Ron Remembers Smoking His First Cigarette When He Was Six Years Old

The staff at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) has been meaning to set up a blog for some time now. Because we have the privilege of being at the soup kitchen every day, we are able to witness things that not everyone gets to see. Sometimes the world that our soup kitchen patrons live in seems like a reality that is so far removed from the experiences of other New Jersey residents who are lucky to not have to struggle with poverty. At TASK, we get to see the beautiful along with the ugly. It’s impossible to walk away unchanged. We want to share some of these stories with you.

Let the blog begin.

Ron remembers smoking his first cigarette when he was six years old. He was helping his family clean up after a party. He remembers taking it out of the ashtray, putting it in his mouth, coughing, then saving it for later. As the seventh of nine children, at an early age Ron felt that he could do whatever he wanted. His parents loved him, but his dad was a functioning alcoholic. When he was eleven, his dad left and Ron started drinking and huffing paint. By age twelve, he was drunk every night.

He enjoyed school and played on the all county football team in the 9th grade, but after he hurt his back he retreated to smoking marijuana and dropped out of school to sell drugs and get high. He started experimenting with different drugs too. “I never wanted to be a drug addict,” Ron admits, “but my addiction took off. I didn’t even think I had a problem.” He spent a lot of time in and out of recovery. “For years I was trying to overcome my demons of addiction, but I’d always come back to Trenton to get high. Now, I’ve been clean for twenty-one months.” Ron has been working a 12 step program and makes a special effort to associate with positive influences, including the volunteer tutors and staff of TASK’s Adult Education Program (AEP). He’s been an AEP student for about one year.

Coming to school really helped me,” Ron explains. “It helped me see who I was in my addiction. I’ve learned about obsessive and compulsive behavior. I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes. It’s been eleven months. I’m going through life changes. I’m learning how to live without drinking and drugs. [When I was young] it felt good to be disobedient. I thought I was ‘grown.’ Looking back now, I realize being grown is being responsible.”

I never thought I’d live to see 52 years old. I’m grateful I’m still alive. A lot of my friends I grew up with are dead or crazy from drug use. I’m grateful that I’m healthy. I’m making accomplishments. I’m doing some different stuff. I’ve had jobs before, but I’ve never been able to hold them because of drugs. Now, I’m doing positive stuff as a motivation factor for my nieces and nephews.”

I don’t look down on nobody. I remember when I was stinking and no one would hug me. When no one would love me, I could go to the soup kitchen and get some love… You know, people drink and do drugs because it gives them courage.”

Maybe I can be a vision of hope for somebody. I can make the best choices that I can today. I had to make a decision.” Ron explains that he worked very hard as an AEP student and when it came to asking for help, he was able to ask and get the help he needed. “Even though I passed the [GED] test, some days, I don’t give myself enough credit,” Ron admits. AEP Coordinator Kelly and Ron joke about how Ron would plead, “Don’t leave me!” whenever she was working with Ron and another student would try to draw her away.

When asked about his plans now, Ron explains that he’s looking to help others learn from his mistakes by becoming a mentor.  “I want to help people.  Give ‘em hope. It’s not about the money for me.  It’s about helping people. I might not ever be rich financially, but I’ll be rich in spirit. ” 

Ron added, “Today, I owe a lot of things to the Trenton Treatment Center and to TASK. I like that I’m doing something positive. I’m in uncharted territory now.  I’ve never been here before.  But as long as y’all are here for me, I know I’m gonna be alright.”

Whenever a TASK Adult Education Program (AEP) student passes the GED test (which is equivalent to earning a high school diploma), we celebrate by throwing a little party and by giving the student an opportunity to give a speech. As a note, I’d like to let you know that Ron’s speech is very moving, but towards the end of the video, he explained the change in his life by saying it went “from s—t to sugar.” Generally, I wouldn’t upload a video with a curse word, but at the lunch table, our staff and volunteers agreed that it’s a well-worded phrase that accurately describes how Ron feels. We left it in. If you’d like to complain, call me at (609) 695-5456 ext. 105 or email me at jparker@trentonsoupkitchen.org. At any rate, I hope it doesn’t detract from the words of wisdom Ron speaks from his heart. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it. To view it, click here.

Happy viewing!

Jaime, Manger of Programs

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