Former GLIDE client and current GLIDE team member, EARL WATSON
I have struggled my whole life to rise above the poverty level and to reach my full potential. For way too long, and at every turn I took, something always went wrong and beat me down. I was born in Alabama, but my family moved to San Francisco when I was very young. I was raised in the projects by my single mother, who instilled in me the importance of always working. “No matter your station in life, no matter what the pay is, just keep moving forward and never give up,” she used to say to me. I was also inspired by my hard-working grandfather. He was always busy on a job of some kind, tinkering around the house or sometimes cooking a tasty meal. Hard, honest work was the essence of what I wanted in life.
At a young age I took a fall off of a railing and suffered a brain injury. Because of that, I was enrolled in a special-education program and constantly found myself in and out of trouble and danger. In my mid-teens, I ended up in a group home in Stockton, CA, where the local high-school track coach took a shining to me. He took me under his wing and uncovered my good, giving side and loving nature. With my coach’s help, I graduated high school.
As a young adult, I became a father and raised two children on my own after their mother left us. With my beloved kids in tow, I moved around a lot, lived in shelters, got by on odd jobs, volunteered in kitchens and always remembered my mom’s advice and my grandfather’s example. Despite my best intentions and frustrated by a lack of steady work, shelter, and companionship, I turned to drugs for comfort. As addiction kicked in, during a moment of clarity I luckily asked my mother, still living in San Francisco, to be the guardian of my kids.
On my own and constantly in search of a meal, I discovered GLIDE in 1987. Fortunately for me, I found much more than just a warm meal. I found a welcoming environment, which I could once again feel productive in, part of a community, and even loved. I volunteered at GLIDE a lot and I began to confront my drug addiction. I liked the way GLIDE did things, so I came to volunteer every day. I felt like I was getting back on track. Seeing others in a similar state was humbling and motivating. A case-worker at GLIDE’s Walk-In Center helped me navigate my personal transformation, which eventually led to a job with GLIDE’s front-lines Security Team. From there I was promoted to being a cook at the Family, Youth and Childcare Center. Today, I truly believe I’m a key member in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program team.
Having gone through hard times myself, I get the plight of GLIDE’s clients and genuinely understand their struggles. I’ve been off drugs for years and am once again enjoying great relationships with my full-grown children. I like to tell GLIDE’s clients, when you’re ready, come see me and I will help you get through the door and into the Walk-In Center. When I was homeless, I moved all the time from the street to a temporary shelter and back again. Now I have permanent residency at a Tenderloin SRO and vow to never return to the street. No way. I try to help others through their own transitions at GLIDE and on the street. And I always remember the words of my mother and the example of his grandfather—just keep working hard and moving ahead.