Three years ago, Central City Concern’s (CCC) parent mentor Carol Graven worried a lot about 38-year-old Ryan, a resident in CCC’s alcohol and drug-free family housing program. “He was known as Mr. Negative… he weighed 350 pounds, he was depressed, and he struggled with motivation, with getting employment…. I really didn’t know if he was going to pull it together.”
Today Ryan is 100 pounds lighter, has been employed for nearly two years and best of all he is enjoying parenting his 16-year-old son, Jacob. “Central City Concern helped me with housing, so I could stay in recovery for good, get a job, and get my kid back,” said Ryan.
The Chronicle met with Ryan in Carol’s office in a tidy apartment complex in a Portland suburb. With him were Carol and also Simon Klein, Ryan’s employment specialist at CCC. Ryan had warned this writer that he was a man of few words … “you’ll have to pull it out of me.” Over the next hour, though, he was able to spin out his tale of transformation with the help of Carol and Simon.
Ryan started using drugs at age 16 both with his mother and with school friends. Despite this, he came within a few credits of graduating from high school. Ultimately, though, his growing addiction to methamphetamines crowded out all his other interests and activities.
In his 20s, Ryan fathered two children with two mothers who also struggled with addictions. His son was born in 1997 and his daughter was born in 2004. By the time his second child was born, Ryan knew that he and the child’s mother were not capable parents and so she was taken into custody and ultimately placed for adoption. Throughout this period, Ryan maintained sporadic contact with his son, Jacob, who was still living with his own mother.
Between 2004 and 2007 Ryan made several attempts to turn his life around, but each of these attempts eventually failed. In 2008, however, Ryan recommitted to his recovery and to being a better parent to his son. The turning point came when Jacob was 10 years old. Ryan received a call from school. Jacob had head lice for the third time. School staff members were concerned about his care. Ryan picked up his son that day and vowed to change his lifestyle.
Secure in Central City Concern family housing and stable in his recovery, Ryan began seizing opportunities.
That’s when Ryan met his employment specialist, Simon. “I owe my motivation to this guy,” Ryan explained, gesturing toward Simon. “Every week, he’d call me. He motivated me to get up and face the world.” Simon is quick to add that Ryan never missed an appointment and kept all his promises.
Due to Ryan’s social anxiety job hunting was enormously difficult for him. Simon continued to work one-on-one with Ryan to hone his interests, develop a resume, secure work clothes and practice his interviewing skills. To build his confidence, Ryan participated in the Community Volunteer Corps, a Central City Concern program that engages participants in 80 hours of mentored group-volunteer work with other CCC clients. “I enjoyed having a routine and a place to go. It was nice to get out of the house and do something.”
Ryan continued to pursue job opportunities and interviews, and also started volunteering at SnoCap Community Charities, a food pantry providing emergency food baskets to people in East Multnomah County. Ryan volunteered six hours a day, three days a week at SnoCap for about 24 months. Upon his departure, they surprised him with a party, a framed letter of appreciation and an enthusiastic recommendation for future employers. Ryan was so touched that he was brought to tears. “Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.”
In April 2012, Ryan landed a job at a local gas station. Carol recalls, “He was thrilled and ready to give this job 110%. Quickly, his employer realized they could trust Ryan with everything and now he trains the new staff there.” Ryan also gets up extra early each day in order to bring healthy food to work so he doesn’t get tempted by junk food.
Ryan works five days a week, working the early shifts so he can connect with his son every day after school. When Jacob moved into Ryan’s care, he was a few years behind in math and barely reading. “He caught up quickly though,” explained Ryan proudly. “Now he gets good grades, works out regularly, likes shop class, and is in a school military club. I talk to him about making good choices, about keeping an orderly house, keeping his commitments, staying away from drugs and being careful about who he hangs out with. He’s doing well.”
With his son, Ryan and Jacob make good use of the Frisbee golf course across the street from their apartment, and they also enjoy hiking together. Ryan was bursting with pride helping Jacob get ready for prom last spring. They are looking forward to the holidays at Ryan’s grandmother’s home in Milwaukie.
Ryan’s next goal is to train for a truck driving job. “He has always been clear about that interest from day one,” said Simon. “He’s met all his past goals and I’m confident he’ll tackle this one, too.” Carol pipes up to say, “I’m so proud of where Ryan is now, doing all of this and being a single-dad.” She said to him, “You should consider being a family mentor.”
“Nah,” said Ryan, “I’m not big on talking.”