At the age of 40, Mark Hunter was scared. "I came to The Doe Fund straight out of prison, and I was scared because for so long I'd been in that cycle of prison, drugs, prison, drugs."
Mark describes his family life while growing up as better than that of many of his friends: though his parents had a rocky relationship at times, they were both there for him. "I'd be lying if I said that both my parents didn't love me." But drugs were everywhere in the streets of the South Bronx, and he started using when he was only eight. What initially began as experimentation quickly escalated. "That was what I used to cope with things, and it became a continuous cycle." A cycle which included dropping out of high school, five terms in prison, homelessness and increasing drug abuse.
Having spent most of life since his twenties incarcerated or on the street, Mark knew it was time to make a change but didn't know how until he saw a presentation about The Doe Fund. "I was like, `Wow, this is exactly what I need.'" What he needed was an income, housing, and a supportive environment. "Guys use the term respect, but I think it's more like decency. You're treated decent here. I honestly believe that treating people with decency makes a huge difference. The Doe Fund exemplifies that."
At the center of this decency is paid work. To Mark, the idea that work is love made visible is easy to understand. "I'm getting the sense that all work contributes to society. If you do a good job, you're helping other people, even though it may not seem like it. Even the most minor jobs contribute to the big picture. We're all connected."
Like all Ready,Willing & Able participants, Mark began by donning the signature bright blue uniform and sweeping the streets. After a month, he applied for a trainee position at the Back Office of New York (The Doe Fund's direct-mail processing facility) so he could improve his office skills, résumé, and ultimately his future employment opportunities. In addition to his regular duties, Mark volunteers his time as a GED tutor and writes for the Gates Avenue newsletter. He was also a key participant in this past summer's Leadership Alliance, which brought together "men in blue" and volunteers from the community in an atmosphere of shared growth and mentoring.
The result of all this? Mark isn't scared anymore.
"I feel good about myself. I feel hopeful. I know that the past is over, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Did Ready, Willing & Able help me come to that? Absolutely. I feel like I have a life."
Today, Mark works as the Associate Director of Back Office and Mark speaks to his mother every Sunday. "She knows things have changed," he says. "Now I have a future, a purpose."