ShelterCare Makes Big Difference for Former Pro-Athlete

It’s pretty easy to see that Dennis E. is a thankful person. But he admits that hasn’t always been the case.

Dennis says he is very grateful to ShelterCare employees, including his former counselor Linsey Johnson.
Dennis says he is very grateful to ShelterCare employees, including his former counselor Linsey Johnson.

Dennis, 61, grew up in Cottage Grove, Ore., and developed an early appreciation for sports. The fact is, he excelled at them. Football, basketball, baseball … anything with hand-eye coordination came easy to Dennis.

His high athletic IQ even allowed him to share his insight with young athletes. He began coaching younger kids in baseball when he was just 10 years old and worked with children all the way through college.

Despite this success, he says he still felt like a “scared little kid” — anxious and uncertain. He moved on with his life and from an outsider’s perspective, all seemed well. He even got married and had two kids — a son and a daughter.

His natural abilities led him to play slow-pitch softball for a travel team during his late 20s. The experience allowed him to travel around the United States with a team comprised of men from accomplished sports backgrounds, including former NCAA athletes.

With this lifestyle came challenges and temptations, he said. His desire to fit in as “one of the boys” and excel on the field wore him down, and that “scared little kid” came back into his life.

“It became a situation where I became somebody I wasn’t,” he said. During those softball seasons on the road, gambling and alcohol got the better of him, and soon his family life crumbled.

Today, Dennis admits he has an addiction disorder. At the time, he says he lied to himself and his family about his problems.

“I really neglected my responsibility as a dad, and it was all about me,” he said. Soon he was divorced and health problems crept into the picture.

Before entering ShelterCare’s Supported Housing Program in 2014, Dennis said he had an epiphany. He was in the hospital in Portland, having the toes on his foot removed due to complications related to his alcoholism when he realized he had hit rock bottom. About this time his sister had passed away after a battle with cancer, and he had not gone to see her.

“After neglecting to see my sister, I knew I was sick,” he said. He was ready to change. He was ready for the “scared little kid” to go away.

Today ShelterCare provides Dennis with housing and counseling. He has been given a second chance, and he said he wants to make the most of it.

“You guys [ShelterCare] are selfless,” he said. “ShelterCare has been there every step of the way.”

Ari Hirschstein, a ShelterCare consumer skills trainer, said Dennis has formed a strong foundation to help him move forward.

“He uses his strong Christian faith to provide support to himself and those around him,” Ari said. “He wants to watch the world blossom and be a part of that process. I think that through his faith, he is finding inner peace and drive that will push him forward through his life.”

Since becoming a part of the Supported Housing Program, Dennis said ShelterCare staff helped him connect with health benefits and navigate the complicated system of care for his mental and physical health needs.

“People don’t want a handout, they want a hand up. That’s what ShelterCare has done for me: given me a hand up,” he said.

PeaceHealth and Trillium support have allowed him to deal with his medical concerns (the toes on his other foot also required amputation), and his church and family — including his ex-wife — have all reappeared in his life.

Dennis has asked for their forgiveness and now is beginning to repair bridges. He even wears his wedding ring in the hope that someday he can remarry his wife. But he holds no expectations, just hope. Every day is a gift, he says.

“I want to show God’s love in my actions with whatever time I have left on this earth.”

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