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Reconnecting with hope


Homeless and out of work, David Gibbons turn his life around with help from OC Goodwill's Job Connection program

Most people would dread seeing flashing lights in their rear-view mirrors, especially if they had been drinking. But David Gibbons was glad to see them, because he knew he had reached a turning point in his life, and he was going to get the help he needed.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Jamie McMurray helps David Gibbons, her fiance, get ready to leave for work at the Interfor sawmill in Molalla.At the time, Gibbons knew his life was going to change, but he did not realize how much better it was going to be. Now he has his own apartment, which he shares with his fiancée, he has a job, and he thanks Clackamas County diversion programs and the Oregon City Goodwill for it all.

It hasn’t been easy. Gibbons had a rocky start early in life, and with little continuous adult supervision he shoplifted and began to experiment with drugs and alcohol, becoming an alcoholic by age 16. He spent time in the juvenile detention system, was incarcerated as a youth for stealing three guns, and was expelled from his alternative high school.

It was on Jan. 5, 2010, that Gibbons was stopped for speeding in Molalla, and he told the police at the time he had been drinking. The result was a DUI.

“I was a massive alcoholic, and when those lights came on, I was relieved. I was glad to be caught,” he said.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Shamyia Becerra sits at her 'desk of hope' at Oregon City's Goodwill, ready to help anyone who needs a job.About halfway through his diversion program, he had to start over again. At the same time, Jamie McMurray was halfway through her own diversion program, after also receiving a DUI. She tried to move to California to live with her mother, but there were problems transferring the diversion program from one state to another.

To make a long story short, Gibbons and McMurray ended up in the same program, they went to their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting together, and now they are engaged to be married. And they both have been clean and sober for more than two years.

But the road to recovery has not been easy. They have had to deal with Gibbons’ employment issues, and both have experienced medical problems.

Gibbons, now 33, was unemployed for eight months and said he “felt less than adequate” having to live off McMurray’s wages from working as a stylist at Oregon City’s Perfect Look Salon.

He signed up for every job-finding organization on the Internet, and sent out three to four résumés a day, but did not get a single offer.

“I was close to giving up. I was close to turning back to drugs and alcohol. I felt like I had no worth,” Gibbons said.

Doors opening

In October 2012, Gibbons walked through the doors of Oregon City’s Goodwill and applied for a job. But Shamyia Becerra, an employment specialist with Goodwill’s Job Connection employment program, took one look at him and offered advice.

“When he came in, he was pretty down. He felt broken and felt it was impossible to find work. I told him we have to keep jiggling doorknobs until one opens,” Becerra said.

“It was hard to talk to a complete stranger about my faults and downfalls, but she is an amazing woman. Her drive to help people is so incredible; she cares about what she does,” Gibbons said.

Becerra redid his résumé, sent him to a temp agency and within three days he was offered a job at Interfor, a sawmill in Molalla. Gibbons worked for a 91-day temporary period, during which he received training in how to work in a sawmill, a place he had never worked before.

After that he was hired permanently, and now works 12-hour days, six days a week, manning various machines in the mill.

“He’s made leaps and bounds. I am more than proud of him,” Becerra said.

Positive changes

In January, Gibbons and McMurray moved into their own apartment in Molalla, close to the mill. It is their first home together, as the two previously had shared a number of different living spaces with friends in Oregon City.

“This is what I have always wanted to do — have a home and take care of someone,” Gibbons said.

The two have different work schedules, and have only one day off together, but he credits his fiancée for supporting him, and she says she “showed him it was OK to believe in himself.”

“I felt worthless. I did not think I would ever find someone who cared. Never give up. if you try hard enough, anything is possible,” Gibbons said.

“Everything I have is due to Goodwill, what Goodwill has done for me. Goodwill saved my life and my relationship. I didn’t even know they did what they did. They are willing to help anyone who walks through the door. I sent a friend there and Shamyia got him a job, and he is back on his feet again and feels self-worth,” he said.

He noted that he goes back on a regular basis to thank Becerra for what she has done for him.

“I sit down and tell her that I couldn’t have done this without her. She doesn’t get enough credit; she deserves an award for decency,” Gibbons said.

Job Connection program

Becerra herself is a testament to the good that can come from the Goodwill Job Connection program, as she was once homeless and unemployed.

Now, she says, she has such a love for her job, and she considers her office in Oregon City a “room of hope.”

Anyone who is in search of a job, from “ditch digging to being a CEO,” is welcome to come to the Job Connection program, Becerra said.

She first finds out what kind of work people want to do and can do, and then she re-writes their résumés to reflect their skills. She sends out job leads, helps fill out applications, advocates for people and uses a lot of her connections to help them find work.

Employment is absolutely the key to a successful community, Becerra said.

“If we can employ people in our community, it will be safer and happier, and children will thrive, because they have working parents. I want to change our community one person at a time,” she said.

“I don’t let anyone leave here without hope and without feeling empowered,” Becerra added.

Fast facts

Goodwill’s Job Connection program is a free job search and referral program designed to assist people in locating employment in the community within 30 days. The program offers one-on-one personalized service designed to address an individual’s employment needs.

Contact Oregon City’s Goodwill Job Connection office at 503-212-2209, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.