When Worthington Washington laughs, you can’t help but laugh with him. In fact, it’s one of his personal missions.
“I try to keep a smile on somebody’s face,” he says. “I will make me laugh or make you laugh.”
Worthington’s positivity is superhuman considering the challenges he’s overcoming. After serving two tours in the U.S. Army, Worthington struggled with addiction. He lost his housing and ended up homeless. Recently, his right leg required amputation after extensive neuropathy threatened his life.
But Worthington has a good reason to smile. He’s moving into a new house—a house he bought himself—at the beginning of December. As we move into the final month of the 90 in 90 Campaign*, we celebrate with Worthington and asked him to share a little of his journey.
Worthington first joined the U.S. Army in 1977 at the age of 19. He served four years as a radio operator in Hawaii. When he was discharged, he said he missed the camaraderie with the other Army recruits.
“They just gravitated toward me because I was more of a free spirit than anybody in the service,” he said.
He returned for a second tour in 1990, again as a radio operator and cook, this time stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado.
After his military service, Worthington said his life “fell apart.” He began drinking and using drugs. Even though he had a good paying job, he would borrow money from his employer to pay for his drugs and alcohol.
“I fell off, like falling off a cliff,” he said. “I was lost.”
Worthington lost his housing, forcing him to utilize the shelter system. But in 2009, Worthington met Sheila at Room In The Inn, and he said everything changed.
Finding hope at Room In The Inn
Worthington said he suddenly felt “hopeful. I wasn’t over yet. I had a second chance at my life.”
Five days later, Worthington was accepted into Room In The Inn’s veterans per diem transitional program through an intake by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Worthington said Room In The Inn staff welcomed and encouraged him, especially Sheila, whom he said was “instrumental” in his journey.
“She got me off the rail from falling off the cliff to back in the mainstream,” he said. “She taught me to confide in yourself and confide in people around you who are trying to do the same thing.”
He attended drug and alcohol recovery classes led by staff members, where he found a community of people struggling with addiction just like him.
“They were telling the story of their lives, but it was mine, too,” he said.
After two years in the program, Worthington had saved enough money to move into an apartment, where he stayed for seven years.
But then, Worthington’s health took a dive. His doctors told him that the blood pooling in his leg from neuropathy was out of control. It was either take the leg, or he could die.
Worthington returned to Room In The Inn in April 2017 to prepare for the surgery and save up money. When he finally completed the surgery the following August, he spent over a year in a hospital and rehabilitation facility learning how to live with only one leg. A wheelchair was part of his new normal.
“I didn’t string myself along on this journey to come up empty”
Worthington had every reason to see this as a major step back. But he refused to be defeated.
“I just kept saying to myself, ‘Someone’s worse off than me,’” he said.
Worthington returned to Room In The Inn even more focused on housing. His message to staff: “I won’t be here long.”
Before Worthington even had his surgery, he had his eyes on a house in LaVergne. But this time, he didn’t want to just rent a house. He planned to buy it. He started saving as much of his disability income as he could, and he left it in Room In The Inn’s escrow account even during the year after his surgery, knowing it was safe and secure until he needed it.
After the surgery, his disability income increased to 100 percent service connection, and he worked hard to save even more money.
And he didn’t lose his sense of humor.
Worthington recalled the time he tried to smuggle a foot-long Subway sandwich into the Guest House (outside food is not allowed) underneath the cushion of his wheelchair. As soon as he tried to pass it to another participant, staff member Melvin came around the corner and caught them in the act.
Worthington laughs, “Melvin kidded me so much about that sandwich being flat. He teased me for days for that. Ever since then, Melvin makes me stand up [when I come in the building].”
Now, with his home loan through the VA approved and a closing date secured, Worthington’s discipline is about to pay off.
As Worthington puts it, “I didn’t string myself along on this journey to come up empty.”
Worthington has already started dreaming about cooking ribs in his own kitchen and putting his own personal touches on the house.
He said he’s most excited about “decorating it—the freedom of who I am. I’m buying all new stuff.”
Worthington’s message to the ones behind
Worthington said even though he’s “run the gauntlet of life,” he hopes his positive attitude will inspire other homeless veterans to work toward housing and rehabilitation.
“You have to sit down and think about your life and be passionate about it,” he said. “Because life is short. Beautiful.”
He said in a community like Room In The Inn, you get out of it what you’re willing to put in.
“It’s not just the thing of taking away from something,” he said. “It’s becoming a part of something.”
Despite his obstacles, Worthington said it was important for him to look back and know that he gave his best every day.
“I’m blessed because I never went to bed mad. I went to sleep always with a good day behind me. Nothing to look over my shoulder for. And I’m proud of that.”