A Chance for Redemption
Posted on August 4, 2016
From Addiction to Redemption
By Janice Richmond
For about half of her 25 years, she used drugs. It started at the age of 12 to mask the pain of abuse. It continued over the years, to mask the pain of post-traumatic stress and borderline personality disorder. She lived a tough, street life dropping out of Thames Secondary School because she couldn’t concentrate on learning. But how could she be? She was struggling just to survive. As an addict, she was always concerned about where her next hit would come from. Her life was filled with finding that hit, fighting with so-called friends, deflecting trouble with the police, wondering where her next meal would come from and where she’d flop at night. Hers was a life many people would think was destined to end early and in shambles.
Jennifer is clean and working. She still has a way to go before she’ll call herself free from dependency. She sleeps on her Dad’s couch at night willing her dreams not to become nightmares. She’s not sure where her next home will be. She frets over past relationships and whether she can keep the troubled people from her past away from her future. Yet with all her worry she is determined to help others. She hopes that by sharing her life story, others will get the help that they need.
And she acknowledges that she cannot help others without first thanking those who have helped her. She says the staff at Hutton House never judged her, saw her potential and helped her through some difficult times. Ayme Craig deserves much of that credit. As her case worker, Craig stuck by Jennifer and helped her get to where she is today. “My faith in Jen remains strong because, although she may stumble, she accepts responsibility for her actions, and comes back, usually stronger and more motivated. I believe that people can adapt and learn any skill, as long as they bring the right attitude. Jen brings this and more,” said Craig.
Employment makes a difference...
A big part of helping Jennifer succeed meant finding meaningful employment. She was introduced to Felipe Gomes, the owner of Aroma Restaurant. Aroma is a beautiful dining atmosphere that combines old world Mediterranean charm with modern day experiences. To be competitive in the fine dining industry, restaurant owners usually like to hire only the best in their fields. Gomes saw potential in Jennifer and hired her for his kitchen.
Why would he take a risk on someone with such a troubled past?
“I saw this really genuine personality that wanted to make a difference and who wanted to better herself as an individual. It wasn’t just I need money to pay my bills, that was never her approach to this. She genuinely wanted to show that she could succeed by someone giving her an opportunity. And over and over again she says to me, thank you so much, Felipe,” Gomes said.
The hiring of people with disabilities is nothing new to Gomes. The first person with a disability he hired was Jesse Davidson, London’s famous namesake for the Jesse’s Journey Foundation. And there have been many since that time including a Hutton House participant who used to bicycle from Oneida Nation of the Thames to London, even in the dead of winter at minus 30 degrees to work for him at Aroma. Gomes calls him a true inspiration for his people on the reserve.
Gomes admits that it is not always easy hiring someone with a disability. Sometimes accommodations have to be made. Staff has to be onboard and learn to accommodate too. But he believes it is the right thing to do and it is probably in his blood. His mother used to give food and coins to blind people in the poverty- soaked streets of Lisbon when he was a young boy. His family did not have much money to spare with 13 children and the father the only bread winner. But still, his mother insisted on helping those less fortunate.
Today, he does the same. At Aroma, Jennifer is in her element. Whether it is helping head chef Jairo roll strudel, bread veal and make pizza or helping her co-workers who haven’t had life as tough as her, she puts her heart into everything she does. Gomes was awed when Jennifer wanted to help a co-worker who clearly makes more money than her. The co-worker was complaining that she was called into work only to be told she’d have to leave early because it wasn’t as busy as expected. To make her feel better, Jennifer offered her a bus ticket. That’s who Jennifer is; a girl with a really big heart.
“I feel like I was made in this world to do good, (sic) to do amazing. Not even for me, for other people. I have the biggest heart ever. I would help anybody. I just want to try and make a difference,” Jennifer said.
Staying clean, earning a living, keeping her positive spirit is a start. Her next steps include finding a place to live and working on her education. While her formal education may be lacking, her innate knowledge of the human spirit is incredible. “In my 25 years, she is the most polite person that I have engaged in a relationship between employer and employee. She says ‘Felipe, when you are happy, we are all happy. It’s very important that you are pleased with the conduct of all of us because when we see a smile on you, we all smile.’ She really understands the concept of a good atmosphere in the workplace. To hear this from someone who is not in the business, this is her first time engaged in hospitality, and has been upside down with issues health-wise in her life, it’s quite remarkable really to hear it from someone like her,” Gomes said.
Making a difference in someone’s life makes Gomes happy. But more than that, he believes it serves a greater purpose. Everyone in life needs a greater purpose he says, a reason to be here. He exudes that message by hiring people who others may not give a chance. And perhaps he sees a little of himself when he watches Jennifer give of herself. Jennifer is grateful to have what she calls a new family in her life, the Aroma family.
“Life’s not easy, there’s always conflict…it’s either punch it out or give you everything I have and get taken advantage of, all my life” she explained. But not now. Now she is learning how to live in between those two extremes. Yet as Craig explains life still won’t be easy, “when people have a PTSD diagnosis, they essentially have been programmed to respond to certain situations in survival mode due to past trauma, often resulting in dysfunctional behaviour. The challenge for Jen will be to re-program her thinking patterns so that she can establish effective coping strategies, rather than resorting to self-destructive ones. People with PTSD and other mental health challenges are very successful when given opportunities in a positive and supportive environment where they feel valued and safe to open up, to learn, and to demonstrate their strengths.”
Aroma Restaurant and Felipe Gomes have given her that environment. And the more Jennifer grows and the more she helps herself, she is sure to help others along the way.
Hutton House specializes in helping people with all kinds of disabilities find work and positive experiences. If you, or someone you know could benefit from our expertise, please give us a call, visit us in person, or online.
Huttonhouse.com 519 472 1541 x 232
301 Oxford St. E. in the Cherryhill Village Mall.