Jerry and Tanya: Turning despair into hope on Flint’s Eastside

Jerry Hodges, 63, and Tanya Cox, 43

Jerry is originally from Mississippi before moving to Detroit, MI. After college Jerry found himself in Flint, MI. Tanya is Pastor of Eastside Church of the Nazarene and has been on the eastside of Flint for 8 years.

March 1, 2018

“Peer pressure just kind of flowed through me. For about 20 some years or more I was into drugs, being around people doing drugs. It didn’t just become a little play thing it became my whole life style.”

We met Jerry and Tanya at Eastside Church of the Nazarene. Jerry walked slowly but met us with a smile. Jerry had a gentle spirit and spoke with so much authenticity that you couldn’t help but be drawn to his story and his words. Jerry and Tanya’s story together was filled with love, hope and a lot of humor. We smiled, we listened, we laughed (a lot) and we were honored to hear their stories.

Jerry and Tanya

Jerry and Tanya outside Eastside Church of the Nazarene

Jerry’s story is filled with a lot of soul searching and trying to find his way to God. Until October 2016, Jerry was a very well-known drug dealer on Flint’s Eastside, involved in more than $1 million worth of drugs in the community.

Everyone knew who Jerry was, many referred to him as the Mayor of the Eastside. He was lost, sad and depressed, but he put a smile on and pretended he was happy, like he had everything he ever wanted. Drugs, opiates, lying, dealing, women, feeling powerful. All those things took over Jerry’s life for more than two decades.

His life now shows a completely different life. It shows a life of hope, purpose, testimony and Jesus. He now helps make life better for those living on the Eastside. And it’s all because life took a dramatic turn on Oct. 10, 2016.

“I will never forget that day. The world around me had me, but I was so unhappy. What happened to me, it was a dynamic answer to prayer. God came to me and showed me a new path with a police raid,” Jerry said, laughing. “Not the script I wanted. But God knew I was sad and wanted a changed life. Not just anything would work for me, because I was slick and crooked.”

So on October 10, the police rammed his door. A sound Jerry will never forget. They charged into his house and knocked him to the floor, yanking his arm behind his back – a pain he still feels today.

He knew his life was about to change forever. Sitting in his jail cell, he began to pray.

“I used to think to think I was the hottest guy out there. They used to call me the Gingerbread Man. Run, run, run just as fast as you can. Police used to say ‘You’re the hottest guy over here. We can’t catch you.’ But I don’t brag nothing about that anymore, because the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. And I know today my name is in the lamb’s book of life,” Jerry said. “My God has written it. I have a peace that God gave me, that no artificial person in this world could give me. And when he saved me out of jail, he really saved me. He delivered me. He changed my life.”

This may seem simple or not possible, but for Jerry it was a miracle.

The path to drugs, destruction

When asked how his life was overtaken by drugs, Jerry’s answer was simple. He was just trying to fit in. He was trying to find a place where he was accepted.

Jerry went to Central Michigan University for college alongside his brother and they both discovered football there. Not many people know who Jerry was at first, but football brought him some recognition. His brother was a football star, so Jerry was too by association. But when his brother left CMU, Jerry lost his identity. He never finished school.

“I was kind of lost and didn’t know what to do,” Jerry said, talking about what took him to drugs in the first place. “If I was telling the truth and humbled myself I was just trying to belong. Everyone just tried to fit into something. I was just trying to find happiness of who God wanted me to be, without God. And that’s why I dabbled in this and dabbled in that. When the devil sold me the deal about drugs, I thought I had found it. I thought if I had drugs, took drugs and sold drugs, I would be somebody. It fueled me.”

After he left CMU, he moved around and found himself in Flint. After a few broken relationships and a divorce, Jerry found himself a girlfriend that worked at a strip club and was involved in drugs.

“That’s where my falling down the mountain started. I got involved in the relationship. In getting involved in the relationship I got involved in drugs,” he said. “Peer pressure just kind of flowed through me. For about 20 some years or more I was into drugs, being around people doing drugs. It didn’t just become a little play thing it became my whole life style. I thought about it for awhile about getting out and not doing it anymore but I could not as a grown man get out of it.”

When he lost his job, he got more involved in drugs, prostitution, gang fighting and guns. Some of his drug deals even involved cars and homes.

“I was caught up in the whirlpool of the drug game,” Jerry said.

He was in jail multiple time for drugs. One of those times, he was charged with a felony and given 50 days in jail. During that time he slipped on a wet floor while mopping and seriously injured his back, thinking he might be paralyzed.

That injury left him feeling not good enough and beat down. It also pushed him toward drug dealing again to make money and find purpose.

Looking back now, he knows that does not define him. He might walk a little slower. He might need the help of a cane. But Jerry’s worth does not come from how he looks, walks or how much money he has from selling drugs.

“I thought I had status. But now I’m nothing. But I’m with Jesus. I was lost and now I’m found,” Jerry said. “I used to think I had it going on because I had a police record. I thought that was cool. How could you be poor and say you’re ballin?”

A powerful testimony of hope

When Jerry got out of jail four days after the major raid at his house, he made a promise to himself. He started attending Eastside Church of the Nazarene in Flint. And right away he met Pastor Tanya Cox.

It’s safe to say it was not love at first sight. Tanya and Jerry will quickly tell you, it was a relationship that formed over time. They laugh and joke about their first encounter.

“Everyone finds Jesus in jail,” Tanya laughed. “I still didn’t believe he wanted to change.”

But Jerry kept coming back. He was there to learn and be a part of the church community. Tanya was married at the time, going through a divorce. Jerry was focused on Bible studies and encouraging those around him. But in the end it was ministry that brought them together.

They make quite the team.

“I’ve been on the Eastside for eight years. I love people. But my testimony is never as loud to people out here as his testimony,” Tanya said. “He gives hope to people who feel like it’s grace in living color. Anyone can have hope when they see someone who’s like them, who’s been involved with the same things they’re involved in. And now God really loves him and is using his life and transforming his life. You can’t argue that. You can say the Bible isn’t true. You can say God’s not real. But you can’t say Jerry’s life isn’t different because they know what his life was like. And they know what his life is like now. He went from being in jail October 2016 to Thanksgiving handing out dinners with the state troopers, which was kind of funny. You can’t argue with somebody’s testimony.”

Tanya jokes that she might be seen a white country girl that doesn’t understand life on the street. But she can cry with those she meets, drive them to get help, get McDonald’s for kids whose house is getting raided.

But it’s Jerry’s testimony and life that really brings hope. Together, Jerry and Tanya do Bible studies and ministry at Jerry’s house and the Eastside Mission. They lead a recovery program at the church and are working on creating the Now House, which is currently being restored.

The Now House will give an opportunity to get people off the streets the moment they make the decision to get clean and start a new life.

“Because right now what happens is if someone comes in here tonight and says ‘I’m done. I want help right now.’ Then I can make a phone call and I can make them an appointment and then I have to send them back out on the street for three days at best,” Tanya said. “They have to be clean for a few days before they can go to rehab or a recovery facility. So the Now House is a bridge. I see a lot of women I work with and they come and have a moment of desperation where they want help right now. And I can’t give them that.”

Not yet, at least.

They also do what they call “Ministry on Jerry’s Porch.” Everybody knows him on the Eastside so people stop by often. Everybody knows why they come by. They are still looking for drugs. But now Jerry gives them something else. He gives them an opportunity for a different life.

