Living in Sebring, Johanz Tovar, 34, saw his life coming to an end as he struggled with drugs and depression.
“The depression started kicking in,” said Tovar, who is the father of four children. “I felt I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to kill myself.”
A family member suggested the Miami Rescue Mission, a program dedicated to transforming the lives of the formerly homeless.
Although he hesitated, he left the small town for Miami, searching for a new direction in life.
Last weekend, wearing a cap and gown, a smiling Tovar spoke in front of his children and over 140 fellow graduates who completed the program at the Miami Rescue Mission, 2025 NW First Ave. It was the fourth combined graduation for the formerly homeless residents who completed the program at the mission’s campuses in Miami, Hollywood and Pompano Beach.
“The Miami Rescue Mission was hard for me,” he sad. “It was difficult. I felt nothing could break me, but the rescue broke me down and reconstructed the way of thinking.”
Already, Tovar is working part-time in housekeeping at the American Airlines Arena.
“They help you get on the right path,” said Tovar, who has been sober for five years.
The program is open to those who are in need. It can last from six to 14 months. There are different programs based upon an interview process, which determines where the person will be placed. Programs include counseling, health, life skills, job training, transitional housing and budgeting. Miami Rescue Mission’s president, the Rev. Ronald Brummitt, said it is a wonderful feeling to see those in the program succeed.
“To be able to help somebody is like a dream,” he said. “I am living the dream. I am able to help someone else like I was at one point.”
Brummitt was homeless for two years in the 1980s. He was involved with heavy drugs, living under a bridge and begging for food. In 1990, he checked himself into Miami Rescue Mission — and eventually became the shelter’s director.
The Miami center currently houses more than240 men, while the women and children’s center, which is two blocks away, has 40 women and 35 children.
The Miami Rescue Mission, founded in 1922, serves 1,000 people at its three campuses located in Miami, Hollywood and Pompano.
At the graduation, former Miami Dolphins’ quarterback and radio host Jimmy Cefalo and Broward County Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief spoke to graduates.
Matthew Washington, 41, finished the program after three attempts. He lived on the streets and got in trouble with the law, smoking crack cocaine and consuming alcohol. He became HIV positive in 1998.
“Over the course of the years, being in trouble with the law, being on the streets it just took a toll on my body,” he said. “I didn’t have any idea how I was going to get out of the situation.”
Washington made an attempt to complete the program back in 2000, but it was difficult.
He was relocated to the Pompano Beach campus because he was familiar with Miami’s center, as he would consume drugs just blocks from the shelter.
“God just kept telling me I needed to finish it,” said Washington, who has been drug free, since 2011.
He recently obtained a forklift license and is now working for a marble and granite company.
Washington’s friend, Ilanda Simeon-Sanchez had been with him through his hardship.
“I am excited and proud of him,” she said. “When he was weak I was there for him.”