"To whom much is given much is required." - Luke 12:48
Luke 12:48 says, “To whom much is given much is required.” I never really understood what it meant until my experiences with Volunteers of America.
My name is Mike and I’m a proud Army Veteran and a Peer Educator in a veterans program for Volunteers of America Ohio and Indiana.
My introduction to Volunteers of America wasn’t as an employee.
My story actually begins in Jacksonville, Florida where I was born on a naval base. Both my parents were in the Navy. Even though I’m an Army man, I don’t hold the fact they were in Navy against them.
Anyways, by the time I was nine years old, my parents had divorced and my mother moved me and my two siblings to Dayton, Ohio.
I would love to tell you I had an ideal childhood but that wouldn’t be the truth. My mother, now single, had three children to raise on her own. She also was a caretaker to several of our aging relatives in our extended family.
Because she was so busy, I had free reign to run the streets. And I did. I started hanging out with an older crowd and began drinking and smoking.
By the time I was a teenager, I was an expert partier and a petty criminal. Eventually, I dropped out of high school.
I just kept on floating through life. I had a series of odd jobs but no real direction. I had no purpose and was falling deeper into my vices.
When I was 19, I decided I needed to do something to change my life. I joined the Army.
Becoming a soldier molded me into a man. It taught me discipline, teamwork, how to depend on others, and how to work toward a common goal.
My first duty station was Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. I must admit, being stationed in Hawaii was amazing.
I was in the Army for five years before I went back home to Dayton to help take care of my mother who was having difficulty.
I did the best I could to help my mother financially and tried to be there for her emotionally. I got my GED while I was enlisted so when I came home, I enrolled in the local community college. Later I became a student at Central State University and studied business management.
I was doing well. I was sober, in school, I had my own apartment and was able to distance myself from unhealthy relationships of my past. I was focused.
I only had one year left of college and I dropped out because my wife at the time became pregnant. I planned on re-enrolling, but life happened and I now had a family to think about.
Eventually, my wife and I divorced. That sent me into what I now know as a deep depression.
All I could think about was how I grew up in a broken home and how I didn’t want that life for my children. And I sunk deeper.
I fell back into my old habits and began to self-medicate just to feel normal. I threw myself into my work. I was functioning but I was empty.
Over the next few years, I worked a series of jobs that always seemed to fall through or not work out. Downing sizing, companies closing, plants relocating.
Eventually, I made my way to Columbus to live with my brother. After a while, living with him was no longer an option. Suddenly, for the first time, I was faced with being homeless.
That’s when I found Volunteers of America.
Being homeless and broke was extremely difficult for me. I thought I was better than the rest of the men at the shelter. After all, I had good jobs before. I never did “hard” drugs, and I went to college. I was full of pride and ego. I wasn’t humble enough to accept the help I needed. So I left.
I made a plan. I moved in with a friend and got my Commercial Drivers License. I was going to be a driver and make money to get back on my feet.
But you know what they say. God will keep giving you the same lessons until you learn to listen. Soon history began to repeat itself. My job with the trucking company ended. And before I knew it, I was homeless and living at Volunteers of America’s veterans resource center, again.
In retrospect, I know God had just been guiding my steps. He would get me to where I needed to be. Where I am now.
Just like my first time at Volunteers of America, I wasn’t ready to listen. I was just biding my time. I was working on my plan and still ignoring God’s plan for me.
I remember going to morning meditation sessions. I would sit in the back and catch up on my sleep. I thought to myself, they can make me go to this meeting, but they can’t make me like it. They can’t make me listen and pay attention either.
Then one day, I did pay attention. A funny thing happened after that. I didn’t just have a good day. I had a great day! Who knew if you started your day with positive energy it could set the tone for the rest of your day?
Things started turning around. I was able to find housing and a job working security at a local church. My life wasn’t perfect, but I could to pay my rent and help my children with college. I even got a car.
Because life is expensive, I had to get a second job. I found myself back at Volunteers of America. But this time I was an employee. I became a part-time resident monitor at Volunteers of America, in addition to my full-time employment.
During one of my shifts at Volunteers of America, I witnessed something I can honestly say changed me.
I was sitting at the monitoring station and there was a client from our emergency shelter who was having trouble maneuvering his walker through the front door.
I saw the program director hold the door for this man. The elderly man thanked him and joked how much he liked his shoes. This particular program director always had very nice shoes. He was known for it.
The program director surprised me when without hesitation he bent down…. took off his shoes….. and gave them to this man. He gave him his shoes! I was humbled in that very moment.
I’ve never shared that story, especially with the program director. I’ve never told him about the impact he had on my life. So, last week when I saw him, I did tell him. Because I am so thankful for that moment. I might add, he had on nice shoes that day too.
Because of him, it was at that moment I truly knew what that meant.
For much of my life, I did a lot of taking and not much giving. I began to look back at all those misfortunes that seemed to be repeating themselves. I realized they were lessons. Lessons I was finally willing to learn.
Volunteers of America was where I was meant to be. And I knew it. Not much later, I became a full-time resident monitor and then I became a peer educator, which I am today.
This means, I now run that same morning meditation group that years ago I begrudgingly went to every morning. I love sitting in group with my students, who I call my friends.
I tell them consistently that I was where they are. I tell them I understand it’s easy to be overwhelmed by negativity and hopelessness, especially when you think there is no light or end to what you’re going through.
I also tell them to learn from my story and know that God doesn’t play favorites. Their blessing is next.
After all, my blessing was possible because of you. You gave me shelter when I needed it. You gave me tools to help me turn my life around. And here you are today, giving more blessings.
The greatest gift I was given can’t be measured with money. I was given purpose. When I look in the mirror I like the man I see looking back. I see a man who gives first and takes last. I finally learned to serve.
And today I believe if you are a giver God will give to you. Thank you so much for giving so much to me. I’ll keep paying it forward every day.