“To hear Jerry say ‘I know what you came here for and that used to be something I had for you, but I don’t do that anymore,’ is great,” Tanya told us. “He said, ‘But I would love to tell you about Jesus. I would love to pray with you.’

“They came for drugs but they got something different. Now people know that’s where they come if they are upset or if they need prayer.”

Jerry will tell you all about how God is bigger than all his mistakes, all the bad decisions he has made in the past. His story is now one of restoration. A story of hope, change and God’s love. From a life of drugs and crime to a life where he hopes to bring a chance for love and restoration to others.

“The Lord reminds me I am beautiful in Christ Jesus. I try to have my excitement and joy in Christ. It’s the Peace of God that passes all understanding. I used to think I was peaceful, but I was just high I found out,” Jerry said. “What I have is not for sale. It’s free. What motivates me is I have hope in God and I’ve never had that. Jesus is the fixer.”

To learn more or donate to the Now House, visit here.

This is the 13th story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.

Trina: ‘I’m strong’

Trina Carswell, 42

Born and raised in the Flint area, grew up in Beecher currently living in Flint

March 3, 2015

“I want to go from surviving to thriving, not just barely surviving.”

Trina’s laugh and smile could light up a room. She walked us through Carriage Town Ministries’ Family Center showing us around and sharing a bit about what she did as we toured the facility.

From first appearance, we would have never guessed Trina’s rocky background or her long journey to get to where she is today. Trina, who is now the director of Women’s Ministries at Carriage Town, was welcoming, gracious, humble and truthful.

Her heart overflowed for what she could for others and use her past to shape others’ futures. After hearing her story, we can’t wait to see how Trina will help build up Flint and its people.

We were thankful for her openness and her strength.


Here is Trina’s story:

Trina’s story starts when she was just a child. She was No. 4 out of 15 siblings.

She started looking for love in all the wrong places at a young age and that led her down a path of drugs, cocaine and multiple pregnancies until she hit a point of ultimate desperation that changed her life.

And even though it’s still been a rocky journey, she’s alive to tell about and to encourage and inspire others from her experiences.

Trina grew up in Beecher. Her family was raised in the church. Her mother was a missionary. Her stepfather was a deacon.

Growing up, her parents were very strict. And even though they grew up in the church, it was a very abusive home, Trina said. Her mother was abused by the hands of her stepfather, and she was also physically abused for years.

She struggled with rejection issues after her dad left when she was really young.

Then at 13, everything changed.

“I decided at about 13 years old I wanted to see what’s happenin’. I wanted to see what’s happenin’ out there,” Trina told us.

“So about 13 I decided to start getting with the wrong crowd, looking for love in all the wrong places. I became pregnant with my first son at 13 years old. Gave birth at 14. Shortly thereafter I left home about 15. Became pregnant with my second child at 15. Still seriously searching.”

That rejection and searching led her to her boyfriend — a drug dealer, woman abuser and drug addict.

She thought she was in love. So she began using drugs to make memories with him.

It’s not like she didn’t have another future ahead of her. She was — she is — intelligent. At the time she was an honor roll student and in honors society, among other things.

“But I had no idea that I really was a smart person. I had no idea of the intelligence.  So I dropped out of high school. I think I was in 11th grade,” she said. “At the age of 16 began using crack cocaine. At that point I had two children. I had my third child at 17. Used crack cocaine on and off for about five years.”

Trina ended up having eight children with five different fathers. Her kids range from ages 12 to 28.

It was when she was pregnant with her fourth child, still living with her boyfriend that she realized she wanted more than the life she was living.

She had three children, one on the way. She was living in a bad situation, in poverty.

In 1991, when Trina was 21 or 22 she stopped doing crack … just like that.

She was pregnant with her fourth child.

“I don’t know what changed. I remember sitting in my apartment and we were getting high and I had this belly and I just remember crying and begging him I didn’t want a crack baby.

“I trusted him so much in what he said and trusted him and believed him when he told me I wouldn’t have a crack baby. I just remember stopping and I haven’t used crack in 23 years. I don’t know what came over me. I know I’m a miracle.”

The next year in 1992 Trina finally left him. Although, it took 10 years to finally cut all ties with him and do away with the control he had over her.

At age 23, Trina became saved and gave her life to God.

Still her life was filled with ups and downs, but she was determined to make her life greater and to help others along the way.

Road to a better life

When Trina got clean, she knew her life has more of a purpose. She needed more in her life.

“It’s been a long journey. I dropped out of high school so of course, here I am with no education,” Trina said. “And then I went back in about 92 or 93 and I did receive my GED from the Beecher Adult School. I went in there and passed without even studying. … That was just a blessing from God.”

Trina was 20.

She started her journey of working for a living since before then she had always been on the system.

“I just started working and found out there was another life out there other than being in your home and the same people going no where. The same people doing drugs and a new boyfriend, new boyfriend,” Trina told us. “It was a new life out there, really, it was like there was people outside. It was just a whole new life. and I just started working and I enjoyed it.”

She enjoyed having her kids in childcare with their peers and having a set schedule. Life for Trina was evolving.

She started college, but that got difficult with having that many kids, she said.

Fast forward to 2007. Trina had all eight of her children at that point. She walked into Carriage Town Ministries with no experience and only a GED. She almost didn’t go for the interview.

“I had a nightmare the night before thinking the executive director was going to say ‘Get out of my office. Why are you wasting my time? You’re dumb. Why would you dare come in?’”

Even though she was afraid and self-conscious, she went. But only so her friend who recommended her wouldn’t look bad. She didn’t think she had the worth to move her life forward.

“But I came and she hired me on the spot as a director. I was coming for a receptionists job. She hired me as a director. I’m like, are you serious?,” Trina said. “I know it was just God that touched her heart. She hired me as a director over the kitchen. I didn’t cook at all… she hired me anyways.”

Her first job was over community services. After doing that for four years, she was asked to become the director of the Family Life Center.

“I tried to run from it. I was so afraid. I was so scared. I didn’t think I wouldn’t be able to do a good job. I said ‘No” at first,” she told us.

But others saw her worth. They saw her kindness, her dedication, her intelligence and her love for others.


During orientations she shows women a photo of her holding her first son, Marvin. On the back she wrote who she was then. Her staff found it and wrote on it “Our fearless leader.”


“But that girl in that picture, oh man, she would have never imagined anyone thinking she was a fearless leader. … My self esteem was zero. I didn’t have any self worth at all. Now I know who I am. I know who I am in Christ.”

Using her past to help others

Trina’s journey has not been easy. She has made difficult and bad decisions along the way.

But her past does not define her. She now wants to use her past, her journey to help others find a better path in life.

“I love working with women and children. This is a dream come true. It is a privilege for me to serve these these women and their children,” Trina said. “There’s some hard days. The hardest days is where you can see where they’re going. You see the hole at the end of the road, but they are going full speed and you can’t stop them.

“But we just try to make the best of the time that we have them. Just to try and show them that we love them first.”

Trina tells the women she can relate to them.

She then asks them if they’re tired of being on a hamster wheeling, going in circles, going nowhere. She asked them to do a self-evaluation. What do they want? What do they enjoy doing? How do we get to that other side?

Trina’s future plans are to own and operate her own facility called City of Refuge. It will be for the families of addicts, for spouses, parents and children.

Trina, herself, is married to an addict. She knows what it’s like. And she wants to take her experiences, her loving spirit and her determination to make a difference in the city of Flint and in the lives of those who need it.

