Stories of Recovery

  • 2017 Climb Team

    Becky Vinson

    She is on our team.

    Becky Vinson is known for her deep love of others and an “I-can-do-that” attitude. This last year, she was one of our community climbers with our Climbing Out program. Her wit, sass, and southern charm is top-notch in our book. Becky is one of a kind. Recently we had the opportunity to interview her and hear more about what makes Becky, Becky. She shared her ups and downs, the courage needed along the way and some of her reflections on the climbing program.

    We are glad to know her. She is on our team.


    Becky lived through more real-life nightmares than most kids ever should. One of her earlier memories was losing her father. He was murdered at a local pool hall after a fight broke out. Her family was devastated and she felt horrified that she never was able to say “goodbye”. Things got worse. Home life was hell. With a very abusive step-father at home, home was not “home” at all. During Becky’s senior year in high school she was kicked out of her house. She was homeless and just looking to catch a break.


    Growing up on a hog farm in North Carolina teaches a kid a thing or two about hard work. She possessed some deep seeded grit and toughness, or at least enough to keep moving. Becky knew she had to do something more than stay homeless and one day, she finally caught her break.


    There was a posting for a military test in town and if you showed up you would get donuts. She thought, “I don’t think the military is for me, but I’ll go for the donuts and take the test.” She ate donuts, and to her surprise, she aced the test. “Every branch of the military was calling,” said Becky. The first shimmer of light was breaking through. She thought, “this will get me off the streets. They have food. I will get education and money. I have to do this.”

     “Every branch of the military was calling.” The first shimmer of light was breaking through. She thought, “this will get me off the streets.”

    A few months later she was at boot camp facing another challenge; one that became a defining moment in her story.


    “I’ll never forget this as long as I live. During one of our trainings, I really wanted to take a breather; I couldn’t keep going. They don’t let you do that there. The drill sergeant was yelling at me and I told him ‘I can’t do it’! I think he saw I was actually trying and I was serious. The sergeant broke out of character a bit and said, ‘Listen if you put your mind to it, you can do it’. That’s pretty much all I needed. Thank God, he said that! That changed my mind set forever. I already was doing this, but it sunk in deep then. And it’s changed me forever. It’s now the attitude I always hold.”


    After the military Becky continued to beat the odds. She aced most of the ACT and decided to become a nurse. “I could then finally legit go to college; I knew I was smart. No one in my family went to college. When I was young I was told I was dumb and I trusted that. It was totally false. To come from being homeless to going to college; this is still my greatest personal achievement to date. I was so happy to be there! I was like ‘EDUCATE ME, I’M ALL IN!'”

    “‘Listen if you put your mind to it, you can do it’. That’s pretty much all I needed.”

    This narrative of overcoming impossible challenges continued on and on. As a senior in college she adopted a 14-year-old kid from a church she was attending. He went on to play in the NFL. She traveled to other countries to help with their medical practice. She knew that administering medicine was needed in those desperate lands, so she went back to school and became a nurse practitioner.



    This past year we journeyed with Becky’s and her story as she joined our Climbing Out climbing team.

    She wanted to face another challenge; the “impossible” goal of climbing Mt. Rainier. And also to do it with what she calls “MY PEOPLE”. “If they can do it, I can do it, and vice versa. This is just another obstacle and I am not afraid.” Becky’s vibrant personality became a gift for the entire team. And more importantly, Becky, like the rest of the obstacles in her life, continued to show up with the attitude of “If you put your mind to it, you can do it.” On a fitness level, she was a long shot to be ready and able to climb. But by the summer, Becky had “wow-ed” us. She trained and trained and trained. She was ready. And she climbed mountains.


    Some significantly challenging moments earlier in life made Becky the woman she is today. Taught her she is stronger than she thinks she is, and wth a team you can go far in life. Becky, you are a dangerously-brave, fun-hearted mountain climber my friend.

    “This is one of the most life-changing volunteer experiences I’ve ever had.”

    When asked “what would you say to others considering volunteering?” Becky’s replied by saying: “You’d be a fool not to do it. I am a person that does enormous amounts of volunteer work everywhere I’ve been. This is one of the most life-changing volunteer experiences I’ve ever had. Try it out!”


    Becky’s story inspires us. She is on our team.


