As part of our ongoing conversation on homelessness, we asked members of the Family Promise network to share their personal thoughts and reflections on Family Promise and the issue of family homelessness. These directors are true thought leaders, using their skills and expertise to develop and implement creative solutions that are changing the lives of parents and children in their communities. This post is from Russ Thomas Executive Director of Family Promise of Lima (OH).
Ten years ago I was working in a factory, getting close to retirement. I figured I was going to settle into my horses and woodworking shop and live out the rest of my years quietly. I was in an accident and got knocked out of a tree. I had a compound fracture to my right leg and an infection, which resulted in six surgeries and my leg being amputated below the knee. My doctor prescribed me 12 painkillers a day.
I was an addict for five years, still working in the factory, and had to start doctor-hopping to keep the pills coming in. A pharmacist saw the pattern and cut me off. Withdrawal set in and I didn’t sleep for five days and became psychotic. I found myself standing outside of the drug store, ready to shatter the glass and get my pills. But I heard a voice that changed my path. It reminded me of my wife, kids, and grandkids. I saw what life would look like for them if I was in prison. I didn’t break into the store that night. But I was an addict for two more years before I got clean.
I didn’t come to addiction the way many young people do, but I understand their struggle. Who becomes an addict at age 48?!
I started an outreach for addicts while still at my factory job, and then started working for a mental health facility to help addicts find jobs. I used those moments of terror from my own experience as a training tool for the people I served. Then I got a job at family services and through that job, moved furniture for Family Promise.
45 people applied for the Director position at Family Promise. Some had Masters degrees or doctorates. But when the Family Promise board selected me, they told me: “We can teach you accounting and anything you need to run the business- but we can’t teach the fire you have to help these people.”
This is the furthest thing from a job for me. This is a burning passion.
Since getting clean I have renovated a church I pastor and use as an outreach to addicts. I talk with the parents of addicts and explain to them what their children are going through. My goal is to keep those parents and children intact. The love of family is the one thing that finally gets someone clean.
A lot has come to us at Family Promise and I’m just hanging on for the ride— it’s just happening. We had two houses donated out-of-the-blue. They will be our first two transitional houses so we can serve more families. We put people first and we’ve changed the dynamic of serving people in crisis, and the community is buying into it.
I sleep from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and often wake to write or do my night ministry. I write blogs at 1 a.m. The poem I wrote about volunteers happened in five minutes because I’d just heard the volunteer stories at a dinner and it flowed out of them to me.
I do night ministry-every other Wednesday night. I would have been homeless if not for the grace of my wife. I have a passion. If I’m not at Family Promise, I am on the streets reaching out to people in trouble.
People have the power to offer each other hope.
We’re blessed to have a front-row seat to watch this transformation. Every day it’s a front-row seat.