Most anyone who has come to the Day Shelter in the past four years has met Jesse, The Haven’s most faithful volunteer. Jesse is here five days a week, helping out at the Welcome Desk, and helping train new volunteers there. He’s been doing this since about the time he got sober.
“Most people here know me from the old days. They know there was no bigger drunk,” he chuckled. “But by being down here [in the day shelter], I feel like I’m leading people not by words, but by example.”
Jesse grew up in foster homes, and then found himself pretty much alone when he turned 18. “I grew up rough. I know what it’s like to find love, to lose it, and then to forget what it was like. I learned to survive on my own, but it was a downward spiral. I ended up being an alcoholic.”
While he attended Fluvanna College, and went on to hold steady jobs in shipping and manufacturing for almost 20 years, he eventually found himself homeless. Then one day, when he was lying down on his back in the woods, “half-drunk,” he was approached by a member of PACEM (a partner program that organizes overnight shelter for people in the cold months). “I still call her ‘Angel.’”
Through working with his case manager, before The Haven came into being, he got connected to housing assistance and eventually moved into an apartment. “With the apartment came an awareness of my responsibilities to others, not just to myself. It took a while, and I didn’t make it easy, but finally, I agreed to go to rehab.”
He’s been sober for five years now and spends his afternoons and weekends playing with his dog, cleaning up his place, and going to church.
“This place gives people a bigger opportunity to straighten their lives up. I’ve seen people come in here with no desire. After talking with people here for a while and getting an understanding of what’s possible, they change their lives.”
So what’s Jesse’s advice to people who want to help others who are like he used to be? “If you see a person who needs a helping hand or advice, give it, whether they want it or not. Because even if they don’t act on it right away, somewhere along the way something will click, and they will remember that someone was there for them and that what they did or said was right.”