“Without Sunday Breakfast, I don’t know what I would have become. They took me in and walked alongside me through everything,” Eric expressed with thankfulness in his voice. “I am so proud of myself. It was hard, but I am here now.”
Eric had a happy childhood. Adopted into a loving family after he was born, Eric describes family as the most precious gift he has ever received. Sadly, a few days after Eric’s high school graduation, his mother passed away. “After my mom’s passing, I grew up real fast,” Eric remembers.
Eric began working in order to support his younger siblings, first as an EMT and later as a firefighter. The stress of his new responsibilities wore on Eric and he began kickboxing as a way to manage his emotions. Eric has a fighter’s spirit, even when faced with hardships at such a young age he found a way to persevere.
During his career as a firefighter, Eric faced many life threatening situations. The most distinct, and the one that haunts him to this day, is when he served as a firefighter during September 11, 2001 in New York City.
Eric remembers pulling eighteen survivors out of a stairwell in the first tower. He tried to do more but was forced to retreat when the second tower began to crumble. That day left him feeling helpless as the weight of the tragedy burdened his heart. Because of that day’s trauma and years of helping people in desperate need, Eric developed PTSD, a disorder that can be seen in those experiencing homelessness. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety “that may develop after exposure to an event or ordeal in which death, severe physical harm or violence occurred or was threatened.” (Psychology Today)
Although not technically a veteran, Eric courageously sacrificed so much for the good of the community. In a recent study, “up to 80% of homeless Veterans suffer from mental health and/or substance use disorders.” (U.S Department of Veterans Affairs) Veterans and those suffering from PTSD have difficulty assimilating into society forcing many into a life of homelessness. It is crucial that we come alongside these suffering men and women when they need us most.
After twenty five years as a firefighter, Eric became homeless when his PTSD grow unmanageable. When Eric hit rock bottom, he knew he had to make a change. Eric spent the remainder of his money on a bus ticket into Philadelphia. He felt lost and overwhelmed in the city but he didn’t give up and continued his journey to Sunday Breakfast. “There are truly some great people at Sunday Breakfast that really care,” Eric expressed with tears in his eyes.
Everyone at the Mission plays a role in serving and encouraging one another. Eric expressed his thankfulness for the volunteers for encouraging him and the donors for giving him the opportunity for a renewed life. These acts of service show him what it means to give back even when you feel you have nothing left to give. Eric explains, “now, every time there are volunteers downstairs, I say thank you and God bless you.”
During his time as an Overcomer, Eric developed a heart of compassion. Eric has served as a mentor to men in need of encouragement and he tries to help them become a fighter against whatever struggles they may be facing. Eric derives strength from motivating others and his daily prayers as he continues to work through his PTSD. He is now employed full-time at the Mission so is able to motivate others daily.
Eric’s struggle with PTSD and dedication to serve the homeless population is a light of hope for those struggling with mental illness. In an internal survey, 73% of guests at Sunday Breakfast self-identified as suffering from some form of mental illness which is why we need men like Eric who can come alongside side these friends in need as someone who has overcome the same obstacles. Eric never stops fighting to move forward. Every day is a battle but he faces it with strength and dedication.