RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News continues a special series with The Valentine, profiling people and organizations that have helped to shape our region. CARITAS serves 3,500 people every year, just one reason why it was a winner of the 2014 Richmond History Makers award.

When John Eshler comes back to CARITAS, it’s like coming home.

“You’ve got all this huge support network that’s going to help you go on forward,” says Eshler.

He struggled with alcoholism for years until he found CARITAS. It started in the 1970’s as an emergency homeless shelter and eventually added three more services:

  • CARITAS Works teaches job and life skills
  • The Furniture Bank stocks essentials for families furnishing a home and offers employment.
  • The Healing Place gives men like John the tools they need to recover from addiction.

“When nobody else was willing to help me, CARITAS and the Healing Place reached out a hand and helped me,” explains Eshler. “Not just giving me a hand out but a hand up.”

Adds CEO Karen Stanley, “It’s very rewarding to see folks like John who have all the capacity in the world and just needed someone to believe in him and needed a leg up when he was down and help him get back on the right track.”

Stanley says CARITAS stands by the most vulnerable members of our community from crisis to stability.

Volunteers are a big part of the equation. Last year more than 18,000 from 184 congregations helped with shelter efforts. Others staff the Gathered Goods Marketplace pop-up thrift shop. Proceeds go directly to the programs and people.

“It’s such a unique organization that sort of gets behind you and rallies,” Eshler says.

He’s now taking what he learned from CARITAS to open his own coffee shop in Midlothian. He is determined to make a mark in the community just like the History Makers who got him on his path.

“For me, that’s what this is all about, really being able to look somebody in the eye, tell them you’re proud of them and just see where their life takes them,” Stanley says with a smile.

8News is proud to sponsor the 2015 History Makers awards. Nominations will be accepted until Tuesday, June 30.  Nominate an individual, company or organization by following this link. Five winners will be honored at a ceremony on October 20.