Life Change program builds work skills, sobriety: 'You have to want it'

EUGENE, Ore. -- After nearly 55-years of drug and alcohol abuse, a once-homeless man credits his sobriety and faith to a yearlong program at the Eugene Mission.

Jerry Wagner said he lived a life with plenty of opportunities, but he was blinded by substance abuse.

"We were always drunk and high. At least me and my friends were and the future didn't matter," said Wagner.

He was living on the streets until he came to the Eugene Mission in July of last year.

Now he's a graduate of "Life Change", the Mission's new one-year program to give the homeless and those in transition a chance to reintegrate into society. He said the program offered education on employment, finances, nutrition, faith and most important for Wagner, sobriety.

Quinton Williams, the mission's director of social services, says eleven men and women graduated the program on Saturday. Many have jobs and are looking for housing.

A new class of 30 are going through the program right now.

Wagner said the program saved his life.

"I could never imagine living past 30 or 35 when I was young. I had good jobs and they didn't mean a lot. I made good money, but I just wanted to buy beer and go to the bars," said Wagner. "It was pretty easy to drink and stay high and no one seemed to mind."

Soon he lost his job, his home in Springfield, and his car.

He had heard about the "Life Change" program at the mission, and decided he was ready for a change after nearly 55 years.

"They say you have to hit your bottom. Man, I hit my bottom a lot, but this time it just seemed so different when I said I don't want to do this anymore," said Wagner.

"It's sad that I had to waste all this time, but you know I'm young enough that I can have a happy life and so can anybody else. You have to want it, you have to be willing to work for it because nobody's willing to give it to you," he said.

Wagner will attend classes at Lane Community College to become a certified drug and alcohol counselor this fall.