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Meet Sam: YMCA Supportive Housing Resident

Sam, YSHC resident

In the tapestry of our YSHC community, return resident Sam weaves in an inspirational story of fortitude, service, kindness, and generosity. At age 60, Sam has experienced the best and the worst of life. He brings his experiences as a Veteran, culinary chef, and mental health survivor to our community.

A Des Moines native, Sam grew up in a happy household as the middle child of a “neat-freak” mom whose impeccable household organization skills helped him develop a strong appreciation for clean, organized spaces and hard work. At age 12, Sam took on a paper route, fostering a strong sense of pride and independence as the first child in his family to earn an income. By the time Sam graduated from Des Moines Tech High School, his love for all things math and precise measurement had blossomed, fueling a childhood dream of becoming an architect.

“I wanted to create something that lasts,” he remembers. But due to the times, that dream was not to become reality. No Black architects in the industry in those years meant no opportunities for Sam to forge his path forward, despite his hard work, vision, and skillset. Not to be deterred, he decided to enlist in the US Army and serve his country instead.

Sam’s status as a veteran is how he became connected to our community. Referred by the Veterans Administration (VA) when he first experienced housing insecurity in 2022, Sam moved in and utilized supportive services at the YSHC. After a short 2-month period of stabilization, he chose to leave YSHC. Sadly, a series of hardships soon hit Sam hard, beginning with the losses of three siblings in the same month. Then, a battle with alcoholism left him living under a bridge, suffering alone in darkness and constant emotional pain which eventually led to trying to take his own life. Saved by a stranger, Sam soon found himself at a local VA hospital in a 55-day treatment plan. After successfully completing that program, Sam was referred back to the YSHC, eager to be welcomed back home.

“When I left YSHC originally, I thought I was doing the right thing,” he shares. “I had no idea how much I would miss my chosen family.” And his YSHC family has welcomed him back to his home, along with his culinary expertise and the delicious smells wafting from his apartment. A trained chef with experience in Des Moines restaurants, Sam enjoys sharing recipes, cooking tips, and the occasional meal with friends. Always willing to extend a helping hand, he regularly invites his neighbors to share a meal “But I’m not a soup kitchen,” he chuckles. “I’ll cook the main dish and everyone usually will bring a side to share. My favorite dish to make everyone is seafood pasta.”

He also enjoys embracing his artistic side again. Residents may have seen Sam working on a puzzle or two while in the YSHC community room. “I have about five I need to glue so we can hang up!” Now that life has taken a turn for the better, Sam is looking forward to a visit with his eight grandchildren in Colorado. He is excited to reignite his love of building things as they continue their tradition of making gingerbread houses together!

Sam expresses gratitude for reaching 60 and eagerly anticipates celebrating more milestones, like making it to his 70th birthday. Sam wants to let his neighbors know to never give up. “Being seen as a valued individual is important,” he shares. “And so is finding community.” His story serves as a testament to the power of perseverance, resilience, and the joy found in both personal and community experiences, woven together to create this special place we call home.


Posted on Thu, 12/21/2023 - 11:33
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