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Beginning with one cup of coffee served to someone in need, over the past 25 Breakthrough has partnered with those affected by poverty to build connections, develop skills and open doors of opportunity.
Our 25 Years series highlights some of the impactful stories from our 25 years of service to Chicago and East Garfield Park.

Read all 25 Years stories

Ralph had the life he dreamed of at an early age. He was married with children and pursuing his own business in handyman services and painting.

“I was getting contracts and my business began to grow, I had a family, and life was good,” he remembers. “I was just pretty young at that time, and didn’t quite understand the responsibility of being a provider and being a father.”

Ralph started focusing heavily on his business and said he made a few mistakes that led to the breakup of his family.

“I was working all the time, and I thought that just providing and working for my family would really show how much I cared about them,” he said. “I didn’t know how important it was for me to also spend lots of quality time with them.”

With his wife and kids out of his life, Ralph began to feel like a failure.

“That was my demise,” he said. “I didn’t know how to get back up and fix what was wrong. I just wanted to medicate that away.”

That depression and self-medication eventually led to drug addiction.

“I led myself down a road of no return,” he said. “It’s only by God’s grace I’m sitting here now.”

As Ralph hit rock bottom, he found himself at Breakthrough seeking help. Through the help of staff and support of others who were facing similar challenges, Ralph began to rebuild his life.

“What was amazing is that there was just a rainbow of people of all different walks of life, and we were all struggling with our fears, our hopes, and our futures. Through that experience, my life began to turn around,” he said.

Ralph re-discovered his purpose and recognized that he still had skills to offer. He kicked his drug addiction and reinvigorated his handyman business.

“I found out that I possessed something other people needed,” he said.

“I was hired to powerwash this deck and clean it up and stain it, but when I got there someone had put restore on it, and this stuff is really hard to get off,” he explained. “So I had to take all the planks up and turn them over on the other side. We sanded it down, cleaned it up, stained it, and it turned out beautiful.”

Something occurred to Ralph in that experience: his work was a symbolic mirror of his life.

“In the beginning it was like, we’re gonna get rid of this, and I had said, ‘No, we’re going to keep it. We’re going to try to bring it back.’”

For Ralph, Breakthrough was the benevolent carpenter who saw his potential, and brought him back.

“That’s why I really like restoring things,” he said. “It reminds me of my life.  My life was all messed up and it got kind of flipped over on the other side and made new again. It takes hard work but in the end it’s unbelievable how something (and someone) can be restored and look good again.”