Growing up, Dallas Davis lived in a single-parent household—his father had left his family, and his mother was an alcoholic. "I didn't have any role models, and I was an angry kid," he remembers. "I was unmanageable, even my teachers couldn't help me. It's no surprise that I dropped out of school in the seventh grade, and by age 15, I had left home and joined a gang."
Dallas bounced in and out of group homes, all the while drinking and using drugs. It wasn't long before he was homeless and living on the streets. "I don't remember much kindness given to me during those years, especially during the freezing cold winters," Dallas recalls. "I'd do anything just to stay warm—go into churches, abandoned buildings, even Grand Central Terminal. And that's the one place where I do remember someone showing me kindness."
Little did Dallas know that the man who handed out sandwiches to the homeless men and women in Grand Central would soon found The Doe Fund and Ready, Willing & Able—the path to a better life for Dallas and thousands of individuals like him." After a total of 48 arrests and 5 felony convictions, I had nowhere to go," says Dallas of what would be his last prison sentence. "My family wanted nothing to do with me, and I had burned all my other bridges. I was going to be released into the shelter system."
Around the same time, Dallas's way of thinking changed. "I had started to recognize that if I kept spending time with the same dysfunctional people—and doing the same dysfunctional things I had always done—I'd get the same dysfunctional results." Upon his release from prison, Dallas was referred to Ready, Willing & Able by his counselor. "I tossed and turned that night, but the next day I got up, put on a shirt and tie, and marched through doors of the Harlem Center for Opportunity."
"That's the first time I saw how different this experience would be," he says. "I had been through so many institutions in my life—jails, group homes, drug programs. They always told me what they could do for me. But this was the first time that I was told what I could do for myself." When Dallas was assigned to "pushing the bucket" after his orientation period, he resisted at first. "A funny thing happened during those first few blocks. Turned out I didn't mind it at all. In fact, I kind of liked it!"
Before long, Dallas realized what exactly it was that made him enjoy the work. "I wasn't just picking up trash from the street. I was picking up integrity. I was picking up values. I was picking up self-esteem. And then, when I would look back at the block I had just cleaned, I would see what a great job I had done—and I picked up pride."
One of the most gratifying experiences for Dallas was actually one of the most grueling. "During the huge snowstorm in early 2010, we were out there making paths for the elderly, for children, for people to get to work. Here we were, people who had slept in the garbage, in the train stations, under bridges—those who society once thought couldn't accomplish anything. We were the ones bringing the city back to life."
Dallas's first paycheck was also a monumental moment—it was the first time that he knew someone really believed in him. The financial classes also provided by Ready, Willing & Able played a big part in helping him manage his new income. "The first thing they taught me was to pay myself when I get paid. Then they helped me clear up my credit. It was so bad at first, I thought people were going to come after me," says Dallas. "Today, they do come after me, but only to try giving me new credit cards!"
After a few months pushing the bucket, Dallas enrolled in the Energy Efficient Building Maintenance program. "At first I was intimidated by the amount of material I had to study, but I was determined to try. I'd get up early, at 4:30 in the morning, to study before breakfast." Dallas's hard work paid off and he finished at the top of his class.
During that time, Dallas also reconnected with his family. "When I first came to Ready, Willing & Able, my family already had given up on me. I never had anything to offer, but I had plenty to take. I didn't know about healthy relationships, didn't know about fatherhood, didn't know about coping. And I really didn't know my children, or the woman who had given them to me."
Over the course of several months, Dallas's family began to warm up to his new role as a father and husband. "They began to see that instead of taking things, I started giving them. Things like my advice. My assistance. Money to help with the bills. And my true apologies for hurting them. Today they look up to me for guidance, and they honor me. My wife sees me as a partner, someone who is there when she needs me."
Dallas currently works in maintenance management and is pursuing his associate degree in human services. "When I'm done, I hope to go into counseling," he says. "I want to be able to help people just as I was helped. Ready, Willing & Able did for me what my mom couldn't do, what my teachers couldn't do, and what all those judges and program directors couldn't do. It showed me that I have potential."