  • 2015 Climb Team

    Mike Rivera

    Mike was tired of being lonely and was hungry for more.

    Growing up in Puerto Rico and surrounded by a hard family life, at a young age Mike came to believe he was unlovable. Never living with his mom and dad at the same time, the feeling of “home” and “security” was uncommon. The people that were supposed to love him the most, not only neglected him, but eventually left him altogether. After decades of living with low self-esteem, hating himself, and using drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain, Mike desperately wanted a change.

    After finishing a free meal at the Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, Mike noticed the hope of the men’s lives in the addiction recovery program at this mission. That’s all he needed; he was in for a change, hoping for one that would last a lifetime. That hope would turn into more life and love than he expected to ever find. Shortly after joining the program, Mike joined the climbing team. More like a family, this team supported him in recovery and changed his paradigm on relationships altogether.

    “It was a family away from family. When I knew no one in Seattle, all of a sudden I was with a bunch of people that were giving me more love than I’ve been given in long time.”

    “Truly what helped the most was being around others constantly, especially through physical training and hiking created new friendships. I began to trust the climb team. Overtime, the constant encouragement and camaraderie of the climbing team began changing me. I began believing and knowing that the men and women I was around had my back no matter what. This changed me forever. “

    “These accomplishments will never be forgotten. I talk to a lot of guys I climbed with in 2015 still and we all have been significantly impacted by this climbing program. This becomes like a family or really church. We check-in, encourage, and support one another through life’s ups-and-downs”

    Mike now works at Amazon and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, and is on his 3rd year of sobriety.

  • 2015 Climb Team

    Sam Roa

    Growing up in the northwest, Sam never knew stable and healthy relationships.  Between his family never settling in one place, his mom struggling with a drug addiction and eventually leaving her family for a gang member; the pain of broken relationships only grew. Sam had to grow up quicker than most. Learning how to fend for himself, he quickly got mixed up with the wrong crowd. An addiction to meth and selling drugs became his life after serious heartbreak and failed work opportunities. Sam eventually found himself homeless and desperate. Looking for help, Sam checked himself into the addiction recovery program at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. He knew anything positive would be better than the life he was currently living.

    Sam found hope and life there. And over that year, Sam decided to continue to challenge himself and join the climbing team.  This team challenged him not only to grow in healthy relationships, but also grow in his relationship with himself. Sam was overweight, out of shape and he knew it. Being out of shape, put him “behind” the rest. He knew the challenge ahead was significant. To succeed he knew he needed to not quit on himself, and when he wanted to quit, Sam learned that his team would not quit on him either.

    More and more self-confidence grew workout after workout for Sam. He learned he could do more than he ever imagined with the encouragement of a team and learned what teamwork was really all about for the first time. Unknown to him, the largest challenge he faced was still ahead. After months of training and getting into shape, Sam unfortunately failed to summit Mt. Hood (A mountain, climbers must summit to continue on to Mt. Rainier ). His climbing with the team had ended.

    Sam was frustrated with himself and felt like a failure. Sam was faced with a difficult question, “How am I going to respond to this difficulty?” With the support of his leaders, and the encouragement of the team, Sam decided to continue to show up. He continued to train, continued to support those climbing, and took on a new role; ‘team encourager’. Before the team left for Mt. Rainier, Sam helped load the van, prepare meals and load packs. He also did something no one expected, he wrote a letter of encouragement to each of his teammates for each of them to read up on the mountain. This response was transformative. This was a summit Sam climbed for all; one that will always be regarded as a “higher summit” than any mountain top.

    “The reward was not the mountain, it was the relationships and lessons we learned along the way. They say it’s not about the destination, but the journey, and this has never been truer.”

    “I felt healthy as a person. I had never felt like that before. The guys would say ‘we need you here’ or ‘we need you still, to encourage us, please don’t leave’. They didn’t look at me like I was not on the team. They wanted me there. This brotherhood and this team changed me”.

    “These people chose to be a part of this program. These guys were bold and strong. They were like family. We were a core group that really came to love each other. We all really wanted to be good, to do good, to live good lives, and to show others how to do the same. It’s been two years and we still check up on each other. This family and this good still continues today.”

    Sam remains healthy and connected to his team of support, and recently received a great job as a correctional officer at a state prison.

