Sometimes you find the streets.
Sometimes the streets find you.
They can chew you up, spit you out and crush your spirit.
But only if you aren’t stronger than they are.
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Gene Laury is a 62-year-old truck driver from west Texas. When he broke down in Macon five years ago, it wasn’t because the wheels of his big rig stopped turning.
Years of substance abuse and repeated brushes with the law caught up with him. He entered a local drug rehabilitation facility and spent nine months in treatment. He rented a room at a boarding house and sought shelter at the Salvation Army.
He had a relapse and fell back into his destructive ways.
“A year ago at this time, I was sleeping on the streets,” he said. “I wasn’t under the bridge, but I was staying in the parking garages downtown.”
Each day brought another coat of pain on his face, more worries about where to find his next meal and lay his head down for the night.
Today, Gene has an apartment on the fifth floor of the Dempsey Apartments. He has a job driving a truck for a moving and storage company. He just bought a 1999 Chevy Tahoe. On Sundays, he attends New City Church on Cherry Street.
He has become a success story in the community’s ongoing efforts to reach out to its homeless population. And, perhaps more importantly, that population’s willingness to reach back.
Sometimes you find the streets. The one that saved Gene was the foot of Walnut.
In October 2013, he walked under the railroad trestle toward the entrance to Central City Park. The only possessions he owned were the clothes he was wearing and a few belongings in his backpack.
He found an open door at what was once a commercial door warehouse.
The name DAYBREAK was in block letters across the front of the building. What happened inside changed his course.
“It wasn’t just a place to eat breakfast and take a shower,” Gene said. “They were interested in helping me get back on my feet and do something positive with my life.”
Daybreak had opened 11 months earlier, the week before Thanksgiving in 2012. The resource center provides breakfast, along with shower facilities, a laundry, a health clinic, computers, telephones, counseling and employment assistance.
At first, Gene was simply another face in the crowd -- hungry, nomadic and looking for a place to land out of the cold wind and oppressive summer heat.
Daybreak clocked in more than 1,600 different individuals last year. He became one of the estimated 350-400 people there almost every time the doors were unlocked. He started hanging out, offering to help move furniture and clean the building on Saturdays.
On Feb. 27, 2014, Sister Elizabeth Greim, the program director at Daybreak, gave him another assignment. She asked him to participate in the first annual Greater Macon Sleepout.
To try to raise awareness, she recruited 53 people representing local businesses, churches and other groups.
She invited them to camp out in the park with several of Daybreak’s participants. Her idea was to have them walk in their shoes and sleep on the same ground with one eye open.
Still, she didn’t want to overwhelm her invited guests by surrounding them with a dozens of homeless folks. Instead, she asked 15 to help out, and 10 of them showed up.
Gene was among those who gave tours and spent the night in tents with some of the movers and shakers of Macon. (Since it was 20 degrees that night, the shakers were really shaking.)
“I can tell them why Daybreak is important,” Sister Elizabeth told Gene. “But I personally don’t need Daybreak. You do. So you need to let them know what you do here and where their money is helping. The money is coming through me, but they’re giving it to you.”
In a number of ways, that night was a turning point for Gene. He was more than just a “client” or “recipient” of services. He shook hands and made valuable contacts. He became an ambassador, the face for a ministry that is making an impact in the lives of the less fortunate.
“I wanted to show everyone that it was more than just a place to sit down and eat,” Gene said. “The work going on there is second to none. Sister Elizabeth and her staff helped me get to where I am today and to do better in life.”
Daybreak will hold its second annual “sleepout” Feb. 26, with the theme “from dusk to daybreak,” and is seeking sponsorships to continue its mission.
Gene is now the poster child, representing the success of the inaugural event.
“Sometimes it can be hard for our volunteers because they see a lot of people who don’t succeed,” said Sister Elizabeth. “That can be discouraging. But then Gene comes back and just lights up the place. The volunteers see what can happen. He’s not the only one, but for all the struggles and days when you wonder what we are doing here, he’s the one you are going to remember.
“The reason he is a success story is because his life has changed others. Our work has changed his life, and his life has changed ours. That is what you want from a place like this.”
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org