Mohamed and Arthur come from two different worlds. Two different sets of life circumstances. Two different generations. Two different cultures.
Still, they’re united. Both credit Catholic Charities for turning their life around for the better.
Arthur, a formerly homeless vet—a master sergeant from the US Army who completed three deployments—started coming to Catholic Charities’ Opportunity Center last year. At first, he was an observer. He would come for the meals and so he had a place to be—but avoided interacting with staff.
The 49-year-old father of four says Mohamed and other staff at Opportunity Center are the reason he is beating his addiction, the reason he now sleeps in his own home instead of a shelter or on a friend’s couch and the reason he has reconnected with his children and gotten the medical help he needs to regain his health and self-sufficiency.
Mohamed came to Minnesota via refugee camp when he was 8-years-old. Even though he was the age of a second grader, he had already seen atrocities most don’t witness in an entire lifetime.
“I have been through a lot. My life was threatened many times. I was almost burned alive, almost slaughtered,” he said. “I grew up as an angry child. I grew up believing there were no good people.”
Mohamed came to work as a client advocate at Opportunity Center in 2015. Catholic Charities Opportunity Center in Minneapolis offers daytime services to connect people to health services, hot meals, showers, computer access, laundry, locker rental and job search assistance. In his work, Mohamed helps others who have been through wars of their own come out on the other side. At Opportunity Center, Mohamed discovered the good in people.
“I was searching to find myself before I came here. I don’t do it for the money, it’s more the self-satisfaction you get. It makes up for all of the tough times you have. It made me humble,” he said.
Mohamed is committed to the job. He lives less than two blocks from Opportunity Center; he wanted to be close to work.
“I love the folks here,” he said. “I have heard some of the saddest stories and I’ve seen people at their happiest when they get a place to live. We do wonderful things here, and it got me to turn my life around.”
Because Mohamed was there, Arthur was able to be one of those clients staff enjoy. Arthur would see Mohamed interacting with others at the Opportunity Center. He overheard him speaking in English, Somali and Spanish, meeting people where they’re at with genuine concern. After a while, he believed Mohamed genuinely cared.
“I approached him and said I needed help. I just opened myself up like an open book. I was tired and I needed help.”
The two met with Lisa Zakrzewski, a Hennepin County social worker who has an office in the lower level of Opportunity Center. Together, they came up with a plan.
“They just gave me a whole roadmap of what I needed to do,” he said.
Arthur, who suffers from spinal injuries which cause numbness, pain and limit his ability to work, was then able to receive medical care and connect with benefits. He was able to get into treatment for his addictions. He connected with therapists to work through myriad issues including a recent divorce and family relationships. Soon after, he was able to move into sober living at nearby Alliance Apartments. (His move may have been aided by Mohamed secretly taking a lunch break to walk over to Alliance and personally ask them to take a chance on Arthur.) After some time, he began reconnecting with family. He joined and is active in a church. These days, Arthur focuses on the positive.
“This Opportunity Center—Catholic Charities—I don’t know what you call it, but I call it my lifeline,” Arthur said.
At Opportunity Center, Arthur has found a sanctuary. A place where he not only received services, but where he began to give back.
“I stay close. I started out by wiping tables. I do whatever I can. Drugs and alcohol can’t get to me here. This is my refuge from sun up to sundown. I owe it all to this place and Mohamed,” he said.
Mohamed, sitting nearby, smiles, but doesn’t take credit for how far Arthur has come in recent months. Arthur’s success, and the success of so many others at Opportunity Center, motivate Mohamed and his colleagues to come to work each day.
“It always gives you more of a drive when you see someone get off the street,” Mohamed said. Looking at Arthur, he said “You did the legwork; I’ll always say it.”
Teamwork, including Arthur, Mohamed, Lisa and the entire Opportunity Center team made the transformation possible.
“I’m proud that I was able to step out in faith and trust Mohamed and trust Lisa. If they hadn’t had that type of faith in me, I’d still be out there,” Arthur said.