Juan's Story: Living Life on Life's Terms

There is one primary reason I love social media: connection. In an instant, you can get an update on what's happening anywhere in the world. Two of my favorite Instagrams users are @humansofny and @natgeo (National Geographic). When viewing some of these photos and reading some of their stories, I suddenly feel smaller than my iPhone screen -- realizing the world doesn't revolve around me.

In December of last year, COS Student Juan Gonzalez had the same revelation when we was evicted from his apartment by his landlord. While this circumstance happens regularly, Juan's landlord happened to be his mother. 

"She didn't give me any notice. I left out of respect for her, and honestly, out of fear of jail if I stayed."

Juan has been attending COS since Fall 2011 and now has his A.A. in Construction Technology. 

"I take one day at a time," Juan tells me. "I didn't think I'd make it at COS for more than a semester."

While many students struggle following the light at the end of their academic tunnel, Juan's struggle involved between 40 and 50 other men. After his eviction, Juan spent a few nights with his sister, but ultimately landed at our men's shelter here at Visalia Rescue Mission.

"The Mission was the only place that offered me shelter and food, which allowed me to still pursue my goals."


At this point in our interview, Juan's story made me think of this photo from @humansofny taken last summer in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

"We don't like pictures like this. It is not good to deduce an entire country to the image of a person reaching out for food. It is not good for people to see us like this, and it is not good for us to see ourselves like this. This gives us no dignity. We don't want to be shown as a country of people waiting for someone to bring us food. Congo has an incredible amount of farmland. An incredible amount of resources. Yes, we have a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves." (Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo)

Juan didn't wait for someone to offer him an easy road to his goals, and he didn't let his situation take his dignity. At a homeless shelter by night, a college student by day, Juan is now riding high on the news of a full-ride to Fresno State University in the fall. 

"The shelter is a difficult place to live. There are 50 other people with different personalities, traditions, perspectives...a lot of them don't have goals. I think goals are very important. I study for five hours a day, everyday after class."

While he attributes this academic success to "hard work, determination, commitment, and study," the rest of life would have suffered without VRM, "I'd probably be in prison right now if I didn't have this support group to live life on life's terms. My experiences have brought me closer in my relationship with Jesus Christ."

While Juan is excited to continue on at Fresno State to receive his Bachelor's in Construction Management, his face lights up when mentioning the "Big City" somewhere. 

Wherever he ends up, VRM will be proud to have helped such a devoted man. In fact, we're feeling proud already. 

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Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.