A Florida native who often goes by his Army nickname, Country, Mike began working at the Philadelphia Furniture Bank in September 2018 through the Work First program. “At that time, I was barely hanging on by a thread. I was hanging out late. Drugs and alcohol.”
A counselor at the unemployment office, who Mike remembers was a fellow veteran, helped him create a resume. Another counselor at Impact Services pointed him to a job fair. “I came in with my resume and talked to Rob [Community Inclusion and Advocacy Director at Pathways to Housing PA]. I told him that I did warehouse work in the military. He mentioned the Philadelphia Furniture Bank and I told him that my brother, [PFB truck driver] George, worked there.” Mike and George had connected through the Veterans Multi-Service Center, where George worked before coming to PFB.
Working at PFB had a stabilizing effect on Mike’s life. “It gave me a purpose to stop everything I was doing and become something better.” His favorite part of work at PFB? “I like fixing stuff and painting, and seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they pick the furniture that I fixed or painted. My mom taught me how to fix furniture. I don’t know where she learned it. And painting, too. She was a registered nurse for forty-some years. I learned all my values and hard work from her and my dad.”
In 2019, Mike moved back to Florida to help his mother through health issues. When he returned to Philadelphia in 2020, he didn’t immediately have a support system. “I was homeless and staying at a shelter when I came back here – because I wasn’t prepared.” He reached out to George and returned to work at PFB, which in the meantime had moved to its new location. “The Philadelphia Furniture Bank gave me a steady dose of reality, keeping me focused on what I must do.”
Mike also found permanent housing. He credits CATCH, Inc. for supporting him after his return from Florida. He was using their transportation services to travel to Hub of Hope, a walk-in center operated by Project Home and OHS, and that driver encouraged him to reach out to CATCH for other services. “They kept a record on me at CATCH. To this day, Kristina Boling-Smith has been a big help to me, making sure that I was ok.”
Through CATCH’s partnership with the Furniture Bank, Mike received furniture for his new home. He says of his new apartment: “It’s great. It’s convenient – easy transportation to and from. Most important, the people [neighbors] are real nice.” When not at work, “Mostly, I’m working out, and watching football games. I’m a Cowboys man. One of my aunts used to be [Cowboys wide receiver] Bob Hayes’ girlfriend in college.”
Mike wants to continue to work in a warehouse where he can use his range of talents after he graduates from the Work First program. “The world is not enough! Like James Bond. I could be anywhere, doing many things, because I have many skills.”