2013 Next Step Breakfast Participant Testimony

During our annual Next Step Breakfast, on May 22 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Ken Harris, Next Step Program participant, shared his testimony of life change. He spoke of how he lost himself, but through his time at Samaritan Ministry and his dedication to his goals, he experienced true transformation. For more information on our Next Step Program, please visit our Next Step Program page. The the text of his speech is below. 

Good Morning.  My name is Ken Harris and I am a Next Step Program participant. At some point during the last 23 years, I lost myself. I forgot my dreams. Let me tell you about the good part. I remember when I was a kid dreaming about good things was easy. You see it was 1969 and I lived at McDill Air Force Base, Florida. The base is nestled in one of the most beautiful locations in America - Tampa Bay. I remember my father and I would sometimes walk out into the bay when he would go fishing. We would walk for what seemed to be an eternity looking out towards the Gandy Bridge.

[img_assist|nid=4723|title=Next Step Program Participant, Ken Harris (photo by Jacob Reiskin)|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=428|height=640]The special thing about 1969 was that on July 16th I was sitting in our living room watching Walter Cronkite on TV. Why, you may ask? Just after 9:30 Apollo 11 blasted off for the moon.  Where our home was situated the view allowed me to poke my little head out of our front door and watch that huge rocket as it ascended with flames to the sky. That started my love affair with the night sky. I would lie in the grass and try to count every star I saw.

Early the next year, in 1970, I would become, in my mind, the world’s biggest Jackson Five fan. As soon as I heard ABC and I Want Cha Back I was hooked. I would remain a Michael Jackson fan until this day. I remember when I was five years old I said to myself, “One day I am going to meet Michael Jackson.”

So let’s fast forward to August 1983 and I am serving in the US Army. I have left my family home and I am living in Germany. I’m at a concert and the performer walked off the stage and along a path in front of the 85,000 people that came to see the performance. He stopped in front of me. I am standing face to face with Michael and I am speechless as he stood looking me right in the eyes. We never said two words to each other. He stared at me while I stood there shocked into silence. We stood like that for about a minute and then he walked away. It was as if we had some understanding that this was all there would be and even though I still kick myself for not even saying "hello," I am ok with it.

Six years later, my army career was over and I had no savings, no job and no home. I was homeless.  From August 1989 until February 2013, I was homeless. The funny thing is that for most of this period I was working. I was just underemployed and never able become stable enough to get my life in order.  I lived with family members or friends on floors and couches. I also lived in my car.  I lived in a homeless shelter and other transitional homes. I simply never had a place that I could call my own. I fell into homelessness so quickly that it made my head spin.

The change came in October 2007 while living here in Washington, D.C. in a transitional home. I found a flyer for Samaritan Ministry that read, “Make positive changes to your life.” That was what I needed. I went to the Samaritan Ministry Southeast office the very next day after I found that flyer and I have not looked back. They welcomed me warmly and with open arms. They accepted me just as I was with no questions asked. I entered the Next Step Program without any clue as to what that meant. My first goal was to get my Social Security card and prepare my resume.  I took the necessary steps and achieved those goals.

There were other steps, other goals and with the help of people like volunteer David Manning, resume writer Ellen Frost and interns Abra Lyons-Warren and Catherine Rodman kept me moving forward. Through my goal setting, I plugged into other community action organizations for clothing, food and shelter such as Miriam’s Kitchen, Martha’s Table, The Shepherd’s Table, Catholic Charities and All Faith Consortium. I now had my own personal army helping me and I felt accountable through the goals I set with the Next Step Program to not let Samaritan ministry down.

Do you remember when you were a kid? Remember when the ice cream man would come and you would hear that jingle? Well I am certain you never ran back into the house and said, “Ma, the ice cream man is here but I’m just gonna finish my brussels sprouts.” No, you want the good things. Even a person that plans to climb Mount Everest stands at the bottom and looks to the top with hope and imagination.

Such was the case when I first met Samaritan Ministry's Southeast Office Lead Caseworker, Adrian Vaughn, in October 2007. She asked me what my goals were and I blurted out without even so much as a second thought, “I want to buy a house!” I went to straight for the top. She quickly reminded me that I needed a job first. She told me no goal was too small as long as you take the steps to meet it. Thus began my journey with Samaritan Ministry and the Next Step Program. After securing my first job in early 2008, I began to pay off the debts that I had incurred over the years with the goal of improving my credit report and score.

In the summer of 2011, I set a goal to become a homeowner through Habitat for Humanity. I applied and was accepted in September of 2011. This led to more goal setting, such as contributing 200 hours helping to build my own home. I received assistance filling out applications through Housing Counseling Servings and received a $41,750 5 year deferred loan from the Greater Washington Urban League. Through Wells Fargo I received a $20,000 grant with the CityLift Program. As long as I am in my home for 5 years I do not have to pay this money back. Finally, as a veteran I used my Home Loan Certificate to help secure a $145,900, 30 year 2.75% fix rate loan. On March 31, 2013 I closed on my new home. I am no longer homeless.

On Veterans Day 2012, my mother cut the ribbon during my home dedication ceremony and for the first time in my life I welcomed my entire family into my home. As we were going into the house someone happened to look towards the sky. There was a rainbow in the shape of a smile hovering right over my house. In April during spring break my daughters and I lived under the same roof for the first time and my granddaughter was right there with me.

I would like to share my current goal and Next Step with you. I plan to make a documentary on pollution and litter in Washington, DC and submit it to one of the many film festivals that are held in the world that I am now a part of.