For a long time, George didn't seem to belong anywhere. Failed marriages, heartache within his family and a near 50-year battle with alcoholism and drug abuse left him feeling isolated, and often homeless. Even in Estes Park, a place where George felt at home in nature's tranquility, loneliness plagued him.
“In Estes, I lived in a storage shed with two suitcases full of empty bottles for eight years,” the former Stanley Hotel worker remembers. “I was fearful of being in public; I was a loner and chose to be by myself and drink by myself.”
Though he ventured out to attend church in the picturesque mountain town, George was unaware of the watchful eyes and caring hearts of Estes Park residents like Joanne and Munson Baldwin. Volunteers at The Caring Place, a community room where all are welcome for afternoon refreshments and company, the Baldwins had long noticed George, “the little man on the bike,” around town for years. After striking up a unique friendship with the stubborn senior, the pair eventually convinced him to enroll in the Mission's New Life Program (NLP).
“When we first met George, he said he was an alcoholic, but he was going to quit drinking all on his own,” Joanne recalls. “After he fell off the wagon at a Christmas party, I asked him if he was ready to go to rehab, and he said ‘yes.'”
With the help of fellow Caring Place volunteer Arlene, who had a family member go through the New Life Program, George moved to The Crossing in April of 2012, and instantly felt at home. Between learning new relationship skills, joining a relapse prevention group and realizing he wasn't alone in his battle with addiction, a new George began to emerge.
“I've been to lots of other rehab programs, but this is the first one that made me feel like I could really change,” George explains. “It's hard to put up a façade with other addicts. There is camaraderie here— people form groups and get along well. I found people I could identify with.”
As the months went by, George discovered that the more comfortable he became in his new surroundings, the more healing he experienced. After years of emotional and spiritual isolation, he opened up to Mission chaplains and counselors, freeing himself of the inner turmoil he long suppressed with drugs and alcohol.
“I learned that you have to have church, support groups and positive peers, because if you leave yourself to your own devices, you will crash and burn,” George says. “Here, I could be sincere and honest, and I put my faith in a higher power than myself.”
Mentors Joanne, Munson and Arlene, who remain ardent supporters of the July 2011 program graduate, say they couldn't be happier for the “poster child” of transformation. “We are so proud of what George has accomplished; we knew he could do it!” Joanne reflects happily. “He is a great example of the Lord working in someone's life.”
Now a participant in the Mission's STAR Transitional Program, George is continuing to make positive life changes, surprising even himself in taking a computer literacy class at 65. Though he hopes to return to Estes Park in the near future, he is content living in the community that brought him back to life.
“This place is a safe haven for me, and I want to continue to build my faith, be an example and be a productive person in society,” George says. “I'm glad I didn't put aside coming to a place that could save my life.”
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