Finding hope again

If these walls could talk, they would tell you about Curtis, a veteran experiencing homelessness, who now has a second chance at life following a tragedy.

Curtis came to Cassell House in August of 2018 utterly broken. He had a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts that went back to his wife’s passing in May of 2013 of cancer. Curtis talked through the tears about how much he loved his wife and their life together. He described his wife as a beautiful person inside and out. They were not blessed with children, but they had nieces and nephews on his side of the family that they loved dearly. After her illness and passing, Curtis moved in with his sister. He began to drink heavily. When he ran out of money, he began to charge liquor on his credit cards. Meanwhile, his sister kicked him out of her house and he began to experience homelessness for the first time. Curtis struggled to maintain employment and housing due to his grief issues. These feelings of hopelessness and helplessness lead to feelings of suicide. When Curtis arrived at the Cassell house, we had to put him on suicide protocol, checking on him every 15 minutes. The funny part was on the outside, Curtis was the “class clown. He was quick with a joke or a funny retort. But one-on-one with me, he was tearful and severely depressed. Curtis said when he first got here if his car broke down or he lost his job, that would be it. He would go buy a gun and end his life. Well, the job ended up being a bust. He worked for the roofing company for 3 months and only received one pay check. Then, one day, while interviewing for a job, his car broke down in the parking lot of another roofing company who had just offered him a job. However, he needed a car. When it was evident that the car would cost more to fix than it was worth, Curtis was at his lowest. I found him in his room looking up ways to die. That day, we spent several hours just talking. We had another client who had also lost his wife and was attending grief counseling at the local Hospice. I suggested Curtis try that, but he was not ready. He did agree to begin therapy at the VA and found a great therapist he found a connection with. We had almost daily therapy sessions as well. Gradually, Curtis began to do better. I suggested he try mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. He used You Tube and began to listen and watch mindfulness and yoga videos. He began to work out using the weights we have. Slowly he began to feel better, be less depressed. Curtis got jobs through a temp agency. Some worked out, others did not. Once he got work, we made a referral to Wheels 4 Hope. They were so impressed with how hard Curtis worked, they found him a car within weeks of the referral! Curtis was shocked to look up and see the Cassell staff at the Wheels 4 Hope office when they surprised him with a car blessing. He thought he was just going in to fill out the paperwork for a car in the future. Curtis still has moments of severe depression. These relapses are part of the recovery process, but he is no longer suicidal and knows to tell his therapist or the staff here when he’s feeling down. He is working several part time jobs and has almost paid for his bankruptcy. Once he’s done that, he will be able to start looking for housing. Meanwhile, he’s working on staying positive and healthy. His smile lights up a room.

Curtis is grateful for the help of Open Door Ministries: “There are veterans out there who served their country who are pushed to the wayside, that need help. I had no idea this program existed. Had it not been for the hotline (suicide hotline via the VA) I wouldn’t have found my way here. Open Door gave me a safe place to be and heal. A chance to pull back and do the hard work on myself. If not for Open Door, I probably wouldn’t be breathing. I appreciate all the staff has done to help me from helping me get into treatment for depression to helping me find work, to helping me to get another car.”

Written by Beth Waters, Clinical Director at Arthur Cassell Transitional Housing for veterans



Mike gets a second chance

If these walls could talk, they would tell you about Mike, whose journey took him from prison to the streets to Culinary School, with the help of Open Door Ministries…

As a teenager growing up in Winston Salem, I was into drugs and drinking.  It was a way to escape.  That unfortunately got me in a lot of trouble with the law.  I ended up in jail several times and bad choices ended me up in prison. After I was released, my probation housing arrangement fell through, and I went to the street.  My parole officer contacted Open Door Ministries (ODM), and my case got transferred to High Point.  I came to ODM October 19th last year.   I worked hard on the computers to find a job.  I had worked in fork lifts and manufacturing before, but I never got a call about those jobs.  I was discouraged.   Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so I knew I had to find work or I’d end up back on the street.   

When I was at Johnston County prison, I got baking experience and ended up as head baker.  In November I learned of the culinary program at Providence Place in Winston Salem.  The next class wasn’t until January.  It was a long wait.  During that time I helped out in the kitchen at ODM, and volunteered at their events to give back.   I couldn’t just start the program, though, I had to be accepted.  I took a reading comprehension and math readiness course since cooking requires reading recipes and converting fractions.    I passed both tests.  I started  January 7.  I met with the chefs, and they were very positive and encouraging.  But I was still doubtful this was for me. They told me success stories.  It turns out I was pleasantly surprised. 

It wasn’t easy—I got up at 4:00 am to go to the Greensboro transportation Hub, then I had to switch to the Winston Salem bus to get to the school.  It is a two hour commute each way.  The class lasts 90 days, and I am almost finished.  I have good grades and passed the serve safe test—only one of two people in my class passed it.  Now I am in the middle of my internship and am finishing this week.  I graduate next Thursday, and some of the staff are coming to celebrate with me.   I may go into the residency program next–  it lasts two years, and I could become a manager.  I like where I am doing my internship at Mary’s Gourmet Dining Room in Winston Salem.  I need to get a job and get some money saved up.

Between Open Door Ministries and their staff, and the Providence Culinary Training Program, I now have a second look on life.  I can’t wait to see where it takes me.  I must thank the chefs, the class, and Open Door Ministries and family for their support and believing in me.

If this article helps one person, it’s worth it. Just because you had a rough start doesn’t mean you have to end up that way.


Michael Mabe


**note: Michael graduated from Providence Culinary Training (affiliated with Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston Salem) April 18, 2019, first in his class.