Making the Grade: Joseph’s Story
The principal gave up on Joseph, telling the 16-year-old eighth-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 his classmates 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, or the money to hire a tutor. She agreed that 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. I just accepted the fact that I was never going to graduate.”
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 close to 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 percent of the homeless in the United States, Joseph worked the entire time. 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. “I did some security work. I cut timber. I worked in restaurants. But I never made more than eight dollars an hour. That was enough for me to eat but not much else.”
Eventually, Joseph came out of the woods and sought help at a homeless shelter in Tennessee. During his 15 months 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 from a cafeteria job.
In 2011, Joseph came to live with his sister and her children in Orlando. He worked low-wage jobs at restaurants 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.
“I saved up enough money to get a bus ticket back here. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but God was telling me it was time to go back to school. I didn’t know where or how, but I knew I was being led by Him.”
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. He hopes to attend maritime school and get a lucrative job with the Merchant Marines.
“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.”
After his middle school principal and mother gave up on him, Joseph could have given up on himself. But when he came to the Mission, he found the programs and encouragement he needed to break the cycle of low wages and homelessness. Your gift today can help write another success story for someone like Joseph.