  • 2011 Climb Team

    Scott Sowle

    2011 & 2016 Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission Graduate. 2011 Mt. Hood Summit.

    Scott was ready to end it all by throwing himself off of Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge. But something stopped him. When he made his way to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, he was desperate for any kind of change.

    Abandoned with his grandparents at age four, Scott grew up a natural athlete. He sought the adrenaline and escape brought by extreme outdoor sports – and drugs and alcohol.  By his 40s, his life had spiraled out of control into homelessness.

    His time at the Mission and on the mountain put a firm foundation under his feet – finalizing his commitment to sobriety and the depth of his healing. Scott now interns full time in Seattle and helps lead Team Mission, a program connecting community runners with individuals in recovery regaining their fitness.

    “Being on the very first team gave me an opportunity to maybe have a dream become a reality – to climb Rainier.

    “It brought together a team of men striving for a new life. It taught me that without others, life isn’t accomplished. Having been on Hepatitis C treatment during training and the attempt, I learned to work through struggles. Then the real struggle began during the climb.

    “My treatments made me sick and on the way to Camp Muir I became sick. It was decided that I should not continue on. This is where the struggle really began. I felt like a failure again. That was a fear.

    “It wasn’t until 2 days after the return from the summit did I really overcome a struggle in life. I understood that I was loved and worthy – that it’s not about doing what we want to do – but listening and accepting where He has us in life is ok. I’m accepted for who I am today.

    “I’ve since been to the summit of Rainier and many other Pacific Northwest glaciers. These summits still teach me more about life, but that first attempt taught me that if we don’t succeed, to put that to good use when attempting another summit in life. “

    Read more of Scott’s story featured in local media!

    Climbing out of homelessness: Five men conquer drugs and Mount Rainier – Tuesday, August 23, 2011 – By Judy Lightfoot /

  • 2017 Climb Team

    Angela Buggert

    Angela’s (on the right in photo) addiction to heroin started when she was just 16. For over 10 years she wrestled in the clutches of this merciless disease. But just last year this sober and confident 26-year-old graduated the Tacoma Rescue Mission recovery program and summited Mt. Rainier with a new understanding of the power of her own ability coupled with a community that loves her.

    “The climb did wonders for my recovery and my confidence in myself.

    “I think I could have gotten clean and stayed clean without (being on the climb team), but I think the confidence I have from it … I mean, I climbed Mount Rainier. I still look at it and get goosebumps.

    “A year and a half ago I didn’t have a single person that would trust me with anything. I didn’t have anyone that I trusted, and I didn’t have anyone who trusted me. To be a part of this team, where literally you trust each other with your lives … it’s a serious thing.

    “It’s just been a huge part of my recovery.”

    Read more about Angie’s story featured in local media!

    Tacoma Rescue Mission group topples addiction and the state’s highest peak – Wednesday, September 14, 2016 – By Matt Driscoll / The News Tribune

  • 2014 Climb Team

    Kristy Ford

    2014 Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission Oaks Program Graduate. 2014 Mt. Hood Summit


    Meth was Kristy’s drug of choice. Introduced to it in college, this drug did for her what the alcohol abuse and bulimia couldn’t: numb the memories of abuse that started at the tender age of three. Especially after surviving a near-death experience at the hands of her violent first husband, Kristy could not break free from addiction. She was picked up on drug charges and incarcerated.

    Upon release she made her way to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission – to experience lasting change and healing for the first time in her life. Kristy summited Mt. Hood, graduated from the program, and now is developing a cosmetology program to provide job-skills and training to other women in recovery.

    “There are so many things that I gained from my climb team experience. The main thing I have taken with me is confidence and my relationships with fellow climbers.  Coming out of prison after having been in a life of abuse, addiction, and homelessness, I lacked confidence in myself. I felt like I wasn’t worth anything and that I was a burden to those around me. Like I had nothing to bring to the table and I was lucky to be included in anything.

    “This was not so when it came to being on climb team.  On the climb team we were all struggling towards our personal best. Our goal was big and it was something we could not do on our own. We needed each other for support and to believe in one another when we didn’t believe in ourselves.

