Calvin first learned about PRC during a chance meeting with PRC Employment Specialist Lauren Vega while volunteering at the Castro Country Club, a clean and sober gathering place for the LGBTQ recovery community. Lauren had been seeing clients there and suggested PRC’s LiftUp SF career pathway training program to Calvin. A big believer in things happening for a reason, Calvin decided to give it a shot. He’s so glad he did.
Calvin had previously worked in kitchens in the restaurant industry. He loves cooking and wanted to be his own boss. But a drug addiction interrupted that. Calvin had a whole year of sobriety but after COVID hit, he relapsed into alcohol. He needed a change so he got a sponsor and entered a 12-step program. That’s when he met Lauren.
With Lauren’s encouragement, Calvin enrolled in LiftUp SF. Part of our Workforce Development program, LiftUP SF was created specifically for people like Calvin with what we call “lived experience” – those with a real world understanding of mental health and substance use treatment settings – to train for jobs as peer health professionals in community and public health settings.
Over the course of the four-week, 64-hour program, Calvin learned a lot about the different behavior patterns of addicts. He saw these reflected in his own past and present behavior and, more importantly, learned how to interrupt these patterns. Calvin discovered a new outlook and a new outlet to express his own struggles. He learned how to put the person in need first, but also about self-care and setting boundaries.
Calvin learned how to communicate better, which was important because when he was using drugs, his people skills had deteriorated. He learned how to listen to the person, not just the problem, and how to talk to people without condescension, a big shift from when Calvin had previously done things out of spite or just to get a reaction. Calvin considers himself a compassionate person. However, “there were a lot of aha moments, when I saw that what I’d been doing wasn’t good.”
“It really changed my life. Having the opportunity to immerse myself in a different field of work and really understand how addicts work, it’s changed my sense of everything.” Calvin explains. Following the training, Calvin began working at PRC’s Hummingbird Place, a psychiatric respite program and navigation center where people in distress have an alternative to the emergency room for stabilization, linkage to social services, and referral to longer-term treatment and recovery.
“My income has increased. I have a job. I have a place where I pay rent. I am learning new things about myself by interacting with peers. I am confident in my work. The peer to peer training helped me to put myself out there. It brought me back to life. I can make change in other people’s lives at Hummingbird. One client said, ‘You are the nicest counselor I’ve ever met here at Hummingbird.’ This brought me fulfillment. I have an impact. With the help and guidance of PRC and LiftUp, it was possible for me to get a different outlook on life. There are people who have it worse than I do.”
“The job is helping me, in a sense, learn who Calvin really is, what my boundaries are, and what makes me happy. I can now analyze my feelings before I react and think about the consequences.” Calvin finds himself pinpointing in others behaviors that he had himself in the past, which allows him to reassess himself on a daily basis. Calvin shares that there are clients who need attention constantly, and his own experience allows him to be more compassionate toward them and toward himself. It’s allowed him to look back at trauma from his childhood in a new light and rediscover himself and live a more normal life.
Calvin shares that PRC impacted him because he had to do the hard work to discover why he feels a certain way. Every day is a learning opportunity. Previously he always said yes to avoid conflict, then felt anger, and then shut down. The job at Hummingbird has allowed him to embrace the emotions that his clients are deflecting. He’s learned to not take it personally. The job is helping him move on with his life. His clients are prime examples of where he doesn’t want to be again. They motivate his continued recovery. Calvin just celebrated two years sober, and he knows he’s looked up to by his peers who see a real change.
Right now, Calvin is just taking it one day at a time. He’s still madly in love with food, which he calls his therapy. “Food will always have a special place in my heart but mental health is also fulfilling. Mental health is important, especially in San Francisco, especially in the gay community. I see a lot of individuals who don’t know how to navigate their own feelings. Your support will help people like me help people like them, to know they’re thought of, that people do want to help them. Your donation to PRC will change lives. It changed mine.”
Your support of PRC’s programs like LiftUp SF is changing lives like Calvin’s, and training a new generation of community health workers to help others. Please consider making a donation at this time, which will be matched now through May 31 dollar-for-dollar up to $15,000 by a generous challenge match by our Board of Directors.
Learn more about how PRC is transforming lives for the better and building lasting change at give.prcsf.org/lasting-change.