Anthony's Story: Man Turns Life Around

By MARK BRETT
May 9, 2013 · 3:50 PM

Director Riley Gettens (centre) of the United Way South Okanagan Similkameen shares a laugh with Volunteer of the Year Anthony Brown and his grandmother Darlene Hildebrand following the Spirit Awards at Poplar Grove Winery, Wednesday. The organization handed out its annual Spirit Awards to the many groups and individuals who contributed to make the campaign a success. / MARK BRETT/WESTERN NEWS

Anthony Brown is living proof of the value of United Way’s support of critical, and in his case, life-saving community agencies.

Only a few years ago, Brown, now 28, was an angry, drug-addicted, alcoholic on a downward spiral.

“I was literally living and walking in hell on earth everyday,” said Brown, who was the recipient of the United Way’s 2013 Spirit Award Volunteer of the Year this week. “I was just pissed off at everybody and everything. I ran away from my foster homes, I ran away from high school, I was picked on and then I became one of those people who picked on others. It was the very bottom, something I was not going to get out of alive... I was already dead inside.”

Fortunately, one day he connected with the Discovery House, a men’s rehab unit funded in part by the United Way.

Since then, with support of workers there and help from Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, Brown has gradually lifted himself from those dark depths.

“It’s about recovery, recovery recovery, learning a better way,” he said. “It’s not easy, but now I can be happy, I can smile, I have a support network I can go to if I’m having problems. If I’m stressing out or I want to use (drugs or alcohol) I can phone my sponsor and he will come to me right away and we can have a coffee and I can let it out of my system and I’ll continue to stay clean and sober.”

As a way to give back, he decided to speak on behalf of the organization that helped him turn his life around.

United Way director Riley Gettens recalled the first time she heard Brown’s story during a visit to Discovery House

“It was just so raw and real and I had never experienced that before,” she said. “For him being able to come out the other side of that and be as well put together as he is, is just incredible.

“When I go around to the different organizations we give dollars to there’s always a story, and it is important for donors to see that’s where their donations go. This is why it is so important people hear Anthony’s story.”

For his part, Brown sees a very bright future ahead in the company of family and “clean” friends.

One of those family members, his grandmother Darlene Hildebrand, was at the award ceremonies at Poplar Grove Winery.

Her own joy was evident in the large smile and glistening eyes as she approached the bench outside where he was sitting.

Putting her arm around her grandson, she said: “I’m just totally blown away. I’m so proud of you.”

According to Gettens, this is only one of the success stories aided by the United Way, but one she will never forget.

See article on Penticton Western News