“And even though I was an addict I had no idea what the family felt like. But now I’ve found out first hand,” Trina said. “I’ve taken that pain and kind of  put some energy around it and we’re going to use it.”

A support system is very important to be successful, Trina said. She needs and has a strong support system, but she wants to offer that others.

“You can’t do it by yourself. That is my desire,” she said. “It will be a facility where they can be restored and they will learn about enablement, things like that. They will learn about Jesus Christ.”

Trina has a vision book. Her vision includes an auditorium, a strong education piece in order to empower families. It will include counseling, so they understand it’s not their fault and they are not their family member’s savior. But it will also be a place where they have rest and peace.

“They will see they are not alone. You need to be around people who understand,” she said. “And the children will be loved. And our goal is that they decide not to take the same routes and not hold themselves responsible.”

Trina wants to offer hope to families. She wants to bring them a sense of comfort and a hope that the future is bright.

“That’s what I want to offer another family. That you can get through this. You’re going to get through this,” she said.

“I am so strong”

Trina believes good things are coming her way. She now believes she has purpose.

“My future is bright. I see me now as healthy. I definitely have been tested. … I just feel healthy. I feel good. I’m at peace. I’m not in torment. It’s a good place to be.”

Getting to this place has not been easy for Trina. She has had to find peace after being abused as a child and when she got older. She has struggled with drug addictions and a controlling boyfriend.

She has had to figure how to be a mom to eight children, starting at the age of 14.

But today, today is different. She has found who she is in Christ and she is finding ways every day to move her life forward.

This month she will start back at college to study social work in hopes of being a substance abuse counselor.

She’s taking ministry classes to minister in the jail and she will pursuing a nonprofit status for City of Refuge. And she wants to purchase a home within the next year. It’s time, she said,

She used to compare herself to others and be intimidated by other professionals.

“I’m learning ‘Be you.’ You love to have fun. You love to laugh. I’m approachable. Don’t change that,” she told us.

If she had to go back and tell her 13-year-old self something, Trina knew exactly what she would say.

“Oh my God, go to school! Girl, I will whoop you. You better go to school. … Go to school and that you are loved. So loved. God loves you,” Trina said. “I would hug her.”

Through this journey, Trina learned a lot of things. She learned what it really means to find love and what it really means to loves others.

She learned who she is and what she is capable of.

What else did she learn?

“I’m strong. I am so strong. And I have learned that I don’t give up on people,” she said. “I am strong. Because it’s been hard. It’s been really hard. The kids and doing it on your own for so many years.

All these babies looking at you and you don’t know how you’re going to feed them or how you’re going to pay the bills and walking in the rain and the snow and catching those buses just to keep pressing when I could have just gave up.

“Even through all of it I was still a good person. I was a mess but I was a good person.

I just wanted to be loved so bad.”

Her message to everyone going through something that may seem impossible to get back: It is possible.

“I want to go from surviving to thriving, not just barely surviving.”

Thank you Trina for telling your story. You are an inspiration. We pray that all your dreams become realities. We fully expect you to make an impact on this city, much bigger than you could ever expect.


This is the 12th story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.

Marsha: May you find peace

“God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

We met Marsha on August 29, 2013.

We had plans to meet her at a restaurant, along with a local pastor who had gotten to know her over the years, share a meal and hear her story.

When she didn’t show up we decided to see if we could find her. We drove around the eastside of Flint hoping to see her. It was well worth it.

Marsha had a beautiful story to tell.

Flint Stories Project

On Saturday, Feb. 27, we were informed of some very heart breaking news. Marsha, who we referred to as Stacey in a previous Flint Stories Project blog, was found dead in a vacant house on the eastside of Flint.

I would love to tell you that that’s not how her story ended. I would love to tell you she reached her goals and dreams in life like she wanted. But I can’t tell you that.

What I can say is that Marsha was worth more than her downfalls, more than her flaws and more than her circumstances. We walked away from our first meeting with her blown away by her spirit, by her hope, by her honesty and by her smile.

Her story can’t be summed up in only a couple of sentences. I encourage you to read her story here.

But I can say that her life wasn’t always easy. She didn’t always make the right decisions. And she didn’t always have a way out of that life. But she didn’t choose that life. She wanted more. She wanted to be clean. She wanted a less shameful, more fulfilling way to make a living. She wanted, for once, to go to bed at night feeling an overwhelming sense of peace.

I pray she has that peace now.

I don’t know the details of her death. But my heart breaks that her life ended like it did.

After our first meeting with Marsha, we had the opportunity to meet with her a few more times. We became a small part of her story, her journey. She was working on getting into a program to help her take the next step in life. She was trying to get clean and sober in order to take that step.

Still, it seemed that life was against her. But it didn’t stop her from trying. She wanted a better life for herself.

Hearing this kind of news is never easy. But we wanted to share it. We wanted something to come from it. We want the reaction to be something like “We can and should do better to help” rather than “Oh, it was just another homeless person.”

I hope we don’t turn our cheek to people or circumstances we are simply not aware of. There is always more to the story. We just have to take the time to listen.

Because it could just have easily been you, been me or been someone we know. Life is unpredictable. Life can take harsh twists and turns that we just aren’t prepared for.

I hope we choose to continue to find value in every life. I hope we choose to see past someone’s circumstances and see their heart, their dreams, their purpose.

I hope we take away understanding.

Marsha had a lot of powerful things to say when we talked. But two really stood out.

“It’s not that me and (Steve) want to live like this or choose to actually live like this, you know what I’m saying. If we could get a way out with work and guarantee that we would have a way to get jobs … the thing is I did try to get help for my addiction. I did go into rehab one time,” Stacey said will full sincerity. “But when you come out of rehab and you have no place to stay and you have to live on the streets, it’s kind of hard to do what you to make money without being under some sort of influence. You get tied right back into the addiction because it helps you get through what you are doing.”

I hope we take away grace and gratitude for what we have. I hope we aren’t quick to judge when we see someone on the street living a life we don’t fully understand.

Because Marsha’s dream was to live a better life than one on the street.

“Hopefully the future holds opportunity for me and (Steve) to live what we call a normal life. We’d give anything to have nothing to do but sit and watch TV, because at night we go to bed with no money and wake up with no money and have to start hustling as soon as we get up,” Marsha said in 2013.

We will always be thankful to Marsha for sharing her story. We are thankful for her willingness to be bluntly honest with us and to share her heart and help give us a better understanding of life on the street.

For that, Marsha, we thank you. May you now rest in peace.

Crazy Love

That local pastor that introduced us to Marsha was Steve Gibson. We asked him to contribute to this blog, because he had powerful things, moments, stories to add.

Last thing he heard was that Marsha had recently cleaned up, had her teeth fixed and had been clean for a few months.

There will always be a hope that we could have done more. But right now we are simply trying to give a small glimpse of who she was, because she was a beautiful person. It’s our way of giving tribute to her life.

Marsha photo

Here is what Steve had to say:

When I met her, she was walking alone on the streets of Flint…looking, desiring, hoping, and wishing someone would simply love her. Yes, she was looking for some kind of “Crazy Love.” Someone who would walk with her…talk with her….be with her….and fill the emptiness inside her. Someone that would not reject her and would tell her she was OK just the way she was.

She soon found a young man who would temporarily fill that void; his name was Mike. He had his own set of problems, yet together; they would take care of one another. They both had serious addictions; his came from the pain meds due to a serious sports injury, hers was to cover the pain of rejection, loss, and abandonment.

