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HOPE helps get her life back

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Michelle Whitaker addressing the Night of HOPE on Thursday evening.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin/

POSTED July 14, 2017 1:28 a.m.

It was a “Night of Hope” and some tears as well Thursday evening at the MRPS Hall.
The HOPE Ministries Family Shelters’ second annual Donor Appreciation Dinner fundraiser hosted by the Raymus Homes highlighted a former addict that lived for 7½ years on the streets before successfully turning her life around. She is now HOPE Ministries’ outreach coordinator working full-time with the homeless and Manteca addicts.
Master of ceremonies Sheldon Vicks said the moral support Michelle Whitaker has received during the last few years of her life is what the Hope Family Shelter program is all about with her becoming a counselor for the destitute – many of whom she knew by their first names on the street.
“I would hate to be the one she counsels – if I said to her I don’t think I can do it – you’d be saying that to the wrong person for all that she has been through,” Vicks said.  “This would be someone talking to you who has lived the life.”
When Michelle addressed the crowd of some 350, she noted that she has three beautiful children, now 16 to 18 and eight years old. She said she has long struggled with addictive tendencies and mental health issues and didn’t like herself, walking away from her family and her dad a Christian minister.
She said she had found a Bible verse about a tweeker, a type of person that she said she had become.
“It was about me in that I had been foolish and had become rebellious. I was a tweeker near the gates of death.  This is where many of you have seen me.  I had been abused, homeless and helpless for a good part of those seven years and even suicidal at times.” 
She said she spent many nights with other homeless drug addicts spending the nights in the cold under freeway bridges and in Library Park crying together about their plight – both men and women alike.
She said it was God who saved her through the help of people at Hope Family Shelter adding that is what this night is all about, she said.
 “It’s about a young girl whose life had spun out of control and who had lost all hope. Five years, one month and 28 days ago I would never have imagined I would be standing here talking to you about being homeless tonight. It was at Raymus House where I was reunited with my children.  My daughter said she would never talk to me again if I didn’t get clean from drugs.  Also, my brother was getting married and I was gathering clothes to wear to his wedding when I got arrested again and I had to call him and tell him I was in jail and couldn’t come.”
Michelle pointed to a contingent of police officers – more than 15 in all –  sitting together near the front of the room, saying it was partly because of them, who had not given up on her, that she was able to change her life around.
She said she had spent many a night in the back seats of their police cars ranting and raving at them for having arrested her again.  She especially thanked officers Mike Kelly, Jason Massey and Marnix Lub  — Lub who wrote a positive letter to a judge and explained she had been working tirelessly to get back to her family and off the street,  saying that  jailing her again would not be productive – she was released for time served.
Michelle now works a 40-hour week at the Hope Family Shelter working with all its clients with their many issues, according to CEO Cecily Bullungay, who said she is constantly face-to-face in one-on-one give and take discussions with those suffering from substance abuse and suicidal issues.
At the end of her presentation she received a standing ovation from the crowd and was quickly surrounded by police officers who posed with her for pictures.
“We are blessed by each and every person who has wanted to share this evening with us,” Bullungay said.  “Our organization wouldn’t have the success it has enjoyed if it weren’t for Michelle.  The impact she has made is priceless.”

To contact Glenn Kahl, email

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