MODESTO -- Meet three people who get it.
Diane Carter, Anthony Alrid and Wayne Johnson all were down. They received help. And now they are volunteering their time and energy to repay the kindness shown to them.
When you peruse todays A Book of Dreams section, youll learn about some of the agencies and charities that help those in need everything from medical care to aiding families in distress to helping them keep the electricity on and the water flowing. They try to help people endure difficult times, and it always is gratifying when the very people theyve helped return the favors.
Diane Carter moved to Modesto from the Bay Area many years ago, commuting back over the hill to work in the telecommunications industry. She served on nonprofit boards over the years, always giving, never imagining she might someday find herself on the receiving end. Yet thats what happened.
She lost her job. She faced foreclosure on her home. Then, in March 2011, Carter developed a heart ailment likely enhanced by stress and needed hospitalization.
As if she needed any more problems, while in the hospital she suffered what amounted to a stroke that affected her spinal cord.
I was paralyzed, she said. I couldnt feed myself. I couldnt write. I spent 6½ months in the hospital. I was developing diabetes and hallucinating. No nursing homes would take me.
During this same time, she needed to sort out her medical coverage, the short sale of her home and disability issues.
When you cant sign your name, you have to have your marks (Xs) notarized even to get medical, she said. My doctor said, You may as well be prepared for the fact you may never walk again. Then, he paused and said, And then there are miracles.
The miracles came, she said, from faith, family and friends. From complete strangers who heard about her plight and called to ask what they could do to help.
It was just phenomenal, she said.
Shed heard of the DMC Foundations Millers Place, but knew it mostly as a day care facility for seniors with Alzheimers disease and dementia. She had no idea the nonprofit also provides physical therapy.
In fact, Millers Place staff heard about her condition and called her to offer their services. By then, shed moved into a board-and-care home. She began going to Millers Place in October 2011. She was fortunate: Her body responded quickly to the therapy.
Now, a woman who was told a year ago that she might never walk again strides three miles per day. She takes her grandchildren on outings. Equally important, she volunteers her time at Millers Place, working with the seniors and particularly the Alzheimers and dementia clients. The conditions hit home when her mother recently came from Kansas and told Carter she has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimers.
I go into the day care center working with clients as much as I can, Carter, 61, said. I help with meals. I give them hand massages and help them with crafts. Even folks with dementia, they look forward to seeing you. You touch them on the shoulder. You call them by name. You make a difference.
Shes also training to become a court-appointed special advocate, aiding group home and foster children.
Which brings us to Anthony Alrid, who was raised in numerous foster homes and attended five Modesto high schools Modesto, Beyer, Johansen, Davis and Downey without graduating.
I was out on my own at 17, said Alrid, now 22. He found jobs hard to come by and difficult to hold without a high school diploma. Finally, he decided to pursue his general education development (GED) certification through the ReadingWorks program administered by the Stanislaus Literacy Center.
When they initially tested him, Alrid read at a sixth-grade level.
My math skills were at a fifth-grade level, he added. When I started out, I was sort of in a determined stage, but then again not. Once I got back my scores, I got really embarrassed. But the majority of people who worked with me were volunteers and they never made me feel dumb. They never got tired of helping me. Thats what drove me to keep going.
And to keep learning.
After a couple of months, though, I was progressing really quickly, he said. By the time I left the place, my reading and math skills were all at 12th-grade levels.
As he zeroed in on his GED, staff asked if he would want to help others as they had helped him.
Getting the GED was one thing. Tutoring others was another.
Maybe, he answered.
He received his GED in July, and began tutoring. That, too, offered a learning experience.
If I had problems, I could go to other tutors, he realized.
Now, he tutors regularly.
I can feel a lot of what people are going through there now, Alrid said. A lot of them dont want to be there. You feel like youre going to be judged, but youre really around lots of supportive people.
He is one of them.
It feels better to be able to help, he said.
Wayne Johnson, meanwhile, never required the help of the American Red Cross. The 59-year-old Modestan nonetheless has become one of the agencys most active volunteers and soon will be ready for disaster relief assignments across the nation.
He worked at a milk processing plant until losing his job when it closed.
I went through a divorce because of drinking and drugs, he said. I fell off the deep end, in and out of jail, addicted to heroin. I had jobs here and there, barely surviving.
Johnson knew he had to change before he completely destroyed himself.
I started in a methadone program, but I knew if I didnt do something with my time, Id go back to heroin, he said.
He began attending Renaissance Christian, a church that meets in parks because it doesnt have a permanent home. It became his support system in the battle to reclaim his life. He began helping with the churchs weekly food distributions.
Once each month, Pastor Darryl Fair invites a guest speaker, often a community leader. About two years ago, Red Cross Executive Director Rebecca Ciszek addressed the group. She explained the services the organization provides.
Rebecca showed up on a Wednesday, Johnson said. It sounded like a good fit. I walked into her office on a Monday and asked what I could do.
At the time, he didnt have a bike or even a bus voucher, Ciszek said. Yet, hes volunteered thousands of hours over the past couple of years.
Johnson is part of a first-aid team at John Thurman Field during Modesto Nuts games. He enrolled in a first-responder class at Modesto Junior College, and hopes to become a proctor in those classes, taught at MJCs west campus. Had he not enrolled, he probably would be on the East Coast somewhere aiding in the Superstorm Sandy disaster effort. There will be other opportunities, and hell be better trained and more prepared should they arise.
Last week, the agency held its annual awards dinner. He received its health services volunteer honor.
When they called my name out for that award, my first response was that I was just having fun, he said. I was watching the game, getting a free tri-tip sandwich, and when I started, I didnt even like baseball. Now Im really into it.
This is living, Johnson said. What I was doing before wasnt. I was dying. Now Im living again.
And, like the others, hes giving back in the community that helped him when he was down.
He gets it. They get it.
Jeff Jardines column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.