After a work-related injury, Ryan's life started falling apart. He lost his family, turned to drugs and ended up homeless. Surprisingly, his brother was going through a similar experience, and they both turned to Denver Rescue Mission for help.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear... for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
- Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV)
Ryan and his younger brother, Jim, share several things in common. They both quit high school early to get jobs, they both struggled with substance abuse for years and they both became homeless after experiencing broken relationships with family and friends.
“I thought I knew everything,” Ryan says, explaining how he quit high school early to get a job. “I always got good grades, but then I started smoking marijuana. I thought school was boring, so I quit.”
Although he never graduated from high school, he says he always found good jobs, lying on his applications about his education. He even married and had two daughters, building a life for himself. But then a work-related injury left him unable to lift more than five pounds for two years. “I couldn't even take the garbage out,” he says. The resulting frustration from his injury affected his relationship with his wife and kids. “We started fighting a lot, and when we finally split up, I didn’t take it well,” he says.
The pain of losing his family was too much to bear, and as a way to deal with his depression, someone offered him crystal meth. Within a year he had lost his job, had to move in with his parents and was stuck in a destructive cycle of addiction. “My kids were scared of me and didn’t want to be around me,” he says.
His brother, Jim, had experienced a similar situation and ended up living at their parents’ house around the same time.
“I'm his big brother, and I led by example,” Ryan admits. “At our parent's house, I was getting him drugs now and then, which didn't help him at all.”
That winter, their parents asked them both to leave, and Ryan ended up moving in with an acquaintance at a drug house where other residents were stealing motorcycles. One night, he was attacked by a group of people in ski masks. They hit him in the face and stomach, but when he fought back they scattered. “I still don't know who it was, but when you're living in that lifestyle, you make enemies,” he says. “It was a wake-up call for me.”
At this point, Ryan had no birth certificate, no ID and no way to get a job without either of those documents.
Jim was staying at the Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter and told Ryan about the New Life Program. Ryan was interested immediately. “It was my only way out,” he says.
Ryan wanted to share that way out with his brother. “I'd send him photos of what we were doing at The Crossing, of me and the other guys at church and of my new GED. I was trying to encourage him.” In the same way Ryan had influenced his brother into drugs, he was now trying to influence Jim to change his life.
And Jim actually did join the New Life Program for about eight months. He worked hard and got his GED as well, and he helped others join the program, including a man who used drugs with him the previous summer.
But Jim quit the program early in mid-August, and while it’s always sad to see someone leave the program early, it’s a blessing to know that those who leave well can still take the positive, life-changing things they learned here with them. That’s the outlook of our staff who work one-on-one with the men and women in our programs, like Jim’s chaplain, Chris Rutledge. “Jim established sobriety while he was here,” Chris says, “and that’s great. We hope and pray that he takes that and the other things he learned here with him into the next chapter of his life.”
Ryan, on the other hand, is nearly finished with the New Life Program, and one of the best things he’s received from his time here is the connection he made with his new career. One of his work therapy tasks was as a Clinic Assistant at the Mission, helping guests receive services like eyeglasses, basic dental work, chiropractic care, and more. Through his work therapy experience, he was able to learn from one of our long-term volunteers, an optician named Don Neufeld.
Don volunteers at the Mission’s clinic, and he noticed Ryan’s interest in optometry. He taught Ryan several things, and now Ryan has a job working for an optometrist. “My job has really taken off,” Ryan says. “I'm helping train other employees from across the country. We also did some back-to-school vision screenings for kids in need. My goal is to eventually get on-the-job training with a sponsor ophthalmologist and get certified as an ophthalmic technician.”
Ryan and Jim both found themselves at the end of a broken road of devastated relationships and lost dreams. That's why they came to the Mission. Jim experienced the transformation he was seeking, and Ryan is taking the next step to advance his career.
Despite the different paths their lives have taken, Ryan and Jim now have one more thing in common: their gratitude for Denver Rescue Mission and supporters, like you, who make the New Life Program possible. “Because of the Mission, I was able to fix my relationship with my daughters,” Ryan says. “We hang out every weekend now. I’m so grateful for that.”
Rehabilitation at the Mission is more than just a 30-day detox program. It’s a challenging, one-to-two year total-life rehabilitation. For those who accept that challenge, it means reconnecting with family and faith, building new patterns of behavior, confronting personal issues and challenges through counseling and mentorship, addressing addiction, committing to sobriety, developing healthy community, and more.
Thank you for giving Ryan and his brother, Jim, a chance to change their lives through rehabilitation at Denver Rescue Mission. Your support makes every moment in the New Life Program possible, and we could not be more grateful for your partnership in changing lives.
Letter from the CEO
A few years ago, I was attending the Global Leadership Summit with several other Mission staff members. The GLS is an event hosted by Willow Creek Church in Chicago every year, and it is broadcasted to cities like Denver and even other countries around the world. As part of the event that year, they broke a clay pot and asked the audience to come up and get a piece of the broken pot. Then they asked us to write a word on our piece that best represented what we would need that next year. Lastly, we were asked to pray and ask God to give us what we had written, and to keep that piece of clay as a reminder.
I am looking at that piece of clay as I write this. Written on it is the date, 8/12/11, and the word “Courage.” As it turns out, courage is what I needed, not only for 2011, but for the last six years.
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Ryan's story was featured in the October 2017 issue of Changing Lives titled “Accepting the Challenge”
Also in this issue:
- 15th Annual Harvest Farm Fall Festival
- The 13th Annual Last Waltz
- Letter from the CEO