2015 Spring Newsletter – Making the Grade: Joseph’s Story
The principal gave up on Joseph, telling the 16-year-old eight-grader’s mother it was time for him to drop out of school and get a job. After attending a dozen elementary schools and being held back three times, Joseph had fallen too far behind and would never graduate high school.
His mother gave up on him, too. She was going through a divorce and didn’t have time to help her
struggling son with his schoolwork. She agreed the: Joseph’s school days were over.
“They thought I just couldn’t learn … that I had some kind of disability;’ Joseph recalls. “Nobody ever believed in me, and for the longest time I didn’t believe in myself:’
Joseph was a middle-school dropout.
That was the start of more than 20 years of minimum-wage jobs and intermittent homelessness that included nights spent in friends cars, on park benches and under bridges. For seven years Joseph slept in a tent in the woods of Tennessee, where he bathed and washed his clothes in a lake, and ate cold food straight out of a can.
It wasn’t because he couldn’t find a job. Like an estimated 44% of the homeless in the United States, Joseph worked. But because of his lack of education, he never earned enough to afford a place to live.
“I’ve worked my entire life. I’ve never been a lazy man,” Joseph says. “But I never made more than eight dollars an it hour. That was enough for me to eat but not much else:’
Eventually, Joseph sought help at a homeless shelter in Tennessee. During his time there he accepted Christ and saved up enough money to get his own apartment. But that program didn’t offer education programs, so Joseph was still a dropout, barely scraping by on minimum wage.
In 2011, Joseph came to live with his sister and her children in Orlando. He worked low-wage jobs and helped care for the kids for about two years until she needed to find a smaller place and there wasn’t room for him. He went back to Tennessee, where about a month later he began feeling called by God to return to Orlando.
In need of a place to sleep, Joseph was led to O.U.R. Men’s Center, where he saw signs for the Discipleship Work Program. When he talked to the staff about joining, he told them of his desire to go back to school and get his high school diploma.
“I couldn’t believe it when they told me they have a high school program right here. I knew this is where God had been leading me.’ A year and a half later, Joseph is working on the Mission’s maintenance
team and is close to earning his diploma.
“My whole life, people – even my family – said I was a failure, that I wasn’t smart and that I’d never amount to anything. Today I’m surrounded by the Lord’s people who believe in me and encourage
me. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for this place.”