She wasn’t thrilled with giving me her name, until a second, third, fourth, and beyond visits with food and clothing…then she began to trust. Reluctantly she said, “My name is Marsha.” Mike would also open up as he realized my intentions were not to harm, but to help them both. I would finally hear her story for the first time while sitting on a street corner and eating a sandwich with them both.

Alone, no family support, depressed and lonely, she lost everything she had and would live the next years of her life on the streets of Flint, Michigan. The only thing that covered her pain was found on those streets…one led to the other until a drug so readily available and affordable for even her…she would sell herself to heroin. As Marsha described it, “after the first hit I was hooked.” There was no turning back. As time would go by Marsha would go in and out of rehab, but without family and/or friend support, once she would get clean, she would have no where to go…except back to where she was so familiar…the streets.

One hot afternoon, my daughter had made homemade sugar cookies and she and I went to find Mike and Marsha. I knew they would be grateful as they always were for anything I could do for them. We found Marsha between clients (Mike was out painting to make extra money); her skin was weathered from the hot sun, and she was in need of some personal care. I pulled up in my truck, rolled the windows down, and I watched my daughter hand her some clear wrapped homemade cookies with a cold bottled water. I will never forget her words as she said; “No one has ever made homemade cookies for me.” Things most of us take for granted was unfamiliar territory for Marsha. We soon left her and she would be on her way to work for the rest of the day.

There were many such events in my life with Mike and Marsha, but one would be particularly different! On this day, I found her on a street corner reading. I pulled up and realized she was reading the book, “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. We began to talk about this “relentless God” who cared for her. A God who pursued her; a God that had not turned His back on her; a God that would overwhelm her with His great love! In fact, He was more desperate than ever to reach Mike and Marsha. It was that day, after an awesome time talking and praying, that Mike and Marsha both accepted Jesus in their hearts (on a street corner). I would continue to see them struggling “in their world” to make a life for themselves. They would be turned down by one rehab center after another. I would make calls for them and the answer was always the same…”we’re full.”

In spite of all their demons, they always wanted me to pray with them and talk with them about the God who still loved them in spite of what kind of life they were living. I lost touch with Mike and Marsha as winter set in. They would go on a safari everyday to try and find a warm place to be. It was like “hitting a moving target” to find them. Then the day would come that I had feared…my heart broke as a friend sent me a text yesterday that Marsha was found dead in an abandoned house. As I write this, I still have no idea what has happened. I have not been able to find Mike. Did Marsha overdose? Did she freeze to death? Did a client murder her?

There are so many questions left nagging at my heart, but the one image I will have until I go to my own grave, is Marsha sitting on a street corner reading the book, “Crazy Love.” In spite of everything she has endured and been a part of, we serve a God that was crazy in love with her. Contemplate these words found in Marsha’s book:

“God is love. Crazy, relentless, all-powerful love. It’s crazy, if you think about it. The God of the universe–the Creator –loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. Does something deep inside your heart long to break free? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts–it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, you will never be the same. Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.”

Rest in peace my friend Marsha…your life has taught me many lessons!

This is the 11th story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.

Dennis’ Story: A message of hope

Dennis Coselmon, 58

Born and raised in Flint, currently living in Flint Township

Feb. 7, 2014

“So I either could go to treatment or my plan was to just keep going and kind of wither away, but that didn’t happen. I decided I wanted to live.”

Telling his story was not something foreign to Dennis. He has told it to anyone willing to ask. Anytime. Any place. He was very open and honest about his life, who he was and his journey. He was very candid with us and not ashamed of his past. We met one day in the library of Central Church of the Nazarene as he began to share what life was like as a drug addict. His face lit up with a smile when he spoke about how his life has changed and the choices he made to clean up.

Dennis was kind and told jokes as he went through his story. If he could help one person with his story that was good enough for him.

We had met Dennis after multiple people had told us we needed to hear what he had to say. We heard a glimpse of his story during an event for Carriage Town Ministries a few months back and we were excited to hear more.


Dennis poses for a photo at Central Church of the Nazarene


Dennis sat down with us ready to tell us everything. Looking at him, you wouldn’t have guess that three years ago he had hit bottom.

Here is his story:

Dennis spent a majority of his life taking drugs and drinking alcohol. It changed his life and almost took life on several occasions, but he hopes what he learned from his choices can help save somebody else.

All in all, he wants people to know there is hope.

Dennis grew up in what he called a normal household with a normal family. He started trying beer when he was younger and there would be drinks left over from his dad’s parties.

“Growing up I would say that alcohol was my gateway drug. And I do consider it a drug. Then started smoking pot in early high school, then probably went to LSD,” Dennis told us. “I tried it all. I liked it all. Then I found cocaine, which was probably the beginning of the end, which I didn’t know many, many years ago and chased it for probably, I would say, 30 years.”

Dennis’ drug use started small with marijuana at the age of 14 and then it grew to gradually take over his life. At age 16 or 17, he started using cocaine, mushrooms and downers, among other drugs.

“I always tried to justify the pot smoking, you know, it wasn’t bad. It was just a way to keep you right where you were,” he said, adding that he would never be able to let go off drugs while still smoking it.

Dennis worked for General Motors. He had parents the cared for him. He was married for 17 years. Despite any of that, drugs controlled his life and his relationships.

He was making good money at GM and then spent good money on drugs. His wife, who he married at the age of 26, also used drugs … and probably still does, Dennis said. He would go through a couple of stints of recovery but would go right back to drugs after.

Drugs were used to numb reality. Dennis didn’t want to deal with life.

“(When addicted to drugs) coming down from a high … there’s only one thing you’re thinking and that’s where you’re going to get your next high. That’s where you go. That’s that vicious cycle,” Dennis said. “That’s what your life is. It’s not much of a life, but that’s where your head’s at. That’s where your mentality’s at. It’s not, ‘How can I stop this?’ or ‘Where am I going to go now?’”


Hitting Rock Bottom

Dennis’ life began to spiral out of control in 2009.

On Aug. 1, 2009 his mom passed away after a six-year battle with cancer. He had been living with his mom and dad for about year at that point helping to take care of his mom and his dad, who was legally blind and had on set Alzheimer’s.

“I watched my mom basically wither away,” Dennis said. “I was spiraling. I didn’t want to deal with it. I don’t know if I’ve mourned her death to this day.

“Bottoming out, it is and was key for me.”

Rock bottom came for Dennis is March of 2010. He was still dealing – or not dealing – with his mom’s death. He wanted drugs, but didn’t have the money.

Dennis stole between $4,000 and $5,000 from his dad to buy drugs.

“Got really into drinking, drugging, smoking crack every time and every chance that I could and every dollar that I could find. Didn’t matter how I got it,” Dennis shared with us. “That was a turning point for me.

Dennis had no place to go. He couldn’t go back to his dad’s house.

“So I either could go to treatment or my plan was to just keep going and kind of wither away but that didn’t happen. I decided I wanted to live. I believe that God was speaking to me all this time. I know he was. He had to be.”

He was staying at a dingy hotel, one he wouldn’t even let a dog stay at, he said. That’s when he walked to downtown Flint. One thing led to another found himself in the lobby of the Salvation Army enrolling in their six-month recovery program.

Two weeks after graduating from the program he began employed there taking intakes for men coming into the program. That happened for the next two and a half years.

