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Brian Smith.for blog

Community partnerships are essential to a nonprofit organization like Pathlight HOME. They are an indispensable means to helping our formerly homeless residents with life’s essentials, such as food, clothing, bedding, kind words, and even a spiritual uplift.

One such partnership is with The Salvation Army Orlando Area Command and the man whose heart and residency at our Maxwell Terrace Apartments started it all – Corps Sergeant-Major Brian S.

New York born and raised, Brian worked for Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs in Coney Island and Long Island for 10 years.  Always close to his supportive family, he was devastated as “people started passing away” when he was in his twenties. He reacted to his grief and loneliness with drugs and alcohol. That led to 30 years of active addiction, 17 of which were spent on the streets.

While homeless in New York, Brian won $37K in the state’s lottery. Feeling flush with money and determined to change his life, he left for Florida. “I thought I’d get away from drugs and go to Orlando.”  

Two months later, though, he was broke and living under I-4 at Orange Blossom Trail. He’d blown the windfall on drugs, motels, and inviting unsavory people to share his motel rooms.

Brian’s lifestyle became a cycle of living on the streets, at The Salvation Army and Coalition for the Homeless. Luckily, “I didn’t get killed” on the streets, he says. Things got worse when, “On a drug spree, I ended up robbing a gas station. I didn’t have a gun. It was a non-violent crime.”

When he got out of jail, Brian hit rock bottom and prayed for help. His prayers were answered when he was referred to The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), a six month recovery program. “It saved my life,” he says proudly. “I’ve been sober ever since!” That was 16 years ago.

When Brian finished the ARC program, the very same gas station owner he had robbed gave him a job and found him a room. Brian worked there until his boss sold the business and he lived in the rooming house for four years.

“I needed something better,” he recalls, so in 2008 Brian moved to permanent housing at Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace Apartments. “It’s a good way of appreciating your own place…my own bed, a roll-top desk, a better way of life.”

Having internalized a “save to serve” outlook at the ARC, his formerly-homeless neighbors provided him an opportunity “to see the needs in our community.”

“There were other people who needed help,” he says “One person came to me…he had a job interview and had no shoes. I actually gave him my shoes.”

Brian began preparing sandwiches and buying clothes for his neighbors in need. Still in close touch with the ARC and Salvation Army staff, he enlisted their help to provide food, clothing, volunteers to assist, and bibles. He established Saturday in the Maxwell Terrace garden area as the day and place to “give things out,” telling neighbors, “I’ll see you Saturday.”           

“That was the start of my ministry,” he explains, “To meet human needs without discrimination.” Just as important to Brian was the sense of community his quest brought about. “[The residents] were learning to be a community…learning how to help each other,” he remembers. “You could see people benefiting from it…how we talk and know each other. [It was] bringing the community together.” 

His ministry was meant to continue! When Brian’s gas station job ended, he started working for the ARC and, “Everything fell into place.” In fact, Brian’s good works only got better. In 2011, The Salvation Army dedicated a bus with supplies and volunteers to his Saturday morning ministry at Maxwell Terrace, enabling the charitable route to include Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Garden Apartments and a nearby trailer park. That indispensable resource continues today, assisting about 130 very appreciative people each Saturday.

Though he’s there on Saturdays, Brian moved from Maxwell Terrace in 2013. “It was time to move on. I benefited from what I got there by helping others,” he says. “That was my need…It’s to help others, so they [can learn to] help others. Some people have to be shown. I had to be shown!”

Brian’s ability to offer, “A little nudge to lift them up and show that people care,” has resulted in another proud role in the community: Assistant Chaplain at the Orange County Jail. His past life on the streets, years on drugs, longtime recovery and spiritual core are the perfect qualifications. “I was out there 17 years with an addiction. Who cared for me? I’ve had experience with that,” he states.

And as one who definitely walks the walk, Brian says, “I wish there were more people who would help [others]. People come at the holidays; but they need to help at all times, to show others that someone cares. It gives us a purpose in life to give back to others.”