My name is Willie. I believe anything is possible when we have God in our life. I hold that truth close to my heart every day. Because I know, from experience, that it’s true.
I had a rough childhood. I grew up in the projects in Paterson, New Jersey, surrounded by poverty, drugs and crime. I never knew my dad, and I always thought it was because something was wrong with me. Then, worst of all, when I was 11 years old my two younger sisters were killed when an arsonist set fire to our house.
That horrible experience really hurt me. I grew up angry and refused to get close to or trust anyone. I was determined to live by my own rules, and I embraced street life. I made selling drugs my full-time job — and for 25 years I was in and out of prison for drug dealing, aggravated assault and first-degree armed robbery. No matter where I went, people feared me.
By the time I was 41, however, my neighborhood had changed. Gangs ruled these streets now, and I wanted nothing to do with them. But I knew if I stayed, I’d probably be killed. I didn’t want to become just another statistic, so I knew I had to change. Yet I knew changing would be hard. And I wasn’t sure it was even possible.
That’s when a friend brought me to The Bowery Mission — and I was right. Change was hard and I struggled. But the people here kept encouraging me. They reminded me that God was here for me, no matter what. So I buckled down and attended all the classes and studied the Bible. I opened up to counselors and talked about all the pain I’d suppressed since childhood.
One of the most important things that helped me was the Career Center. I’d never had a real job, but some professionals came and taught me how to write a resume and how to present myself in a job interview. Then the Mission gave me the chance to learn new job skills in the cleaning industry.
In time, thanks to God — and to The Bowery Mission — I changed. I’m now living on my own again and have a great job working maintenance at a new hotel in Manhattan. Thanks to The Bowery Mission, I can handle whatever comes with character, dignity and respect. I’ve learned that anything is possible.