Charlene is beating the odds

My name is Charlene. I was born in Muskegon, Michigan and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My mom left my dad and moved to Grand Rapids when I was 6 months old. She had 10 kids, I am number 5. They said I was born drunk, they had to pump the alcohol out of my system when I was born. I was about 3 pounds, I was so small I fit in a shoebox. They had to keep me in the hospital, they didn’t think I was going to make it. But God knew there was more to my story. I am 55 years old.


I had a pretty good childhood. I was raised by my godmother and my mom. They made sure I went to church and bible study. I grew up in Baxter neighborhood and my mom worked at Baxter Community Center. The Baxter neighborhood community was a big part of our family’s lives. People were always helping us and we grew up helping others in the community. I remember Christmas shopping in downtown Grand Rapids and meeting Bozo the Clown. I remember going to Camp Tall Turf in the summer. I have many happy childhood memories.

Then I was molested when I was about 12 years old. I never told anybody. I believe that is when my life changed. I lost my faith because of what had happened to me. I had my first child at the age of 15. I thought I was grown. I did a lot of babysitting for my sister’s kids. Because I was the oldest girl, they counted on me to babysit. I was alone at home all the time with little kids. I was very isolated and I got very depressed. I dropped out of school and I started drinking and smoking weed.

I had another baby when I was 17. I became so depressed that I gave them to their father and grandmother. Then I started using IV drugs (powder cocaine etc). I moved to Mississippi and continued living like that for 10 years. Then I got pregnant with my 3rd child and went to my first treatment center. I got cleaned up and had one more child and got married. Soon I relapsed, switched to crack cocaine, and spent the next 20 years in and out of treatment centers. I have been in 8 different treatment centers in all. Each one of them helped me and each time in recovery I learned something. Looking back now I see that each time in treatment was a building block in my recovery. However I continued to relapse until last year.

Erika Charlene

By the grace of God, he put Erika (The Mel Trotter Ministries Program Director) in my life. I would go to my daughter’s church and I would see Ms. Erika. I told her that when I was ready to stop using drugs I would come and see her. It took a whole year, but one day, God spoke to me and told me to get it all out of my system because “This is It!” For thirty days and thirty nights I smoked and drank. Every day. And when I made it to Mel Trotter, I was broken, tired, and lost. All I wanted was to see Ms. Erika.

She told me they had a bed for me right then, but I said all I want to do is get on the waiting list! Then I told her I would be back tomorrow… but I didn’t come back. I stayed gone one more day, and came back that Wednesday begging for that bed!

I entered into the Step Up 90 day recovery Program. Best Program Ever! I’ve been to a lot of treatment centers and this is the best one! Through all the classes (Relationships, Boundaries, Relapse Prevention, IOP which is Intensive Outpatient therapy) I learned how to live sober. We go to the YMCA, Yoga, we’ve gone to the ballet and dinner theatre, ice skating – many activities that teach us about sober living.

I graduated from Step-Up and entered the Restoration Program. Now I am working with a Recovery Coach and therapist through Arbor Circle. I have been able to start taking GED classes to improve my education. Throughout my stay at Mel Trotter chapel services have been a big part of my recovery and spiritual growth.

I hope to get my GED one day, and eventually my own apartment. I'm working at Applebee's as a hostess right now to help build my skills. I would really like to get a job where I can help others. I strongly feel God’s calling on my life now to help others the way that others have helped me. Now I am focused on giving back.

Faith.Hope.Love. Devotions Series Celebration 2018

I thank God that y’all opened up y’all hearts and y’all doors and took me in. I thank God that he used all of y’all to save my life. Y’all taught me how to love my Father and my brother and myself and everybody again. I didn’t have a life, but today I have a new family that loves me. And I love all y’all so much. It takes team work to make the dream work! And if I can do it, you can do it with God’s help. 

My favorite Bible verse is John 3:18: “Let us not love with words or speech, but with action, and in truth.” We show God’s love when we are willing to help others.

My story isn't over yet! #MTMstory

Charlene's next chapter

Charlene Donaldson, a hostess at Applebee’s, is one of the people who have benefited from Mel Trotter’s programs. 

“She treats each guest, you know every employee, like they’re family,” said Lesley Morey, the Applebee’s general manager. “I mean she's walked out of the store to give a customer a hug because she didn’t say goodbye to them.”

To Charlene, it’s much more than just a job. It’s how she got her life back. 

“I knew that she'd had a tough life, you know that she'd struggled with addiction of some type, for most of her adulthood, which, that's a tough thing to kick,” Morey said.  

But Charlene graduated from Mel Trotter's program, and she’s been two years sober since October. 

“This was my first stop, coming out the treatment center,” Charlene said. “I came here, and Mr. Les (Morey) hired me on the spot.”

According to Morey, once he saw her interacting with people, he knew she'd be a great addition to the restaurant. “That kind of opened my eyes to see well, she's not the only one that's like this. A lot of other people could use a second chance,” Morey said. 

She's now able to have her family, consisting of four kids, 14 grandkids and two great-grandkids, stay at her very own apartment. 

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