Vocational programs are meant to build ‘confidence in recovery’

Adam is pictured with Ken Threloff, director of the Construction Vocational Program.

Adam is pictured with Ken Threloff, director of the Construction Vocational Program.

This is the third story in a series chronicling “The Journey from Homelessness to Home,” a theme the Ventura County Rescue Mission is honoring this year. This month, we look into the Mission’s vocational programs and how they provide the men with skills, confidence, and hope for the future.

Since a very young age, Adam has felt a crushing pressure to be perfect. “My dad was very strict and meticulous,” said Adam, whose father worked for the space shuttle program. “Making mistakes was not really allowed. My dad put a lot of pressure on me. He told me, ‘If your ‘S’ looks like a ‘5’ in my line of work, people die.’ I can get the lesson now, but I was a kid.

“I felt such a weight—just this need to be perfect. It led to a sense of unworthiness and guilt for not living up to high standards.”

Depression set in. “Before I even knew what being suicidal was, I had suicidal thoughts. I didn’t feel like I wanted to be alive anymore. I felt like there was me and there was the world.

“It seemed like everyone around me was getting along alright. Life didn’t seem so hard. Kids were being kids—they were playing, going to school, enjoying themselves. And I never seemed to be enjoying myself. It was super lonely.”

Now in his 20s, Adam relies on something his pastor once said: “No suffering is wasted.” “God is good,” Adam said. “I see now that He worked all those things for my good. Nothing I went through is going to be wasted. Someone may need to hear this to not feel so alone.”

After five years in the Marines, Adam felt a loss of purpose and brotherhood when he returned. He started smoking a lot of marijuana to suppress his depressive feelings. After he got a construction job, he got into the habit of daily drinking. But after seven months, he knew something had to give. “I needed to change,” Adam said. “I knew I had been walking out of step with the Holy Spirit for a long time.”

Then, Adam came to the Mission. “The Lord had to bring me to a place of such brokenness for him to do what he wanted to with me,” Adam said. “He’s transformed me. He’s working in this place, through the chaplains and the pastors—all these people. Because of the Mission, my life has gone from hopeless to hopeful.”

One of the most transformative parts of the program was Adam’s acceptance into the Construction Vocational Program (CVP). Adam was the first Mission resident involved in the program, which started last year.

The CVP guides participants through skills like framing, plumbing, electrical, and finish carpentry, among several others. The program is run by Ken Threloff and allows for three residents each quarter. They meet five days a week at 7:30 a.m., starting with a Bible study. They spend the next few hours focusing on a skill, and wrap up by noon.

The CVP stemmed from a program that began at Two Trees Church in Ventura. Now, as a result of a grant from the Tyrone Heritage Foundation, the Mission operates the program.

While one would think the main goal of the CVP would be to prepare residents for careers, that’s not quite Threloff’s top priority. “Number-one, bottom-line reason for this program is to help the guys gain confidence in recovery,” he said. “Everybody’s different, but that’s typically my main priority.”

Depending on their level of interest, the residents could join the program to learn new skills, or use it as training for an apprenticeship or career. “What I’ve found in this job is that once you get a feel for the guys, things start to fall into place and we get moving down a successful path before you know it,” he said. “I got some advice … to lead this program with a broken heart. I always have a fear of them not walking through that door in the morning. I always have a fear of them leaving the program or of relapsing. I’m not going to save everyone, which was my thought at first.

“I only model—I don’t preach. I want them to gain confidence and community. And to have a purpose.”

Trevor Hunter, House Manager at the Mission, said the vocational programs—which include construction, culinary, and retail, are a great way for residents to transition from the Life Recovery Program back into work. “It allows them extra time, resources, and support to build a solid foundation,” he said. “They learn on-the-job skills (and) budgeting due to the stipend they receive for their hours. They also become examples to men currently in the program of how to transition and live a quality life, centered on Christ and sobriety.”

Adam has graduated and is planning to attend Bible College. He is hoping to remain involved in the CVP. “To be the first guy in this program, a program that Ken had been praying and waiting to make happen for years, it feels of the Lord,” he said. “I want to continue to work or volunteer at the Mission, and to be a part of blessing others the way I’ve been blessed here.”