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Mikey Garden’s Journey: From Trauma to Triumph

Mikey sitting on the floor of his new apartment with a bike trailer and tent.
Mikey in his new apartment

Mikey Garden’s story is one of perseverance and growth beyond extreme childhood trauma. With the support of The United Effort Organization, Mikey is now housed, volunteers regularly at Hope’s Corner, and plays a crucial role in helping others achieve self-sufficiency.

Mikey’s experience with homelessness began in the 1990’s. But in 2015, when he was living in a tent by a creek he heard about the Hope’s Corner meal service. He soon met the property manager for Hope’s Corner, Joel, who invited him to volunteer by sweeping the new floor in the sanctuary. “This was the first time anyone trusted me enough to ask me to help. It was my first opportunity to volunteer and it opened the door to so many other opportunities,” Mikey recalled.

He soon became an essential part of the Hope’s Corner team, helping Claire and Renee clean the showers and taking on various tasks. “I learned how to be of service and I became a go-to guy for whatever help they needed: Mikey, please bring us the mop! Mikey can you unclog the toilet? I loved becoming someone who others could rely on,” said Mikey.

Over the years, Mikey volunteered more and learned important life skills, such as working with people, when to step away, and when to ask for help. “I loved being surrounded by so many professional people - Claire, Wei, Dave… they trusted me to take care of things. They encouraged me to take my time and to learn. That helped me build character: As they took care of me, I started taking care of myself.”

Wei and Claire, who had just founded The United Effort on July 1, 2020, recognized Mikey’s disability and helped him apply for public assistance. Because he had slept outside for about 30 years, at first Mikey wasn’t sure that he would want to sleep inside. With persistence from Wei and Claire, he finally said he was interested in finding an apartment

The United Effort helped him complete the housing assessment in April, 2022. That led to his enrollment in the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program, a federally funded program that combines affordable housing assistance (through a Section 8 Project Based Voucher) with other voluntary support services. Finally, on December 14, 2022, he moved in!   “Before all this, I didn’t know left from right. In my teens, I became a drug addict. I did the worst of the worst, but because of The United Effort and Hope’s Corner, I learned to take care of myself. I was given the chance to shower daily and take care of my health, important stepping stones. I began taking prescribed psychiatric medications to alleviate some of my problems,” said Mikey

Mikey’s childhood was marked by significant trauma. His mother had to give him up as a baby to an orphanage in Modesto. Mikey then went through eight different foster homes. In the eighth, a tragic accident occurred when he and his youngest foster brother were left alone with a weapon. Mikey accidentally shot and killed his brother.  “I was a kid - I had no idea what happened! It can happen in any household. I was immediately sent back to the orphanage,” said Mikey

After this tragedy, Mikey’s life took a turn for the better when he was paired with Mr. Norman Lee Garden, an educator from Mountain View who later adopted him. Mr. Garden helped Mikey realize that the incident was a horrible accident and provided him with a stable childhood. Despite this support, Mikey struggled with the trauma and felt abandoned by his biological family, leading to a drug addiction and a troubled early adulthood.

After serving a prison term in 1996, Mikey decided something had to change. “Because of Mr. Garden and my effort to learn, and because a few people took a risk and trusted me to volunteer, I stopped living that way. I stopped sticking needles in my arm, and I stopped stealing. I don’t ever want to go back to jail, and I haven’t. I’ve now come to terms with the accident. My character is a lot different than nine years ago when I started volunteering to sweep the floor. I’m 55 and still in the learning process, still building my character. It’s not all second nature,” said Mike.

Volunteering at Hope’s Corner and The United Effort Organization played a significant role in Mikey’s recovery. “Volunteering has made me so rich. I’ve learned so much, including patience, not to judge others, and how to find resources to help others. When I see them on the streets, they want to be around me, and I see that I’m making a difference! It feels awesome to be respected.”

Volunteering also led Mikey to reconnect with his biological mother after 39 years apart, thanks to a social media post by Mike Hacker, a volunteer at Hope’s Corner. Meeting his biological family helped Mikey understand his roots and changed his perspective on his past actions.

Today, Mikey continues to volunteer, help others, and pursue his passions. He enjoys picking fruit to donate to Hope’s Corner and riding his bike between San Jose and Mountain View. Volunteering, Mikey says, has “given me confidence and skills I can take anywhere. Luckily, I was teachable, and The United Effort and Hope’s Corner were willing to teach me.”

Thank you Mikey for being so wonderful to work with and doing so much to help us and others!

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