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‘FULL CIRCLE’ | Michigan man returns to the place that helped him overcome addiction

Rufus Alexander was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He experienced homelessness. But he found help, and now he's guiding other people going through similar struggles.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As the lunch crowd slowly finishes up and files out of the cafeteria at Mel Trotter Ministries, Rufus Alexander is in the kitchen. He's in the last hour of his shift and he's already focused on tomorrow's breakfast. As the blade of his knife slices through a stack of sausages, a co-worker walks by and the two exchange a smile and a laugh.

"He's an excellent guy to share your shift with because, you know, he's got a good trivia question or a good joke. Sometimes that's exactly what you need," said Stuart Christoff who serves as the senior director of dining services.

"Rufus is someone who immediately strikes you as confident and comfortable. He's got a way about him. He's charismatic, but in a somewhat gentle demeanor, and I immediately knew I wanted to be friends with this guy."

Rufus is a cook at Mel Trotter, but his good guy reputation extends far beyond the kitchen.

"This is the kindest, most gentle human being that I've ever known. He just has a demeanor about him that you want to be in his presence. You want to hang out and just have a conversation," said Beth Fisher who serves as the organization's chief advancement officer.

But life hasn't always been all smiles for Rufus.

"I used drugs for 43 years," he said.

"I put syringes in my arm and drank all the alcohol that I possibly could, and I smoked all the crack that I thought was possible. I didn't want to hear what Christ had to say to me, because drugs were more important. Alcohol and cold beer were very important."

Rufus knew he needed help, and he found it in 2018.

"I needed to get into a rehab, and Mel Trotter opened the door to me to go through their Step Up Program. I graduated from the program the first 90 days, but I wasn't ready to go out. So I stayed another 90 days. I was done after six months, and I went on with my life," he said.

After his time as a guest at Mel Trotter, Rufus worked odd jobs. He especially found joy cooking for first responders at Acts Gospel Ministries on the west side of Grand Rapids, where his brother Moses is a pastor.

Credit: Facebook/Larry Martin Jr.
Rufus Alexander serves meals to first responders.

That's when Rufus says God brought him back to Mel Trotter.

"I was coming down here one day to see my counselor, and he introduced me to the head cook that was here. He asked me did I want a job, and this is how I got to come back here," Rufus said.

In February, Rufus will reach five years of sobriety. He says he has integrity and that people can count on him now.

"Through the grace of God and coming to this program at Mel Trotter, I was able to go on to get my driver's license, which I never had. I own a vehicle that's paid for it, which I haven't had in 27 years," he said.

"My health is a lot better than what it was. My judgment is a little better, and a little clearer these days. My wife came back into my life, and she's here from New Jersey. She wanted to see if I could stay clean for a couple of years before she came, and through the grace of God, she's here now."

Credit: Provided
Rufus Alexander and his wife.

Rufus says he talks to Mel Trotter's guests whenever he can. He not only serves them food, but serves as an example of what a sober life could be like. He lets them know he believes that's something they could achieve.

"I'm grateful. It's full circle for me, from graduation and then to come back to cook here, because I slept here for six months. So the guys that are here now, I know where they're coming from because I was in the same boat," he said.

"I don't take this lightly. This is my life now - clean and sober, in order to have an open mind, to not be judgmental, and to be able to help somebody or just give a kind word to someone."

In order to keep offering people warm meals and the hope that comes with it, Mel Trotter needs donations, staff members, and volunteers.

"It's a great place. And we're already attracting the right kinds of people. So in an effort to do more of that, I call out to young chefs, whether they want to be volunteers, or or retired chefs that want to come and spend time still kicking the can around. You can do that here," Stuart said.

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