A Cool Businessman
Part of our life as a community is sharing in the pain when one of our members passes away. Last week, we lost a long-time resident who was dear to many of us. Craig Barbour lived at our Kate's Place residence, where he moved in 2012 after several years at 1515 Fairmount Avenue. In his honor, we reprint this blog piece from 2011, which focused on him, It was written by Anabel Genevitz, then a student at Arcadia University and intern with Project HOME, and later a staff member.
With another sweltering Philadelphia summer upon us, the residents, staff, and volunteers at 1515 Fairmount do not have to look far for a tasty way to keep cool. Craig Barbour sets up his water ice stand six days a week to provide well-needed relief from the heat for passers by. HOME Ice, his entrepreneurial venture, offers a plethora of water ice flavors as well as soft pretzels. His stand creates a lively and welcoming atmosphere in front of the building, with a group of fellow residents always gathered nearby.
His time in New York City during the early 1980s was a painful period of homelessness. He moved from shelter to shelter, finding conditions that seemed to him more regimented than prison. “I knew the shelter was nowhere I wanted to stay,” he recalls.
Craig preferred staying in abandoned cars and houses, continuing to struggle with addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine. For five years, he experienced repeated violence – including being attacked regularly by a group of four to five men.
“I was in emotional pain. I didn’t see any out from the cycle of homelessness.” He eventually returned to Philadelphia, where he continued to experience problems with his addictions. He began selling leftover donuts on Cherry Street to sustain himself. Recalling his periods of homelessness in both Philadelphia and New York, Craig speaks of the continued hardship of waking up in a cold and unfamiliar place. He recalls feeling embarrassed about lacking a place to wash his face, brush his teeth or shave, remembering how his mother stressed the importance of personal hygiene when he was growing up. His loss of dignity took a toll on his self-esteem.
“I felt low, and people treated me so.” Eventually, Craig had enough of the daily struggle his life had become. He marks the beginning of his journey to being the person he is today when, on one occasion, he attempted to get a bed at a shelter. Although he remained eager to get off the street, he approached the shelter with an angry and bitter attitude. The case worker sent him away and told him to return once he was ready. Craig would do precisely that, and enrolled in Diagnostic Rehabilitation Center. He began attending meetings, and commenced a journey toward sobriety. Showing such success in his program, he became a security guard and driver for DRC, receiving his driver’s license for the first time.
The staff continually told him that he had the qualities of a leader. Although he was still unsure of what that meant, the newly gained confidence allowed him to forge an image of the person he would like to become. As would prove a constant theme in his life, Craig began to help others in his previous position. He began providing haircuts and hygienic services for men newly entering shelters. His personal goals began expanding as well, as he decided to pursue his GED. Craig passed the test on his first attempt after two years of classes. Enjoying the opportunity to help others, Craig began working at Friends Inc., and aided those without a home. The organization implemented peer to peer support for those suffering from both mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction.
Continuing to make positive choices, Craig enrolled in the Community College of Philadelphia. He recalls feeling frustrated that he was required to take so many remedial classes, but still remained steadfast in his pursuit toward education. He would eventually enroll at Alvernia University to get his Bachelor's Degree in social work. Only a few credits shy of graduation, Craig would again experience the hardship he once knew. Due to the stress of school, Craig relapsed into alcoholism after nine years of sobriety. He returned to living on the streets of Philadelphia, traveling in and out of addiction programs. At that time, he felt that he didn’t want to be sober. After another five years of homelessness, Craig ended up at the Ridge Avenue Shelter and would once again commence on a journey toward sobriety and productivity.
Achieving sobriety for a second time, a case worker referred Craig to Project HOME. Two months after the initial meeting, Craig moved in to 1515 Fairmount, where he still resides today. After Craig had settled in and became a part of the Project HOME community, he would embark on the entrepreneurial adventure that has become HOME Ice, Inc. For an entire year, Craig had been dreaming up the idea of HOME Ice, Inc. When he presented a business plan to his case workers and support staff, the response was positive. He was inspired by how everyone involved was concerned with his success.
He also meets with a supervisor every day who is gradually working to have Craig become completely independent as a businessman. They trade ideas and discuss any issues that may arise with the stand. HOME Ice has also expanded into catering, which Craig is learning to handle. HOME Ice has proven uplifting for Craig, but the effect of the business has extended to other residents. Craig now has a number of people that help him run the stand. Now a resident of Project HOME for seven years – and proudly sober for eight – Craig has truly begun to adopt the mindset of a business owner. “I wake up at 4 am every day and think about new ideas for the stand.”
Acting as manager, he says, is both difficult and rewarding. Working to keep his employees happy can prove challenging, but it also allows people a way to reorient with the professional world. Craig insists, “The greatest reward is the look on their faces when they can tell their case workers that they have a job.”
The future for HOME Ice seems promising, with Craig’s constant flow of ideas to improve efficiency and expansion. For the coming year, he would like to invest in a new machine that makes the water ice and would also like to explore the option of selling coffee and pastries during the fall season. Craig hopes to continue improving his life – including reinstating his status as a Certified Addictions Counselor. Even if he ends up with a well-paying job, he would still like to continue the water ice business. Craig’s glowing pride when talking about his creation certainly reflects his love for his sidewalk post. Perhaps even more than Craig’s entrepreneurial spirit remains his openness and eagerness to share all that he has experienced for the benefit of others. He credits Sister Mary Scullion with giving him the hand up that he needed to continue believing in himself, and he gladly invites anyone to stop by and ask him about his story – and you might as well purchase some water ice at the same time.