A Brighter Future
Julia Binswanger is a student at Bowdoin College who is volunteering her writing skills for Project HOME this summer.
Fifty-one-year-old Antoine Parks is a fighter.
From 1981 to 1993 this South Philadelphia native was stationed in Iraq. There he worked in artillery and served in direct combat. In short, he risked his life for our country so that those of us at home don’t have to. Thus, one would assume that in 1993, after over ten years of service when Antoine was finally discharged, he would be done fighting.
But this was not the case. When Antoine came home, he began encountering new types of battles. Not only did he have immense trouble finding stable employment, he was also going through a heavy divorce. On top of this, he had gotten hooked on marijuana during his time in service, and used the drug as an ailment for his problems.
Perhaps most devastatingly the mother of his infant son was murdered only a month after giving birth. “Everything began coming at once,” he recalls of those dark days. “The money I was making for the jobs at the time wasn’t enough to maintain the bills. It just got too overwhelming.” To make things worse, in 2002 he lost his military benefits due to legal issues. Antoine wanted to get back on track, but he was in need of help.
“I was in a veteran’s house,” he states, “and it was the pits for me, because people were able to use drugs. That scared me because I wanted to get away from that.” It wasn’t until his arrival at Project HOME that things started to look up.
“I’ve been with Project HOME for 10 months. Let’s put it like this: In the last 10 months, I’ve gotten so much farther than I have in the last eight years.” The hardest part, Antoine says, was simply finding the courage to walk through the door. “I had never been in a recovery house before, I was scared going in because I heard things about those places. But I came in, and it turned out to be totally different … There are a lot of people who encourage you and inspire you to stay focused. I have a friend and we support each other in there, and the staff is awesome. They support us all.”
Perhaps the first substantial turning point for Antoine came when he was selected as one of the first recovering addicts to participate in Project HOME's Resident Internship Program. In this internship he made connections with fellow soldiers and worked as a maintenance man for Project HOME’s James Widener Ray Homes residence. “The internship was a great opportunity,” he states. “It gave me the stability to focus on working on a job, to get a better job.”
That “better job” he refers to is now his – Antoine was hired last month by SEPTA, a position he has had his eye on for quite some time. For three years prior he applied to work with the public transit company but was always denied. Project HOME helped him discover his dedication and focus needed to pass required tests and land it. On top of his job, Antoine works to help others in a similar position to his. Recently he participated in a “veterans’ webinar” sponsored by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The nationwide webinar allowed Antoine to spread his message directly.
“They hear your story and people can come back on the web and actually talk to you. They wanted to know how my life changed, and how recovery helped my life. So that was something I was honored to do, because it means a lot for me to serve my country and other people.” Antoine has had such a strong turnaround that he is even beginning to get recognized for his accomplishments.
In July, he was given a community service award by The Greater Enon Missionary Baptist Church at a dinner attended by Mayor Michael Nutter.
“They gave me a plaque. That was pretty great. I feel blessed.” Indeed, Antoine has certainly come a long way in the past year. He has even regained his military benefits. “It’s about staying focused, and patient and working hard to get what you aim for. And it may not always happen as fast or easy as you want it. That’s why I think I’ve done as well as I have, because I came and took the rights that were given to me and followed the rules. I knew what I wanted out of the program, and failure was not an option for me.”
Antoine Parks is definitely a fighter. Now that his life is settling down one might think that it would be time to sit back and finally relax. However, this is not the case. Instead, he continues to fight for his fellow veterans and those facing addiction and homelessness.
“I’m getting older,” he said, “and the things I used to do – well, that’s in the past, and I don’t think about the past. I think about the future every day, and my future is getting bright. I just want to spread the message. There’s always hope. There’s always something. If you think there is no help, there is. You just got to be willing to ask for it.”