Jimmy O grew up pretty hardscrabble downeast. The oldest of 5 children, from the age of 10 he was forced to grow up fast and do so without most of the “givens” we all think should come with childhood. His mother died shortly after giving birth to his youngest sister. His father fell deeper into his addictive death spiral with alcohol, and the several aunts who tried to help the family were clearly outmatched by the challenges. Eventually the state took custody of the three youngest children (all girls), and so Jimmy, then 13, was mostly on his own except for having to earn every dime he could in order to eat and occasionally buy an item of needed clothing—and to help his aunts take care of his younger brother. Their father was rarely present and supported his addiction mainly through a combination of odd jobs, small time drug dealing and stealing from seasonal camps. When he turned 18, Jimmy O escaped to the military.
He chose to stay “inside” until he was 26, when the letters and emails from his younger brother tugged too hard. His brother was sliding into the same muck their father lived in, and Jimmy O was determined not to let that happen. Renting a worn out house seated miles up a dirt road from the nearest main route, and taking any and every job he could find, Jimmy O managed to keep his brother somewhat together until a freezing rain night of drunken driving put two people in the hospital and his brother in jail. Jail was going to become a long stretch in prison. Unintentionally free of his daily burden, if not from brother guilt and the never-really-gonna-go-away scars and issues from childhood, Jimmy O decided to head to Bangor.
It was clear to all shelter staff that Jimmy O was one of those guys who was going to use work not only to support himself but to shut off the nagging thoughts and voices that threatened to drag him down. He’d sign up for every chore that he could and asked for 4:30 a.m. wake up calls in order to get to the temp agencies before they’d open. He soon started getting regular work even when there wasn’t much, and 5 weeks into the shelter experience he was hired full time at a local business. At the beginning of his fourth month of employment he was recognized as “employee of the month.” The only reason he didn’t offer much of a smile was due to the fact that he was missing a lot of teeth (a far too common condition for many men and women who had childhoods like Jimmy O’s).
Jimmy O is out of the shelter and living in an apartment. Shelter staff are working with him to help him enroll in a housing program intended to help those who have demonstrated capacity for self- sufficiency with short-term financial assistance. The Shelter is also spending some grant money from a Maine philanthropic organization on the dental work necessary to free Jimmy O of daily pain and discomfort and get him closer to the smile we know is there.
There are thousands of Maine adults similarly struggling every day, and there are many, many examples of quiet, generally unknown success. These are real people we see every day, few of whom fall neatly into the catch phrases of political ideology. They are every much as worthy of our accolades as are the figures who achieve more public acclaim…