    “Most importantly, Jesus was at the center of everything that we were doing. Training climbs would often be the place where I learned the most about Jesus and it wasn’t in the quoting of Scripture, (although there was a lot of that and that was very helpful when we needed encouragement like our team’s Scripture of Psalm 121), it was is the depth of the caring we had for one another. We truly cared about each other and how our hearts were doing. We cared about the things that were important to each of us, in a very real way. In this way the love of Jesus came alive for me and for all of us.

    “It didn’t matter what our background was or what job title we had or whether we were in a place of need or in a place where we were able to give. I learned a priceless life lesson working together toward conquering Mt. Rainier with this group of believers. We are all equal in the eyes of God, we all struggled the same and we are all worthy of love and being cared for.

    “Being an addict often comes with a feeling of being less than those who seem to be able to function in normal society, however, climbing alongside the very people I thought I was less than or different than gave me such a gift.  We are all the same. I need them and they need me and most importantly we all NEED Jesus.”

    Read more of Kristy’s story featured in local media!

    Climbing Out of Homelessness With Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission:  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. – Tuesday, Aug 5, 2014 | By Matt Driscoll / Seattle Weekly 

  • Stories of Recovery

    Volunteer Story: Hillary Grigel

    I was intimidated at first, thinking I had nothing to offer these women – no professional experience with case management, and no personal experience with abuse or addiction. How would I relate? But as we began working out together, it was readily apparent that we would relate to one another just like I do with any other woman in my life – through jokes and laughter, commiserating in the pain of one more set of squats, and starting to share little bits and pieces of our lives: our hopes, our fears, and our faith.

    On hikes outdoors we joined the men and I grew to find these guys my big little brothers. I could bring into the mix my experience hiking, but learned about mountaineering with the team. We worked up to Mt. Hood. It was incredibly amazing and difficult. By the time it was over we were a family forged by suffering and success. Mt. Rainier was a time I’ll never forget. There is something to be said about doing the hardest physical and mental thing you’ve ever done in the company of a team that is like family. When you think you can’t do it – and someone alongside you says, “I know you can” and they push you even when you hate them for it. Later you love them for it.

    The hard work and the time together melted all perceived barriers. We were one team, struggling together and supporting each other together. On our ladies’ team the sisterhood was fierce – we cried together over broken relationships due to addiction, and hoped with one another for God’s healing power. We shared our vulnerable needs and found everyone a bit ashamed to say how much they felt like they were unlovable and yet shyly eager to receive love. We went to court hearings and weddings together – the running store and the 7-11 for post workout Slurpees. Not only did I realize I could climb incredibly difficult mountains with the help of my friends – but I realized that these friends were the ones that I would keep for life.

  • 2011 Climb Team

    Christian Downs

    How it all began…

    It all started with trying to fit in with a crowd that I “thought” were “friends”. I was raised better, I knew better, I can’t believe I ever used drugs; it went from cocaine, to crack, to pain pills, to heroin. With each change it got worse, until the people that were always around me were gone. I was making good money and stayed employed while addicted to opiates; but the double lifestyle could only be hid and functional for so long. I found myself alone and enslaved to the next session of getting high. I was using non-stop just to maintain, feel normal, and not be sick. It was just a matter of time before I would end up homeless, in prison, or dead.

    Luckily, it didn’t get that far, I was never homeless. A work intervention sent me to a program (28-day) that I completed to appease others and keep my job, but I wasn’t ready to get clean. After losing my job and getting desperate, I entered the Climbing Out of Homelessness (COH) program and the UGM recovery program together. It was a big part of my success. I have been clean off of all drugs for 5 years now.

    It gave me something positive to look forward to. It gave me people that were there for me in good times and difficult ones. I finally had real friends that were doing positive things and not just getting high. It helped me turn into a person that does the right thing for the right reasons, and not just when someone is looking or for recognition. It helped me to put others ahead of myself and to trust people. I then also became worthy of being trusted. Most of all, it motivated me to get outdoors and see more of the beauty of God’s creation with healthy community. I believe the COH program will help others, like it helped me to find the life I was meant to live.

    I still love to hike, and do so often with climb team alumni as well as my wife Kari of two years. My climbing experience helps me often relate to people from many backgrounds while working with Alpha USA as the Regional Director of Washington State. I will continue to Climb trails, but more importantly the mountains of life. Thanks COH.

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