“Well, I’m an older-than-dirt, single father.”
That was the icebreaker FRESH Start guest Don began with during a 45-minute conversation about his journey to LCCM’s FRESH Start Emergency Shelter and Resource Center with his son, Malachi.
“I have a 15-year-old son who I have been the sole source of everything to since he just turned four,” Don said.
And being a single father certainly came with hardships.
“We lost our house, we lost everything,” he said. “Every God-loving thing, but the shirt on my back. But, I don’t give up.”
Don once operated a construction company and had contracts in the Baltimore, Md. area where he would travel to from Lehigh County each day.
But by 2012, Don hit some stumbling blocks.
“I was pretty well out of sorts. I was a mess, I was a wreck,” he said. “I was physically a wreck, emotionally, mentally – I was just totally drained. I had nothing really more to offer, or to give or to do.”
By the next year, he no longer operated the construction company and become involved in a criminal case that resulted in jail time, at which time his son was placed in foster care.
When he was released from jail, he quickly regained custody of his son, but he struggled to rebuild.
That’s when he began attending Berks County Veteran Affairs programs. Don, an Army veteran, was pleasantly surprised by what the VA had to offer.
“A whole lot of my missions were in East Berlin (Germany),” he said. “I left with a mega case of PTSD and some other stuff that will never go away, but it’s being managed.”
Because of his experience at the VA, Don wanted to do something to help other veterans.
“I’m thinking to myself, well, if I didn’t know about this (VA programs), I can’t be the only one,” he said. “How can we make other veterans aware?”
That is when he started the Sal Santori Radio Show, devoted to veterans and veterans’ issues, which aired in Lebanon, Pittsburgh and Spartanburg, WV. Though the show is on hiatus, Don has plans to kickstart it again next year.
For now, he’s focusing on a strategy to rebuild a life for himself and his son.
After a stay with friends in Palmyra that didn’t work out, Don and Malachi briefly stayed at a hotel room in Palmyra. That’s when a Caring Cupboard employee approached him and asked if he would be willing to accept some help from LCCM’s FRESH Start shelter.
Since coming to FRESH Start in early October, Don obtained a job in Palmyra, which he said he saw “God’s hand” working in to provide him this opportunity.
Last year he worked security for a plant that was under construction in Palmyra. A few weeks ago, a temp agency that hires for that company asked if he’d be interested in working there.
“They wanted to offer me a forklift position somewhere, but it wasn’t enough money. And then they said, well, we have this other company up in Palmyra, and I said ‘what did you say!”
He started his new position in late October, and now wants to find a home in the Palmyra area so his son can continue attending Palmyra Area School District.
“I told Malachi that we have spent years on the survival plain. Now we’re going to experience the living plane,” he said. “So my picture is a much more comfortable lifestyle for him and more things that will give him a better quality life. And living in a place of our choosing.”
Long term, he wants to help his son realize his dreams.
“He wants to become a forensic chemist and forensic scientist,” he said, proudly. “I said, ‘you go, boy!’”
Don says he is thankful to everyone involved with the Fresh Start program and highly recommends single fathers to utilized this resource to get a “fresh start.”