Then one weekend he packed his bags for a weekend away. That one weekend changed everything. A weekend turned into 10 days and at the end of the 10 days he found himself needed to once again get clean of drugs.

This time he found himself at Carriage Town Ministries.

“That was very, very humbling. … I needed to be humbled. I needed to be put in my place,” Dennis said, adding that he ran into people he had helped register for the program at Salvation Army.

He was at Carriage Town Ministries for almost two years, during that time moving into the transition home, finding a job at a local restaurant before getting a janitorial job at Central Church of the Nazarene and then at Diplomat Pharmacy.

And every step forward in his life, he was open and honest with people about his past. It was part of him. And he wanted people to know things can be different, things can change.


Finding Hope

When Dennis was asked how it was now that he has been clean for three years and life was completely turned around, his answer was simple. “It’s living. It’s life. It’s great.”

He feels emotion. It’s no longer total numbness. He has to stay focused on that.

Dennis will tell his story to anyone who is willing to listen. He wants people to know there is hope.

“There’s hope. … You got to want it. You got to surrender. You got to hit rock bottom. You got to want to change. You got to be willing to do the work. You got to put in the time. If you put in as much effort as you did getting high as you will getting sober you’ll get sober. If you don’t, you won’t

“You can do it. It can be done. Trust me. I’m living proof.”

Forgiving yourself is a very important step. Telling yourself you have value is the next step. Admit when you’re wrong. Try to do tomorrow a little better than today. That’s Dennis’ advice.

His advice to others who may encounter someone going through a rough time can be summed up with two words: Don’t judge.

More compassion in this world will go a long way.

“We don’t know what they’ve been through. You don’t know what their circumstances are. You don’t’ know where their mental state is at. You don’t know where they came from. You don’t know what they’ve just been through. You don’t know. If the world was more compassionate I think there would be a lot more recovery,” Dennis said.

Dennis ended the interview with this. “To God be the glory.”

This is the tenth story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.

Remember to listen. Remember to love.

It was probably about 30 degrees or colder outside as I was driving to Burton two Sundays ago. I got off at the exit like I have done many times in the past and just like many other times there was someone standing on the corner with a sign.

I usually don’t carry cash and sometimes when I do I have excuses like “The light will turn green at any moment” or “I’m too far away from them.” Sometimes I’m not even phased by seeing them there. I’m sad to admit that that’s how I think sometimes.

But this time was different. I remembered I had cash on me. It was only $6, but it was something I thought to myself.

The man holding the handmade, cardboard sign was probably in his 60s I guessed. He had round glasses with thick lenses. He looked cold. He must have felt cold.


Image was taken in downtown Flint in November.

I rolled my window down as he crossed an empty lane to get to my car. I handed him what I had and the instant smile on his face put a smile on my face. He had a gentle voice as he said “Happy Holidays!”

You could tell he was thankful … for $6. He seemed kind and lost. As the light turned green I wished I could have had more time with him. My heart broke for him, not knowing where he would go that night or if he had family to go to.

I’m sure he had a story. I, unfortunately, did not get a chance to hear it. So I am not writing this to tell you his story, his struggles, his passions, his hope for the future. I am writing it as a reminder that life is not about rushing around and getting from point A to point B. Even a smile, some spare change, a moment of your time can change someone else’s day, as well as your own.

I thought about that man all day and still think about him. I wish I could have heard his story, gotten to know his heart.

Don’t take opportunities for granted. You don’t know where it will take you or what you will learn.

I had someone ask me what I thought he did with that money. You know, I have no idea. But really, it doesn’t matter to me. We are called to love. End of story.

I challenge you to go out today, tomorrow and the next day and simply make an effort to show kindness to someone who might normally show it to. Ask someone how their day is. Share a meal. Donate your time, resources or skills. Love. Listen.

Check out some of the other stories from the Flint Stories Project.

Everyone has a story. We are listening.



Love: Through good times and bad

Couple living on the streets of Flint

41-year-old female and 32-year-old male

August 29, 2013

“We’d give anything to have nothing to do but sit and watch TV, because at night we go to bed with no money and wake up with no money and have to start hustling as soon as we get up.”

We had the amazing opportunity to hear a heart breaking story of a couple living on the streets in the eastside of Flint. For purposes of the story we will call them Steve and Stacey, because it was requested that we not use their real names.

We drove to the eastside with a local pastor, who had gotten to know Steve and Stacey over the past few years. Since they don’t always know where they will be and they walk everywhere, we had some trouble finding them, but when we found Stacey we couldn’t wait to hear her story.

Stacey had beautiful brown eyes. In fact, that’s what we first noticed about her. She’s a small woman and she wore her make up done up with pink nail polish on her fingers and glitter on her skin. Stacey talked openly and with emotion about her life and what she had been through as we sat outside on the tailgate of a truck to talk. She admitted feeling ashamed for the things they she had done to survive but Steve kept her going.

We talked to Steve a little later when he met up with us for dinner. He was tan with paint on his hands from a side job he did that day. He didn’t say too much more than Stacey had already told us, but what we noticed the most was his love for Stacey. As he sat in the booth at diner in Flint he put his arm around her and stroked her hair. There was true love there, despite what they had been through.


We posed with “Stacey” after our interview last month on the eastside of Flint. It was such a blessing to meet her and hear her story.

Steve and Stacey spoke in an honest, candid and emotional way about their lives.

Here is their story:

Steve and Stacey have been living on the streets for two years, but their hardships in life started a few years prior.

They both went through struggles, losses and addictions. One decision after another and one unfortunate circumstance after the ended landed them on the streets of Flint. But the one thing they always had was each other.

They’ve reached a point today where they’ve hit rock bottom and don’t know how to get out of it, but they said, without a doubt, that something needs to be different.

“We’ve got to make some changes and we have to make them quick,” Stacey said.

Stacey is the mom of two kids, who she had when she was young. Her son was born with cystic fibrosis and she spent a lot of time taking care of him. She had a house and a car and a job in the health care field.

Her life is what you would consider normal. She did the best she could for her kids as a single mom and would do anything for them.

In 2009 Stacey got into a car accident and broke her leg. That was on top of having a head injury after she was beaten in an abusive relationship. This eventually led to an addiction to pain killers, which she took every day. But even when that was the case, she said nobody – including her children – could tell.

Steve, who had broken multiple bones throughout his life, was also addicted to pain pills.

On April 19, 2011 Stacey’s son died at the age of 21. Five months before that her father also passed away. While her son was in hospice, Stacey went down to working one day a week, which was a stress on the bills.

Once her son died, Stacey said she went off the deep end. Both Stacey and Steve lost their jobs and then lost the house.

“It happened really quick. You get in deep quick. I was an everyday, normal, average family with two kids. I worked every day, came home, made dinner, did laundry, helped with homework,” Stacey told us. “Life can turn from sugar to shit in seconds.”

Steve was living with Stacey at the time they lost everything and they both were struggling with money and a pain pill addiction.

Steve, who grew up in Burton, was an all-star athlete at Bendle High School. He started with alcohol and marijuana in high school with his friends. And it escalated from there to more dangerous drugs.

After graduation, Steve decided not to go to college and started working in construction. He was working at a scrap yard when he and Stacey were living together, but all of a sudden lost his job, too.

“We’ve been on the streets ever since, hussling, doing whatever we can to get by,” Steve said, adding they sometimes hold signs on the corner of a street or do odd jobs.

