We do a lot of celebrating at St. Francis House. We celebrate the graduates of our Moving Ahead Program. We celebrate when our guests achieve sobriety. We celebrate when guests find housing, when they find a good job, when they reconnect with family and friends they’ve been estranged from. For us, there are few things more gratifying than helping our guests rebuild their lives.
So this Father’s Day, we’re celebrating with and for Mike Griswold and his son Jameal.
Mike first began coming to St. Francis House in the early 2000’s. He was strung out, addicted to drugs, and living on the streets. Sometimes he spent his days napping on the floor of the Atrium. At first, he wasn’t ready, but slowly he began taking advantage of St. Francis House services. In late 2005, he got clean.
Ninety days into his sobriety, his son Jameal was born. Jameal’s mother was not able to care for him and the plan was for him to be put into foster care. Mike was asked to come meet his new son, and to hold him, but was told that he would never see him again.
Mike fought back; he asked the courts to give him a chance. And he was awarded custody of Jameal.
Overnight, Mike – who had been raised without a father – became a single dad.
He was a quick learner, and Jameal became the heart of his life – his purpose, the reason to stay clean, to rebuild his life.
Mike again turned to St. Francis House for help, and eventually graduated from MAP, a 14-week job- and life-skills training program for individuals who have experienced homelessness. He went one to begin his career as a counselor for men learning how to become fathers, fathers struggling for visitation rights, and fathers struggling with addiction. He runs fathers’ groups and is a frequent speaker, giving presentations and sharing his story to social workers, DCF workers, the courts, and others.
An active MAP alumnus, Mike stays close to St. Francis House, which he calls his “blessing.” He makes frequent visits to the 5th Floor Recovery Center, where he does peer counseling. (And, yes, although he’s become adept at Zoom, he’s delighted that the pandemic is winding down so he can meet with people in person.)
Jameal is 15 years old now and has been diagnosed with autism.
Both Jameal and Mike continue to support each other. Later this year, Mike will be celebrating 16 years being clean. But on Father’s Day, he’ll be hanging out with Jameal, doing something related to water as they’re both self-described “water nuts.”
For Mike, Father’s Day can come at any time. Sometimes, after they are both settled down for the night, he’ll hear a knock on his bedroom door. It’s Jameal, coming in to give his father a hug and a good-night kiss on the cheek. Now that’s something worth celebrating.
In 2014, Mike Griswold was honored at our annual All the Way Home dinner. Here’s Mike telling his story on the video we showed at the event. It’s a great story, and one that keeps getting better and better.