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Life Reclaimed

Mike is thankful for the new beginning you helped him reclaim. “I have so much gratitude for my life,” he says with a bright, almost musical optimism.

Today Mike is a full-time stay-at-home dad to Bryanne, 3, and Carlos, 7. At this moment, Bryanne is content playing a video game nearby while dad talks with his friend at Volunteers of America. In the next room, Carlos sits at his laptop for another hour of virtual school.

Like many his age, Carlos struggled to adapt to online education as an alternative to in-person teaching. To help him focus while school is in session, Mike set up an office-like space for Carlos in the room he shares with his sister. Meanwhile, Bryanne stays by Mike’s side whenever class is in session.

So far, rules and creative solutions like these have helped Mike and his family adapt to daily life in a pandemic. “My kids get bored like anyone else. It gets frustrating, but I keep them busy so that by 8 p.m. they’re ready to pass out.”

Maintaining boundaries

Socially distanced exercise is key. “We go on bike rides; they’re learning how to skateboard at the park downtown... [but] you keep firm boundaries set up. The streets are still out there.”

For Mike, the streets have many meanings. It’s the colloquial term for the sort of lifestyle he fell into after dropping out of high school. It’s the path that put him behind bars at age 17 for attempting to steal an 18-wheeler. But, more than that, it’s the neighborhoods where he struggled with addiction and homelessness in the years that followed his release.

“When I got out twenty years later, I had no job, no family [waiting], nothing ...” There aren’t many opportunities for high school dropouts. Even less for former offenders who are experiencing homelessness. Despite these challenges, Mike soldiered on, taking jobs in construction and manual labor whenever he had the chance.

After an accident on a site left him physically unable to work, Mike’s options were running out. Without steady employment and stable housing, Mike and his wife, Karissa, turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. Soon they were trapped in a spiral of addiction that threatened to tear their family apart.

“We got into the drug scene pretty bad,” he admits of this period, which almost split up their family for good. For Mike, the real wake-up call came through a visit from social services. “[They] told us we had to clean up our mess or risk losing our kids for good ...” he recalls soberly.

With the threat of Carlos and Bryanne being split up and lost to the system forever, Mike and Karissa entered rehab to get clean. After finishing the program, they were one step closer to their kids ... but still without income or a home of their own.

Homeless, hungry and unemployed, Mike and Karissa dedicated themselves to maintaining their sobriety through the best and worst of times as they worked to rebuild their life.

Help through the hard times

Thankfully, they didn’t have to do it alone. Volunteers of America was there to make the hard times easier. With the support of individuals like you, VOA connected their family with stable housing, job opportunities, addiction treatment counseling and so much more to ensure Mike, Karissa, Carlos and Bryanne were reunited—permanently.

When VOA first met Mike, he was living in his car. Today he and his family are together and residing in a two-bedroom apartment they love. While Karissa balances the demands of multiple jobs, Mike stays home and ensures Carlos and Bryanne have all they need to succeed, regardless of quarantine.

Now, a man who once had nothing has the life of his dreams ... one that’s growing richer with gratitude every day. “We’ve built a family together,” Mike marvels. “I can’t ever take this [gift] for granted.”

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