‘Caught up in the wrong things’

On a daily basis the two could walk anywhere from 20 to 30 miles on average per day. Stacey often wears shoes too small for her because that’s what’s available to her.

The entire time we spent talking to her and Steve, however, they didn’t complain. They moved through life with what they had and hoped more opportunities would come their way.

The picture of "Steve" was taken a couple years ago on the streets of Flint.

The picture of “Steve” was taken a couple years ago on the streets of Flint.

They sometimes rent out rooms in a home or stay in abandoned houses, making sure to not upset the neighbors. Currently they are living in a shed behind an abandoned home with two couch cushions, two couch pillows and a comforter.

Steve and Stacey both ask for money on the streets to get food. Steve also does odd jobs when he can get them and Stacey has gotten into prostitution.

Stacey admits what she does to make money, but she is by no means proud of it or wants it to define her value. Tears fill her eyes when she talks about it, just knowing this is not what she wanted for her life.

“It got to where I was going for a walk, the more walks I took the more approaches I got from guys. ‘You need a ride? You want to go on a date?’ You start telling them about your life, they want to help you but you have to do this and do that. And you’re in. And that’s what you’re known for out here,” Stacey said.

So she does what she has to do to provide money, to survive. Steve watches the cars she gets into and remembers the license plate number. It’s not easy for him to watch her get into cars with other men. It’s actually extremely difficult, but that’s the situation they are in.

But nothing will take away the love they have for each other. That is one thing both Steve and Stacey made apparent to us.

“He’s been there since the roughest part in my life,” Stacey said about Steve.

“This is my baby right here. I would do anything for her. I definitely love her with all my heart,” Steve said. Some people tell them they are only together because they both are addicted to drugs.

But that’s not true at all, they both said.

“There was a (Stacey) and (Steve) before the drugs.”

The worst part about being on the streets is how they are perceived. They aren’t treated with dignity and those who pass them on the street think they are the same as every other person on the street.

They are seen as trash, dangerous and hateful.

Let us assure you those words would never come out of our mouths when describing either Steve or Stacey. Stacey is beautiful, kind, soft spoken. Steve is hard working, cares for Stacey and is eager for more for his life.

“God doesn’t love you any more than he loves me because you have money and I don’t. It doesn’t make me a bad person because I’m on the street,” Stacey told us.

When they began living on the streets, their addiction switched from pain killers to heroin because it was cheaper.

Being on the streets isn’t ideal for anyone. Stacey’s daughter worries about her, understandably, but right now there isn’t a good option for Stacey and Steve.

“She worries about me getting hurt,” Stacey said. “I’ve been in a couple bad situations out here that I’m lucky to be alive.”

She’s been robbed for $70.

Despite what others have done to them, it’s very important to both Stacey and Steve to not hurt others. In fact, if they can spare anything to help someone else, they will.

Sometimes, however, their drug addiction has caused them to take money that wasn’t theirs to buy food. But it’s only ever been used for food, Stacey said.

“We really do have good intentions but once me and (Steve) feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel there’s something blocking it,” Stacey said. “I am not a bad person. I just got caught up in the wrong things. You never know what is going to happen from today ‘til tomorrow.”

Hoping for more

When asking Stacey what the future looked like for her the answer was simple and complicated at the same time. She wanted more. She wanted normalcy.

The question then became about how to make that happen. The first step is to get clean and off drugs.

Easier said than done.

“It’s not that me and (Steve) want to live like this or choose to actually live like this, you know what I’m saying. If we could get a way out with work and guarantee that we would have a way to get jobs … the thing is I did try to get help for my addiction. I did go into rehab one time,” Stacey said will full sincerity. “But when you come out of rehab and you have no place to stay and you have to live on the streets, it’s kind of hard to do what you to make money without being under some sort of influence. You get tied right back into the addiction because it helps you get through what you are doing.”

Once they can get clean and find jobs, they hope to once again have a place of their own and living life they believe it is meant to be lived.

If Stacey could give any advice for anyone it would be to get as much education as possible and don’t get caught up into the myth that drugs are fun. It starts fun but you will hate it in the end, she said.

After all that that Steve and Stacey have been through over the past few years, hope still remains. Even though they have been beaten down, hurt and run dry, they have hope that there is something better.

“Hopefully the future holds opportunity for me and (Steve) to live what we call a normal life. We’d give anything to have nothing to do but sit and watch TV, because at night we go to bed with no money and wake up with no money and have to start hustling as soon as we get up.”

You can’t sum up a person’s life, hurts, passions or story in any amount of words. This is only the tip of Steve and Stacey’s story. But in the short time we spent with them they reminded us that everyone is only one incident away from being on the street.

Thank you both for letting us into your lives and sharing your journey. We hope this is just the beginning of a friendship we can form.

This is the ninth story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.

Aimee’s Story

Aimee Nanney


From Flint, MI, currently living in Grand Blanc

Aug. 14, 2013

“We are not alone in our circumstances, but we tend to be so blinded by ourselves sometimes and forget to truly listen to what someone is saying.”

When I first heard about the Flint Stories Project, I was intrigued. I read through some of the stories and was just blown away. I knew I had to be a part of this project. I love my city and wanted to get to know the people that nobody wants to know. So here I am, ready and willing to sit and really hear who these people are, where they come from, hear their struggles and their triumphs. Being a part of this will change my mindsets and break my heart for my city.

Aimee standing on top of a parking structure in downtown Flint

Aimee standing on top of a parking structure in downtown Flint

I grew up on the Southside of Flint a few blocks from Cody Elementary and I was a proud Cody Cougar.  I loved walking to Ron’s Ice Cream and getting an ice cream cone bigger than my head. I’ve lived here for 26 years and the other two years I lived out of state and my heart ached not being in Flint.

When I was 15, I started attending Riverside Tabernacle downtown Flint and was instantly involved in ministry. I worked with kids, and teenagers and we would walk downtown handing sack lunches to not just the homeless but anyone who was hungry. My heart for the city and its people was growing and nothing could stop it.

I loved that my city was imperfect and flawed. That just meant there was room for God to move. Where we have perfection we don’t feel the need for change, but when we see the potential for growth anything is possible. I felt like my life and city were one.

I grew up in a family of five and there were times we didn’t have the food we needed, but we survived. My dad died when I was very young and my mom remarried. My step dad was somewhat controlling and at times abusive. I look back now and see how hopeless things were and how I felt I had no control. Somewhere along the way I decided that the outcome of my life would be different even if I had to fight through the moments of my life were it felt like I was drowning. I found hope and clung to it with everything I had. And I knew sharing my story would help someone else who felt they didn’t have a voice.

But I’m thankful for every moment I have lived through. It has made me who I am. I have learned to love people regardless of where they are from or where they are at in life.

When I was in my early 20’s I was able to go into the Flint schools and share my story, share my struggles and tell these kids that they don’t have to let their past dictate their future. I remember one girl who after our program walked up to me and just hugged me and said thank you. When she embraced me I just knew that she had a story to tell herself and just needed someone to stop and listen.

I think sometimes we are afraid to share who we really are because we think we are alone in our circumstances. I learned to stop and really hear what these teens had to say. Some stories broke my heart and some encouraged me, but just sitting there and hanging out with teens that walked the same school halls that I did meant something to them and changed me forever.

We all have a story to tell, but so do the people we walk by every day. We are not alone in our circumstances, but we tend to be so blinded by ourselves sometimes and forget to truly listen to what someone is saying.

