Faces of Addiction, Heroin Addict Turned Mentor: Part 2

Gary Williams with his son and friends. (WCCU)

Gary Williams is a recovering addict, 10 years sober. In part one, we told you his story of addiction -- how he became addicted and how he overcame it. Now we look into the people who helped Gary along the way.

Gary Williams takes pride in his work in the maintenance department at the Hendrick House, student housing at the U of I. He's been there for 10 years.

"I like to help those who are kind of underdogs and have problems," said President Emeritus of Hendrick House, Betsy Hendrick. "I'm really proud of Gary and what he's done."

Gary credits the Hendrick House and the Prairie Center, in part, for his 10 years of sobriety.

The Prairie Center provided the long-term outpatient treatment Gary needed to stay sober.

And when he needed a job, the Hendrick House didn't shy away from his long list of felonies.

"She said I want you to put down every felon that you've ever had and if you leave one out I will not hire you," said Gary Williams. "And so I looked at her in the eye and I said 'ma'am, could I have another piece of paper because this is not big enough.' So she gave me another sheet of paper and she laughed, and they actually hired me."

"Risk? I don't know that that crossed out mind," said General Manager at Hendrick House, Becky Rowe. "We meet lots of different people, especially in the food service area. When we hired Gary, we didn't really consider where he was, we just considered him to be an employee. We set guidelines for him......We're all human beings, just trying to get by and it never hurts to give someone a chance."

Not only did they hire Gary, but they supported his journey through drug court, even attending his graduation.

"Because we kept him on as an employee, do I think that helped him survive and kept him drug and alcohol-free? I'm sure that's a good reason," said Hendrick.

Gary lost friends and family through recovery. Eventually, he was able to reconcile some of those relationships.

"It took time. I had to do a lot of reflecting about myself to get my dad back in my life," said Gary's son Garionté Williams. "We had bumps in the road, where we were scared to talk to each other. Like, he didn't know how to talk to me and I didn't know how to talk to him"

Now Gary is a sponsor for others battling addiction.

"If I didn't go through everything that I went through, I wouldn't be the person that I am now," he said. "So all of that mess that I did, that mess turned into a miracle. And as I help other people, I don't want to break the miracle.

Besides being a sponsor, Gary is also an advocate for both the Prairie Center and the drug court program. As well as more than half-dozen other community organizations.

Gary says the Prairie Center helped save his life. But because of the state budget impasse, those services are in jeopardy.

Since 2007, Prairie Center has lost nearly $1.5 million in treatment funding from the State of Illinois. Because of that, the center's detox center closed and they lost staff, including counselor positions.

"It's not just cuts to substance abuse treatment, but cuts to a variety of social service agencies across the state," said Prairie Center Clinical Coordinator, Brandon Underwood. "And many of our clients don't just need substance abuse treatment, but they also may need mental health services -- which have experienced a cut. They may also and quite often need housing services and housing resources."

With the current uncertainty of the Illinois State budget, community giving is more important than ever. Every dollar donated to the Prairie Center translates into more than $50 of community savings in reduced criminal justice costs and increased worker productivity.

If you or someone you know is battling substance abuse, or if you'd like to support or advocate for the Prairie Center click here.

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