Human Interest Stories

Barbara Jessie-Black (Executive Director)

“It’s interesting — you bring people together who you know have some fragility of some type. A lot of folks that come to us were previously addicted to some particular substance. We’ve got a few folks that were homeless before they came to us and really through kind of not just the fact that they were employed but through the camaraderie and the people around them, and sort of that family kind of atmosphere, folks have come out of their shells.

Just this hodgepodge of folks coming together and I feel that because of who the executive team is as a whole … I think we’re a safe place for people to kind of grow.

I consider myself really fortunate that the hardships [I’ve faced] have been minor, and it’s all relative of course. But I look at all those things as opportunities for growth for me as an individual and have really felt blessed that I’ve been able to grow in a way now that helps other people. I can share experiences with folks and say, ‘Look there’s a different way of doing things.’

I would say be open. Be open to the people that you meet, the situations that come your way, and always realize that by being open you give them an opportunity to learn from you and also you an opportunity to learn from them.”

Kenneth Blacknell

“Before I got into addiction, I was an ordinary person. I went to four years at Appalachian State. I had a minor career with the Dallas Cowboys football. That’s when I said notoriety, I was just trying to always stay in the limelight.

The lowest point of my life was incarceration and drug addiction. Actually, I think [incarceration] saved my life. I was in drug addiction for 17 years. It gave me time to readjust my thinking , and put my priorities in order. And self examination and what I wanted to do with my life. I had lost so much time — it tool so much from me. I wanted to build a relationship with my daughter, I wanted to build a relationship with my family, and I wanted to have a stronger bond with God.

I have worked at the thrift shop for 10 years. I started here doing community service. I had just got released from prison, and it was part of my probation. They were impressed with the way that I [worked], so I put in an application, and they called me back and hired me.

I’m more interested now in the ministry, helping people. Whether that be physically, spiritually, mentally, always trying to build them up. I encourage them.”

Nina Torres

“I started using when I was 22. When my mom passed in 2009, I say that was the lowest point. I lost custody of my daughter for a little while around the same time.

It took me a long time to do it. I got tired. I got tired of being homeless. I got tired of doing the things I was doing, so I decided to change. I got on my knees and asked my higher power to please help me, and I meant it that day. I went to a recovery house. It’s the best place to start off. And I just gave my will over. I had to, because mine was not doing any good. I was making bad choices every day.

The happiest moment of my life is when I had my daughter. She is 31 right now. We talk all the time. Maybe three to four times every day. I have six wonderful grandkids. She actually stood by me even when I was at my worst. Even when I was like stealing from her and being disrespectful, she still stuck by me. She is awesome. That’s the best daughter in the world.

In July, it is gonna be four years I’ve been clean. This job has helped me a lot also. I hadn’t worked in a very, very, very, very long time — since I was probably 31. And they gave me an opportunity here, and they stuck by me through a lot of my personal stuff. It’s hard because doing drugs a long time and dealing with violence, rape, abuse, people just being mean. It turns you into that person so you can survive. I’ve done a lot of dirt and I was mean to people. So now, I’m working on just being a better person. Being what God wants me to be. It’s kinda hard some days, trust me.”

Ashley Strader

“I didn’t know there were any other options. I didn’t know anything about how to deal with my emotions, things like that. I had no coping skills. My mom was sad she would take a pill. She was happy, she would take a pill. And that’s what I saw, that was what was demonstrated and that’s what I became.

Then I went to a program in Chapel Hill two years ago, and then I was sober.

My sister is still in addiction, my brothers are in addiction, and my mother and father are both in addiction. That’s very unfortunate, but I feel like they’re making their decisions and I have to make mine. So, my decision keeps my children safe and it breaks the chain for my generation or at least the generation after me. I love my boys and I’m very excited that they get to watch me and I get to watch them grow and they don’t have to see me like that.”

Grace Acciarito

“They say children do not remember. I remember everything. We had the German command right in the city. And I remember my dad sleeping with the gun under the pillow, because the Germans were coming in the middle of the night. They wanted a glass of water — whatever it is they want. They were coming in. And he [my father] said to my mother, ‘If you see that they kill me, get the gun. First kill the child, then kill yourself.’ Because there [were monstrosities] that [were] going on over there.”

(Vicenza, Italy, during WWII)

Mike Page

“I woke up, and my marriage wasn’t working, I wanted to go back into the service. I was hungover, sitting at my desk as an inventory control clerk at NC State. I heard an advertisement about the Coast Guard on the radio. Picked up the phone, called them, two weeks later I was gone.

Drug busts, chasing bad guys, arresting bad guys on boats. That kind of stuff. Times where I thought I was dead — I’ve had many/ I lived in the Bahamas for two years. My job was drug interdiction under the Reagan administration. So we were down there, and we had two flight crews. We flew with DEA agents and the Bahamian strike force. A lot of Miami Vice crap. And I was in the middle of it — very exciting.

I quit because I was young and stupid at the time. I was getting ready to get transferred from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Mobile, Alabama, which I didn’t want to go [to]. And I was going through another divorce, and I said, ‘Well maybe it’s time for me to get out.’ so I got out. I said, ‘Damn, if I’d had stayed in another eight years, I’d be retired from that and be in much better shape.’ But that’s hindsight.

That was one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t follow through with that. Because I went from having an extremely, extremely exciting fulfilled life to working in a hardware store making eight dollars an hour. Bored. It went from wild to a brick wall. And the good thing is, now I am retired at 62. And I work here part time, and everything is very good.”

Jackie Draper

“Parenting is an interesting arena in and of itself. You tend to go a lot of places where you doubt things when you’re raising a person. Being kind os a big deal. I have two boys, they are at the top of the happiest moments list— having my kids.

Yesterday is yesterday, and we can’t really control much beyond the moment we’re in. And I think it’s hard to do that because life is so busy and so full. But it’s really about appreciating the now. And I think one of my favorite pieces of advice is ‘trust the process.’ There are so many things that happen that we have no clue about why or what. But I believe in things happening for a reason. And if we trust in the process it may ease our fears and doubts, obstacles.

We are never short on stories. The world takes all kinds, and they all come here. There’s no dull moment, and it really keeps it interesting. That’s really what I love about the work.”

Karen Lynn Neville

“I remember a customer. She came in, she had a clothing voucher. She selected some clothes, and before she left, she told me, ‘You have an aura about you. Whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it. Because you pretty much made my day, just being able to be in your presence.’

And that stuck with me, and I thought about that constantly through my day. When I tend to get a little frustrated and overwhelmed with problems and life itself I thought about that. She didn’t know me, and that’s the feeling she got just by being in my presence.

I like to give back, I think that’s pretty much my calling in life, to give back to people. And I’ve enjoyed that for 20+ years, and I think that’s probably the reason I’m still here.”