Breaking the pattern in Charlotte

Jul 5, 2023 | by Brad Rowland

Breaking the pattern in Charlotte

By: Brent Rinehart

Growing up in Philadelphia in what he describes as a "bad neighborhood,” Atif Sanford was surrounded by negative influences. Often, those influences weren't only on the outside, but even amongst his own family. He was drawn to his uncles, who were regularly involved in illegal activities. He was exposed to that lifestyle at a very young age.

"I was 7 years old the first time I smoked weed," said Sanford as he recalled his lifetime of using drugs.

"I know plenty of people who first did drugs with their family," he said. "By the time I was 16, we moved neighborhoods to go to a better school, but the damage was already done."

He started drinking and using other drugs; a pattern formed that would last the next 30 years.

"When the pain gets great enough, you'll do something different," Sanford said. He was in a terrible place in his life, consumed by drugs, alcohol and bad relationships.

"I knew I needed to do something different."

His cousin lived in the Charlotte area, running a pest control business. So, Sanford moved south, hoping for a new start. He knew he needed to distance himself – in this case, literally – from the negative influences in his life. He got settled, and began working to get on his feet.

But, he still hadn't discovered what he truly needed yet. That is, until he learned about The Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center in Charlotte for the first time.

"I didn't know much about The Salvation Army before. But, [joining the Adult Rehabilitation Center program] is the best decision I ever made. Had it not been for The Salvation Army, I don't know where I'd be."

With his past in the rearview mirror, Sanford was finding a fresh start.

"Looking back over the years, I had tried to stop on my own, but it never stuck. This time, I realized drugs and alcohol was at the core of all my failures," he said. "I needed [The Salvation Army]. I finally believed it was possible to beat it."

Not only is Sanford sober – two years in June 2023 – but he's now taken on a leadership role at the Rehabilitation Center. He serves as the assistant manager at a Thrift Store, while also leading classes about healthy relationships for men in the program. He's able to draw on his own personal experiences, sharing with other men about the pitfalls of maintaining negativity in your life.

"Today, I have no unhealthy relationships in my life,” he said. “I have peace now. I left those old relationships. Coming from the negative, I just knew I can't have that in my life any longer. I don't know where I'd be without The Salvation Army. God had a plan for my life."

"We are just messengers of Good News," said Major Richard New, administrator for The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Charlotte. "Our hope is that men in the program have an opportunity for a new start, and that that find peace with God along the way."

Sanford hopes to one day get into real estate and continue growing his business acumen. Regardless of what he does from a career standpoint, he knows that he will always be indebted to The Salvation Army. He wants to pay it forward.

"The Salvation Army is my family,” he said. “I'm blessed to be a part of it, and I will do anything to help someone else. It doesn't cost anything to help someone."

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