I desire to live a lifestyle of hearing, truly listening to what people are sharing. I may not have the answers, and I may not always be able to relate but sitting down and focusing on another human heart and hearing about their struggles, heartbreak, victories, joy, passions and just simply hearing what they are saying will change and mold my heart into the person God is longing me to be.

We are called to love, and love is patient. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life but there are so many people out there that live in silence, because we are too busy to stop and hear what they have to say.  I’m so excited to be a part of the Flint Stories Project. We have such a misconception of the people we pass by every day, and I want to get to know these people. I want to hear about their journey.

My passion for the city of Flint and its people will only grow with every story I hear. Let us live lives of hearing and not always speaking.

This is the eighth story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.

Meet Dale: Traveler, Friend

Dale Davidson, 50

Originally from Otter Lake, Michigan currently living in Mt. Morris

May 2, 2013

“I was glad when she kicked me out because she made me a better person. I learned how to survive.”

Along the journey of the Flint Stories Project, we have had the privilege to call many more people our friends. Dale is someone we were honored to call our friend before the project even started. His story is one we got to know over months of cookouts, dinners and conversations. But when sitting down with him to document his story, there was still more to learn. With Dale there is never a dull moment. He’s someone who seems to know how to fix everything, who you can count on for a good joke … or two, who wants to help anyone who needs it and who, for most of the year, is recognizable for his well-grown beard.

When I first met Dale at a Flint Community Cookout, he was introduced as “Beardy.” He was homeless living in downtown Flint and had a sense of humor that instantly made me want to get to know him more. (Although that humor usually came with some wise cracks toward me). Soon after that he found housing out in Mt. Morris and a friend and I made sure to make regular visits for dinner and catching up.

So when asking Dale if he would be willing to share his story for the Flint Stories Project, his response was “You already know it.” Well, yes, that’s true. But it was never written down. Until now.

Dale sitting at Halo Burger in Flint in 2012 while helping with a youth group event.

Dale sitting at Halo Burger in Flint in 2012 while helping with a youth group event.

Dale is soft spoken until you get to know him. Then all bets are off. His stories are entertaining and there’s no way to be in a bad mood when you’re with him.

Here is his story:

Dale’s life hasn’t always been easy. But no matter what he finds a way to move forward.

He grew up in Otter Lake with his parents, two sisters and one brother. Dale was the middle child and didn’t have fond memories of his childhood. Loving parents wasn’t something he knew.

At age 15 his mom kicked him out of the house during the winter. He stayed at friends’ houses or slept in vehicles. At age 16 he received his GED.

“I was glad when she kicked me out because she made me a better person,” Dale said. “I learned how to survive.”

Dale is one of the most resourceful people I know. He can live on the bare necessities. In fact, I often think he would choose camping over anything else.

To say Dale doesn’t like to stick to one place for long is an understatement.

At age 16, he hitch-hiked from Michigan to Colorado, where he worked as a carpenter for a year and a half. His reasoning: “I didn’t have anything else to do. Why not?”

“It was beautiful out there waking up to the mountains,” Dale recalled. With almost all of Dale’s adventures, he could always remember details of the scenery and the nature.

After returning to Coleman when his grandpa got sick, Dale soon left for Georgia, where he wired houses for a year and half with his sister and brother-in-law.

He had other various jobs, such as a carnie for a carnival company out of Saginaw and working in different plants.

Dale then worked in Farwell for 12 years making the foam seats for GM seats. He had seven years of perfect attendance, working 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. often working more than five days a week.

One night in 2005, he was riding his bike home from work on a bike trail and didn’t see a trailer sticking out onto the path. He was thrown from his bike, later realizing he broke his collar bone.

“I knew then I was going to lose my job,” Dale told us.

He was supposed to have three weeks off, but after a week and a half he was called back in. And he didn’t have any other choice. He had to work to keep his insurance.

In 2007 Dale lost his job.

“I worked until 2007 ‘til I just couldn’t take the pain in my shoulder anymore,” Dale said. “It never healed because I kept going back in.”

In 2008, Dale lost his house.

He moved to Florida until 2009 before heading back to Michigan, where he camped up north for three or four months, putting everything he had in his trailer.

It was after that in 2010 that Dale came to Flint, because he knew the city had the resources he needed.

Living on the streets

Once in Flint, Dale slept in his truck before learning of a shelter to stay at.

He had some money in his pockets after eventually getting a small settlement from his job. He never “bummed off money.” And he did odd jobs when he could, but learned to use his money wisely for food.

Not being able to work was hard for Dale.

“I hate sitting around,” he told us. And once you get to know Dale, you know how true that is.

Dale stopped drinking completely in 2007. His parents were alcoholics and when he started going down that same path he made the decision to give it up.

Being homeless and on the streets, Dale quickly figured out how to best utilize the resources Flint had to offer. And when he realized other people didn’t quite know everything that was available, he took it upon himself to help them out.

There was a yellow book from The United Way that helped show people where to get a hot meal, a shower and food give-aways.

“It had all the resources a person could ever need,” Dale said.

Dale reminded us of something important. Not everyone who is homeless has the same story, the same reason. And it takes our time to realize that.

“There’s a reason why they are on the street. It’s the reason you need to figure out,” Dale said. “Talk to them. Do they need help? What do they need?”

Yes, there were some homeless in Flint that were alcoholics, addicted to drugs and lazy. But that was not everybody, Dale said. Those living on the streets formed a community, looked out for each other.

Flint wasn’t a place where the homeless went hungry. In fact, if you were hungry you were doing something wrong, Dale said.

Flint has resources.

“(The worst part was) being cold, feet being miserable,” he told us. And the boredom.

Moving forward

In 2011, Dale had his first surgery on his collar bone to help it heal correctly. In 2012, he had to have another surgery with little relief.

After two years of being homeless, he finally received housing assistance and started receiving Social Security.

“It was nice to have a home again,” Dale said.

He still tried to work at odd jobs whenever he had the opportunity. Dale isn’t one to take something for nothing.

For the past six months or so Dale has been working on piecing his old truck back together little by little, because he is ready for the next step in life, which, sadly for us, might not include staying in Michigan.

It shouldn’t be surprising, but Dale is ready to move on to bigger and better things. A new location down south is on his radar.

He’s learned a lot during his time in Flint and met a lot of people along the way.

If he had never lost his job, Dale would have still been working and close to retirement. Now he’s figuring out the next best move for his life.

If he had it his way, he would have farm land where he could grow his own crops and live off the land.

It’s been a privilege getting to know Dale over the years. He perseveres and pushes through whatever life gives him. When you are around him, you can’t help but enjoy life. And we are happy to call him friend. He’s just one more example of how you can’t judge someone by their circumstances. Thank you for letting us share your story.

This is the seventh story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.

Robert’s Story

Robert Silva, 31

Born in Shelby, Michigan currently living in Flint, Michigan

Sons Albert Silva, 13, and Juan Silva, 12

Feb, 13 2013

“I had cars. I had money. I had everything. The thing is, drugs and money don’t buy love, don’t buy nothing.”

The first time we met Robert we were hauling a refrigerator over to his new home. He and his boys live in a trailer park in Flint and you could see the pride on his face when we entered his new home with his new refrigerator. Robert came into our lives through our friend Chris, who has a passion to not only meet people but also grow a relationship with them. Robert and his sons, Albert and Juan, were at Wal-Mart in Flint looking for glasses at the same time as Chris. It was a simple conversation that sparked a friendship with their family.

