Story:
As a kid and young adult, I was able to get away with eating junk and not taking care of myself, but now that I’m in my fifties time has caught up with me. I was tired, my body ached and I knew I had to change or I was not going to be around much longer.
I desperately wanted to try a new way at this life thing, but how exactly does one do that at my age and with my experiences? Thankfully Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas had room for me at Shalom House. I did not want to screw thing up!
I intentionally flew under the radar at Shalom House for several months. During the days I would walk around town, going from meal to meal, maybe spending some time at the Catholic Charities KCK office. At nights, I would quietly keep to myself, reading my well-worn bible or laying down in my bunk. The Shalom House staff encouraged me to get involved at the Bishop Sullivan Center – take job training, interview coaching classes – stuff like that…but I was scared, scared to fail.
I felt like the Shalom House staff were getting frustrated with my lack of action. One day we met and the staff asked why I wasn’t making progress. “Joe”, I said, “I have never done this before. This is all new to me.” I wanted to say I’m scared to fail, I’m paralyzed actually…well, I could see a lightbulb go off with Joe, the Shalom House manager. Joe said, “We’ll figure this out together. One step at a time.”
Let me tell you, those words that Joe spoke, I believed him and as the weeks went on I started believing in myself. I had a friend in Joe and started opening up to other men at Shalom about my journey, my need for change, my fears, my dreams – yes, I had dreams.
It was friendship that finally opened a new door for me. Every evening at dinner, I sit with a table of men who follow up with me, they check on me, and offer me friendship, laughter and encouragement. They care. They keep me accountable. While the staff might give me a lead on a job or an opportunity, it is the friendships and mentoring relationships that gave me the strength to make a shift in my life.
Let me share with you a specific example…The Shalom House staff gave me a lead with a company that has a history of giving disenfranchised men a shot at full-time employment. They also gave me a deadline to have a job. The men around the dinner table must have known this, because they daily held me accountable as to my whereabouts and actions. And wouldn’t you know it…on 3 days before my deadline I began my first-ever full-time job. I return home every night to Shalom very tired, a working man, earning every penny of my check. But no matter how tired I am, I always answer the same when asked about my day: “Good!” I say with a smile.
When people ask me what Shalom House’s greatest asset is; I tell them for me it is bringing the gift of community and friendship back into the lives of the Shalom residents. At Shalom, I have a name again, I have an address, I have a place at the table. My absence is noticed, I am missed. I am part of a community.