Richard Johnson: Second chances define success

What is success?

For Richard Johnson, the answer is simple: good health, being able to watch his kids grow up…and just being able to give his 12-year-old son a $20 allowance every two weeks.

That hasn't always been easy for Richard.  He would admit that he's made some bad choices in his life. Some of those choices landed him in jail for a short time. Then for several years after that he worked as a day laborer, as a dishwasher -a job here, a job there-sometimes on welfare. It got to a point where he began to feel unemployable.

"I was feeling like no one was going to hire me. I've got a record, you know," Richard explained. "Kind of feeling hopeless, like 'Woe is me.'"

When he heard about an Oregon Department of Human Services job program, he made a commitment to himself: Try it for 30 days. And he did. He showed up at DHS offices promptly at 8 and accompanied staff to different sites around the city, volunteering his time in order to get job training, most often it was at a non-profit organization. One of those stops was at The ReStore. After a 5-hour shift, DHS staff evaluated his work and instructed him on proper work practices. After the 30 days were up, Richard stayed with it for a few more weeks. He stayed until DHS staff said training was over and it was time to go work.

Newly enrolled in the DHS JOBS Plus program, Richard began working part time as a ReStore donation pickup driver's assistant. Then after several months a permanent spot opened up at The ReStore and Richard moved into the pickup driver position.

"One of the biggest payoffs for me is when I bring something back to the store, and there are customers out on the dock asking me 'How much is that?' Or I drop [a donation] off [at a store] and I come back from another load and I see a sold sign on something I just brought in. That is a very grateful feeling because in my opinion Habitat for Humanity isn't just building homes, they're changing lives."

In his own life, Richard says he hasn't always been the model father.

"I always used myself as an example not to follow," Richard recalls. "Dad messed up. You can do better."

Now he's glad his kids see him getting up and going to work.

"Life is just different," Richard says. "I feel really lucky. Fortunate. And at times I feel extremely blessed. That's why I like this job."

Now that he has a regular job, Richard can afford to give his son that allowance. He was also able to send him to summer basketball camp. It's the little things, Richard says.

When he's not at work, Richard is often hanging out with his kids, playing tennis with his 24-year-old daughter (his father taught Richard to play, and he taught his daughter), playing basketball with his son, or keeping tabs on his favorite sports teams: the Oakland Raiders, Portland Trail Blazers…and Serena Williams.

Richard Johnson’s successes have been noted. Recently Atlantic Monthly interviewed him about his experience with the JOBS Plus program, and DHS recorded his remarks for a job training video.

"I'm not shooting for the world," Richard says. "I know it's going to get bigger and better, but right now I'm content with my success."

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Richard's tips for new job seekers:

  1. Show up on time
  2. Have a good attitude
  3. Be ready to work

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