SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — A San Francisco man who learned his own lessons the hard way is now working full time to help others beat alcohol and drug addiction. That dedication has earned him this week’s Jefferson Award.
They call him “Big Cregg” — and in the Bayview where Calvin Johnson has made it his life’s work helping people, he has a big presence.
“You know there’s a lot of fear about being in Bayview because of the violence and all the things that go on here,” Johnson explained. “But if you’re going to really be effective about helping people, you need to be right where they’re at.”
For the last ten years, Johnson’s been right in the center of it. A tiny office serves as headquarters for the non-profit he helped start: Positive Directions Equals Change, a safe place for people in the neighborhood looking for support in drug and alcohol recovery.
“We talk to everybody. If they using, if they not using, it doesn’t matter,” said Johnson. “A lot of times clients will come to us with other problems. Drugs won’t be the issue.”
Johnson has a unique perspective on the issues because he’s been there. He himself fought addiction and served time. But he changed his life. Positive Directions started out as a support group of mostly men working through life issues and staying clean, but word spread, and the number of services offered expanded. Now there are classes in anger management, parenting, and job skills.
“He’s someone who’s experienced the walk we are walking,” former client Delicia Cunningham said. “I think that Cregg is like an angel dressed up like a man down here. He understands stuff that I thought nobody would understand. I just couldn’t believe this human being wanted to do so much – not only for me, but for everybody.”
During the weekdays, Johnson is a healthcare worker and methadone counselor, and was instrumental in bringing the first mobile methadone treatment center to the Bayview, thanks to a partnership with SF General and the Department of Public Health. The program serves 140 neighborhood clients.
“People trust him, so they’ll come here to get their treatment,” program director and nurse Deborah Logan said.
In the evenings, Johnson and his wife of 20 years have helped at the Positive Directions headquarters. But the space will close this month due to budget cuts. Surrounded by packed boxes, Johnson remains optimistic. He says the weekly meetings will continue and so will his message: that with support, anyone can change his or her life.
He said, “I’m an ordinary person who was able to do extraordinary things by being able to change my life. So the example that I give is that anybody can change their life if they are really committed to doing that.”
So for his ongoing commitment to his community and helping others change their lives, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Calvin Johnson.
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