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I grew up in Bronx, New York, and I was there until the age of 21. It was a hard time for me – broken home, in gangs, stuff like that. The way I look at it is both my parents hated me. Growing up, I was forced to join gangs. That’s where the love was, where the friendship was, the support. I went to school regularly, but I didn’t graduate. Because of life at home I made a choice to live on the street, and I couldn’t continue my education. I left school and went to Job Corps. In 1987 I graduated with a certificate in auto mechanics from Job Corps. After that I decided to try a little bit of college. I went to Marist College for pre-college courses. I did so well the administration of Job Corps suggested I try a four year college. I decided to enroll at Albany State University, and I did that for four years, but finances forced me to stop. I got a job as a childcare worker for a juvenile institution. I was able to put my skills to work – my street knowledge. It was a great experience and I worked there from 1995-99. I moved up to shift supervisor, I led a team, and I did recreational programming for the clients. I really loved the job.
During this time I had a problem with obesity. There was a point in my life I weighed 450 pounds. In 1999, I began working at another juvenile institution, moving quickly into a supervisor position. And then my obesity finally caught up to me. In November 2002 I had to stop a fight in the cafeteria between two gangs. The stress and exertion caused my heart to give out. I was having breathing problems, so they took me to the hospital. I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. My heart was totally submerged in water. My breathing was so bad they stuck a tracheotomy in my throat, which I had until 2003. I was embarrassed by the trach, and I never wanted to come out of my house. I couldn’t continue to work. The doctors told me I was about to die, so I decided to come to Charlotte to live with my biological father, who I finally met in 1992.
In February 2003, I moved to Charlotte with the plan of getting on disability and moving out on my own. The living situation in Charlotte was intense and my father and his wife were mentally abusive. I soon ended up in the hospital again. In April when it was time for me to leave the hospital, my father refused to get me. I ended up going to the men’s shelter in Charlotte. After two months in the men’s shelter, my father began showing interest in me again and asked me to move back in with him. After he helped me apply for social security there were suspicious circumstances in which my social security checks never arrived. My father provided many excuses and I believed him, after all, he was my father. After several months I discovered he had stolen $7,000 from me by forging my signature on the checks. I left the house immediately and went to the men’s shelter again. At this time I had been so stressed and undernourished, I had lost over 200 pounds.
One day I helped a friend move into McCreesh Place. After talking to the staff, I found out that I qualified to live there. On January 14, 2004, I moved in. About halfway through the month I needed to pay my rent and still hadn’t received my social security check. I discovered the mailman, who was a friend of my father, was still delivering my social security checks to my father, who was continuing to forge my name and cash the checks. After I discovered he had stolen another check from me, I filed a police report against my father. But, the process pretty much stalled there.
Things are finally getting better for me. McCreesh Place has been amazingly supportive. My health has improved, so I am able to go to the gym every day and am losing weight. I spend a lot of time in the library and have taken every single free computer course they offer. I went to the Urban League and did a six week computer program there and received a certificate from them. I completed the Information Systems study program at CPCC and graduated from that. It was a big accomplishment for me. McCreesh Place threw a big party for me. And the staff even went to my graduation. At every other moment in my life I was always alone, and they showed up for me. That was the first time I ever had someone there for me. It was really a special moment for me.
I consider the staff at McCreesh Place my family. Everybody has stuck by me, and that’s why I love this place so much. I try to teach my fellow residents it’s never too late. No matter how down you are, no matter how backed up a wall you are, you can still make it.