Camp Haven gala features inspirational testimonials

Camp Haven supporters were impressed by the success stories of program graduates at its annual Diamonds in the Rough Gala at the Grand Harbor Golf & Beach Club last Saturday evening. In addition to cocktails, dinner, auctions and music by the Deja Blue Band, guests were treated to a peek into the lives of the men at Camp Haven, a supportive transformational shelter for local homeless men.

Former Camp Haven resident Vetson Derisse sent a surprise video message from Texas, where he is currently serving as a private in the U.S. Army. Derisse credited the two years he lived at Camp Haven for enabling him to rise out of homelessness and move forward to a better life.

In another moving video and later as the evening’s keynote speaker, Wil Harris shared his story of finding his way out of a rough Miami neighborhood and into a successful life as a congressional aide in Ohio, only to make a series of poor choices that caused his world to come crashing down. Harris moved to Vero Beach with just $400 in his pocket and quickly found out he was in an even worse situation. Homeless and alone, his call to Camp Haven was the point at which his life turned the corner.

Through hard work, self-reflection and Camp Haven’s programs and support, Harris was provided with the “hand up” he so desperately needed and he is now a successful entrepreneur.

“I never knew a program like this existed. I don’t know where I would be right now if I hadn’t reached out to Mrs. Janke,” said Harris, referencing Lalita Janke, Camp Haven executive director. He said he was humbled by the stories of fellow residents, and noted that in the black community there is a stigma toward counseling and seeking help.

“Camp Haven helped save me. They gave me an opportunity to reset the dial. I was able to gather my thoughts and create a new plan. I went through the business program at IRSC, received the 2015 [Student] Entrepreneur of the Year Award and put my business plan in motion, all because of Camp Haven and the resources that they offered me,” explained Harris.

Today, Harris lives on his own, has a car and his own business as a professional speaker. He has written two books, “The Wicker Diary” and “A Quick Guide to Personal Development,” and was featured in a TEDx Talks video.

Camp Haven programs help local men to transition from homelessness to a life of self-sufficiency by providing a stable environment, food, shelter, medical care, counseling and mentorship.

“They come to us in various stages of brokenness. They are financially, emotionally, mentally and spiritually broken. They initially claim they just want a bed for their head, but we help them find their hearts through psychological education. Every man is a ‘diamond in the rough’ and it is our job to bring out the best in him,” said Janke, noting that they have assisted 175 men over the past four years.

Janke added that these men have often lost faith in themselves, perceiving that they were looked down upon by society. The goal of the nonprofit is to help them overcome the brutal reality of homelessness and the feeling that they are nobodies.

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Photos by: Stephanie LaBaff
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