Education Provided Orlando Graduate an Escape From Homelessness
If you met Hendricks Reyes today, either at his work at a local pediatric hospital, or at the entrance to the church where he leads his own ministry, you would never guess the path that led him there.
It began on a cold night in New York where Hendricks was living on the street. He had been through a bad divorce that left him penniless and homeless. He was desperate for a new life, far from New York and its freezing winter.
“I felt like I was losing my mind,” he said. “I figured if I went somewhere else, I could start over and get my life back on track.”
Sitting outside of Penn Station, he was approached by a man who offered him some food.
“I told him I didn’t need the pizza,” he said. “What I need is an opportunity to show the people walking by that I’m not a crazy bum sitting here. I just need somebody to tell me how I can get out of this predicament.”
After talking for some time, the man asked Hendricks if there was somewhere he wanted to go. Hendricks didn’t have a plan, but he said he would like to go to Miami. He felt sure that he could find an opportunity there. To his surprise, the man purchased him a bus ticket and soon he was off to Florida.
I DIDN’T HAVE TO BE WHO I WAS
Unfortunately, Hendricks never made it to Miami. After 22 hours the bus made a stop at Winter Park, Florida and Hendricks got off to use the restroom. When he returned, he found the bus had left without him.
“It got dark and there was no other bus coming and I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
He hopped on a local bus and rode it to the last stop, a strip mall just off the highway. He walked to the door of the shopping center and, to make a long story short, he ended up sitting, and living, in that parking lot for the next four years.
In the summer of 2020 Hendricks’s situation had not improved. He had not found an opportunity and he was praying for someone to talk to. As it would turn out, that someone was Lance Andrews, Executive Admissions Professional II at Florida Career College in Orlando.
“I speak to a lot of people who tell me their story but sometimes they don’t follow through. There was something about him,” Lance said. “There was passion in him and drive. He wanted to change. He wanted more for his life, to the point of tears.”
The thought of going back to school seemed crazy to a man struggling to survive and sleeping in a parking lot, but Lance assured Hendricks that it was possible at Florida Career College.
“He started telling me all these things I could be,” said Hendricks. “I didn’t have to be who I was. I didn’t have to drown in my sorrows. I said yeah but you don’t understand–I’m living in a parking lot.”
As luck would have it, Lance did understand. He was also from New York and had experienced homelessness in the past.
“I told him I’ve been down the road you’ve been on and we bonded that way,” Lance said. “When he saw what I was able to do and that you’re actually able to do this, he saw where I came from and my struggles, that’s what really lit the fire under him.”
Hendricks had always liked helping people. Even living on the street, he would often give away what he had to people who had less. When he was introduced to the Medical Front Office and Billing Program it sounded like a good fit.
“I figured front desk, medical billing, I would be the first one people see when they walk in, that could help, and I could try to make them feel better,” he said.
THEY TOLD ME THEY WOULDN’T GIVE UP
Starting out was not easy. Hendricks said several of his classmates were hesitant to get to know him. Doing schoolwork, including work to earn his high school diploma, was challenging. Still, the school was a safe place to go during the day and his instructors were kind.
“The reason I didn’t finish school before was that anytime something got hard, I would run away,” Hendricks said. “Going to Florida Career College, the people there were so different from what I was used to that I didn’t feel like quitting. The harder things got, the more of a challenge, and the more I wanted to do it. That’s what I had lost. I had lost that ambition and that drive… FCC changed me. It gave me the courage to know I could do it. They told me they wouldn’t give up, they would be on me every day.”
The staff at the campus reached out to Hendricks continually, even on the weekends, to make sure he was OK. After his first course, Hendricks made the honor roll—something he never thought possible before. It gave him the motivation to keep going.
“Not only will you leave FCC with a career but you’ll leave with lifelong friends and people you can count on for the rest of your life,” he said. “They are like parents. They don’t tolerate a lot of stuff in the school…. They remind you to be respectful so when you leave there, you leave not only with a career but with respect. When you go out to work and be professional, people will respect you because of the respect you give them.”
MY STORY HASN’T ENDED YET
Hendricks was able to graduate at the end of 2021 and begin working as a Medical Biller. He also began working with his church, which is in the very strip mall that he lived in for years. There, he oversees outreach and also runs his own ministry, providing clothes and food to those experiencing homelessness. Both jobs keep him busy and leave him feeling fulfilled.
“I like to help people,” he said. “The misconception people have about billing, especially working at the hospital, is you’re out to get their money and make the hospital rich or something like that. It’s not about that. If they don’t have the money to pay, you work with them and figure out a way to help them out.”
“Like the guy who walked up to me at Penn Station and I told him I needed an opportunity, I’m out there giving that opportunity. I’m sitting down, getting to know you, and offering you a lot more than a plate of food.”
Hendricks marvels at how quickly and how drastically his life has changed. He was able to train for a career, find employment, and get off the streets in less than a year.
“My story hasn’t ended yet,” he said. “At the church on Sundays, I’m a greeter. I stand at the same door I use to sleep at. I stand in the door on the other side and I greet people. It’s like before and after for me. I’ve had people tell me ‘I love coming to the church and seeing you there smiling. You just glow from across the street.’ I’m like wow, that means a lot. If you only knew what I’ve been through before that smile.”