Jeffrey Hudson had been stuck in a vicious cycle of drug addiction that led to incarceration and homelessness during a huge part of his life.
The 58-year-old said there were times when he reached sobriety, but experienced intense shame that triggered cravings to get high again.
However, his life changed when he found what he calls home and a family of people who cared for him and his future. Those were among the thoughts he had when he turned the tassel on his cap during a graduation ceremony Thursday for a dozen people in Project HireUp, a combination of Bakersfield College courses and CityServe Educational Collaborative personal development training.
Hudson said he had been at The Mission at Kern County for a year before going through the collaborative education program for the past two months.
“My whole life has been turned around. It’s just incredible,” Hudson said. “I went from shooting dope on the tracks and drinking, homeless, to gainfully employed, healthy, happy and just really content.”
Hudson said the Christian Living Discipleship program at The Mission also helped and led him to sign up for Project HireUp. He now works at Freedom House recovery homes, where he is helping others who have struggled with similar experiences.
The CityServe and BC Project HireUp collaboration started three years ago. More than 100 people have gone through the program, many of them finding success, job opportunities and a place to live, said Valerie Rivas, a site leader for CityServe Educational Collaborative.
There have been “heartbreaking” stories of people who fall back into addiction, she said.
“We’re here to pick up the pieces and start all over again,” Rivas said.
Project HireUp includes support to help individuals create pathways to sustainable living, she said. The focus is on personal education and career development.
Computer and word processing classes are available, as well as customer service training and a finance course.
“They don’t need a high school diploma,” Rivas said. “They don’t need a GED or financial aid. It’s free. It’s really for anybody. That’s what I love. It’s for anyone who needs a fresh start.”
Shaiyona Douglas, 35, said she was in the Capistrano Community for Women for drug rehabilitation when she heard about Project HireUp.
Douglas, who said she has been sober for two years, lived in and out of foster homes through much of her childhood.
“I started using drugs at an early age,” she said. “I was in abusive relationships. I went to prison a couple times. Since I got out, I wanted to go to a rehabilitation center because all I could think about in there was drinking alcohol.”
Douglas said Project HireUp helped her come out of her shell. She hasn’t landed a job yet, but she has confidence from the support of other people in the program and the Project HireUp staff.
“I finally get to wear a cap and gown and walk across the stage to get a certificate,” Douglas said before the graduation ceremony in a large room at the Summit Coffee shop. “That’s never happened before.”
The combination of BC education and self-help/personal development from CityServe “is something very powerful and beautiful,” said Eric Simpson, director of CityServe Educational Collaborative.
People who go through the program gain validation as a student and graduate and they discover their self-worth, he said.
“To have that kind of environment from both sides, and that is being addressed, you end up with this neat combination,” Simpson said. “Many of them are coming out of great programs and they’re being cemented with a new environment and new influences. It is a special thing."
The M Street Navigation Center, a homeless shelter in Bakersfield, had two people in the graduation ceremony, said Aimee Bryan, a program coordinator at M Street.
Bryan said she enjoys watching the students start in the program with hesitancy before eventually thriving.
“They realize all the support that they have not only from Project HireUp, but M Street as well, they start to feel more comfortable and grasp that realization that they can do this,” she said. “I love watching them blossom.”