The Story Behind the Smile

If you know Herbert, you know you can always count on him for a smile. He is also known for his habit of giving away small bags of his namesake—mint, specifically—to whomever may appear unrefreshed.  From watering the plants to assisting staff with chores to always lending a listening ear, Herbert does it all.  And he has been doing it all for a long time. Since he moved out of McCreesh Place thirteen years ago, he has been coming back a few days every week to volunteer.  While Herbert seems to know everyone’s story, few people know Herb’s. We are here to tell you.

“Why did I do that again?” During his former life, marked by drug abuse and depression, that was Herbert’s first regretful thought when he woke up the morning after a binge. Full of regret, he was nevertheless powerless to stop. As the pattern continued, the self-loathing that resulted from his drug use became the cause. He disliked himself and did drugs to escape.

Following two suicide attempts and four evictions, Herbert hit rock bottom and landed at Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.  His path to sobriety began in the meetings held there. He became aware of his “triggers.” One of these was “beautiful women.” He would consume and share drugs to make himself impressive. Another trigger was having too much time on his hands. When his mind and hands were idle, he was especially vulnerable to temptation.

By the time Herbert moved from the shelter to McCreesh Place, he had been sober for a number of months and knew enough about himself to follow through with a recovery plan. Aware of his triggers, Herbert knew that he needed to stay busy. He also wanted to learn how to read. How fortunate, then, that the McCreesh Place community included a former English teacher. Like Herbert, Richard Harrison is a legend of McCreesh Place. Currently, he is the only resident who is also a member of the Board of Directors. At the time, Richard missed his old profession and thus was happy to take on an eager adult student. As Herbert soon discovered, the challenges of learning to read were not unlike his struggle to stay sober. In accomplishing both projects, Herbert followed the same mantra:

“Don’t give up, stay strong, and trust in God.

Herbert loves McCreesh Place for the same reason he decided to move out after a year and a half. “I have been healed,” he says, and McCreesh Place played a crucial role in that healing. He wanted to give up his spot so that another person could draw strength from that special community. With the modest income he received from disability checks, Herbert could afford to move into a place with his brother. His plan, which he has carried out for the past thirteen years, was to return to McCreesh Place to help heal others.

Speaking of the old dark times, Herbert says, “I had no one to listen to me.” He doesn’t want anyone else to ever to feel so alone. So he offers a listening ear–and while he’s at it, also a baggie of fresh mint.