For weeks Chris told us to talk to Robert and hear his story and finally we got the chance to come and hear about his life. For the second time we found ourselves in Robert’s home, this time we brought pizza and pop for him and his boys. We were settling ourselves in to hear a good story and what we got was an amazing and unexpectedly honest look into his life. Surrounded by his boys, his neighbor, her daughter, Chris and the two of us he told his story.

Robert with his sons and Jeanie

Robert with his sons and his neighbor Jeanie

It was a nice change to see someone surrounded by his family as he shared with us about his life. He spoke quietly from his chair and spoke to us like we were old friends.

Here is their story:

Robert’s view of life has changed dramatically throughout his lifetime. But one thing that is undeniable is that he and his two sons have an amazing story to tell.

Robert has experienced a life of mourning, hardship, crime, drugs, love and a life-threatening disease. But as we sat down with Robert and his family, we knew that did not define him.

The Robert that sat in front of us had a love for God and his sons were his world. He wanted them to learn from everything he had gone through and accomplish whatever they set their minds to.

“I do everything for my boys,” Robert told us. “I want them to have what my dad never gave me.”

He was born on June 14, 1981 in Shelby, Michigan. Robert had 10 brothers and four sisters. His parents were migrant workers, so as soon as he and his siblings were old enough to work in the fields and pick apples, they did.

In 1989, Robert’s dad was diagnosed with ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Basically it’s a nervous system shut down.

His dad was told he had four years to live – something Robert was told himself later in life. On Nov. 15, 1994 Robert’s dad passed away.

“I had anger, frustration. My family just fell apart,” Robert said. “I had to grow up fast. I was becoming somebody I wasn’t supposed to be. I was the adult.

“When my dad passed away, I hated life.”

He was “daddy’s little boy,” Robert said. He helped take care of him and protect him through his illness.

Between the ages of 12 and 18, Robert’s life was spent in either a juvenile detention facility or in prison.

A life he regrets

When Robert went to jail, he had 30 felonies and 35 misdemeanors.

“I started doing crimes I regret,” Robert told us. “I explain to my kids the stuff I did I regret.”

He did a lot of drugs and sold them while he was in jail. Robert admitted to stabbing people and trying to kill others.

When Robert got out of jail, he got married. Soon after he had two sons – Albert, now 13, and Juan, now 12.

The marriage was far from perfect. Verbal abuse, infidelity and physical violence were normal occurrences.

On one instance Robert recalled telling his boys to go outside, and after they did he covered himself and his wife in gasoline. He was going to light them both on fire but as he tried to get the lighter started, his wife pushed them both into the shower and turned on the water. As the water began to fall the lighter lit but was extinguished.

In March of 2007 Robert was diagnosed with ALS, the same disease that took his dad’s life. He was told he would have four years to live. It was then that he realized life wasn’t something to waste.

“I had cars. I had money. I had everything,” Robert said about his life when he got out of jail. “The thing is, drugs and money don’t buy love, don’t buy nothing.”

His ALS was getting worse. His marriage was falling apart and he would often find himself on the floor having seizures.

Robert’s young boys would be the ones to take care of him, just like Robert took care of his dad.

“I knew what to do when he was having them,” Albert said. “I was mad because my mom didn’t want to help.”

Feb. 7, 2009 was a day that changed everything. His illness took control and Robert was transported to a hospital where he died for five minutes. It could only be a miracle that brought him back, Robert said.

“When I got diagnosed everything changed,” Robert said. And the day he died was a day he became a different man.

He was baptized shortly after and wanted to live a better life. He was still having a hard time walking, some days not walking at all. And he was having multiple seizures a day.

Robert kept his faith in God, he said.

Life in Flint

Albert and Juan have been with Robert for the past two years. But before that they were apart for five years.

After leaving his wife, Robert went out of state to North Carolina before returning back to Michigan. In March of 2011, Robert and his boys moved to Flint in the trailer park he lives today.

Flint had the doctors Robert needed. He was taken care of.

While they were apart, there were times when Albert would be locked out of his mom’s house for days at a time and Juan was mistreated on a regular basis.

When their mother didn’t want them anymore, Robert got them back. And the boys wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I do everything for my boys. I never had a childhood,” Robert said. “That’s why I try to teach my kids … (life) is not easy. It’s not a game out there. You have to learn how to survive.

“Be yourself and take care of what you got.”

Robert’s time in Flint has been a journey in itself. He found a place to live in a trailer park in Flint with a girlfriend. On Nov. 4, 2012 Robert and his boys were kicked out with no place to go.

He prayed to God, he said, asking him where he should go. He thought about the motel next to the trailer park, but that was not a place he wanted to raise his children in.

“They call it a crack hotel where there’s a bunch of drug dealers, drunks and prostitution,” Robert said.

But without hesitation, Robert’s neighbor and friend, Jeanie, took the family in and helped them in any way she could. On Dec. 3, Robert was blessed with an open trailer in the same park for a good price.

“Since I’ve been here in Flint it’s been good. I thank God,” Robert said.

The whole family has been welcomed at a nearby church, which surprised Robert. His body is covered in tattoos, and through his eyes he looks a little different.

“I could never find a church. I feel like I’m home. I’ve been to so many churches. I got a bunch of tattoos. They’re gonna say, ‘Hey, look at that Mexican he’s got a bunch of tattoos. What is he doing here? Why is he walking with a cane?’”

But no one said that.

The boys are involved in youth group and the family has been blessed by the people who are now in their lives.

What next?

Robert has good days and he has bad days. But every day is spent with his kids.

Recently nurses told Robert he may only have months to live.

“I am scared of dying. I’m scared of leaving my boys,” Robert said. “My left side is going out. It’s a scary thought.”

He has a feeding tube and walks with a cane. Some days he gets around in a motorized scooter. His speech can slur from time to time.

After all he’s been through in his life, Robert hopes his boys will learn from his mistakes and his actions and live life knowing what’s important.

“I explain to my own kids, I explain to other kids … what happened to me… Life is not a game. You have to challenge yourself to push yourself. Put your faith in God,” Robert said. “You want (your kids) to accomplish their goals. … Even if I die, I will be right there.”

Most of the time when we leave an interview we leave wondering what will happen next to the person we just talked with. Often they are glad they had someone to talk with but they still have little hope that things in their lives are going to change. Many people accept the way things are and learn to live with it. Robert is different. He has a long and difficult road ahead of him but he is facing it with joy. His joy is not in his circumstances but in his faith and the people he surrounds himself with. We will continue to update you on Robert’s journey with ALS. Thank you for reading his story.

This is the sixth story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.


Now it’s your turn.

Our goal has been to share the stories of those who make up the heart of Flint but now we want you to join us. This is a call to action. This is your turn to listen. We are asking our readers to take the initiative and get out there. We will feature as many stories as we can.

Remember, there is power in a story. Listening to a story can bring healing, hope, understanding and most of all builds a relationship. By asking to hear someone’s story you never know how that can impact their day, their life.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Meet someone you do not know, someone who has experienced life in a different way than you have.
  • Ask them if you can listen to their story.
  • You can write down their story, record it (ask them if that is ok) memorize it, anything to can think of.
  • Relate, share some of your story with them.
  • Bring a friend. We suggest that this is a team effort, don’t go alone.
  • Type out the story and send it to us at

Our hope is that this builds friendships, something that lasts. Everyone has a story, we are listening.

Everyone has a story