Willis Middleton moves into a new apartment in Batavia tomorrow, and the day before yesterday, he signed his lease and picked up his keys.
At first, he didn't think much of it. He went back to his room at the VA Center, in the Cazenovia Recovery Program, and sat down on his bed and started looking for a keychain.
"After I put all the keys on the chain, I just stared at it and I was like, dang these are my keys," Middleton said. "I mean, I’ve had that before, but it just means a whole lot more. I was just staring at those keys and I was like, ‘wow.’ It’s been a long road and I’m very appreciative of the people who helped me. It’s just a great feeling, it really is."
The ladies of the VFW Auxiliary Veness Strollo Post #1602 in Batavia were among those who helped Middleton get to this point, which comes after years of struggling with addiction, in and out of rehab programs, until he was finally brought to one that is making a difference.
One of the key benefits of the program, Middleton said that at the end of it, counselors make sure patients don't go back to the same community and the same life and same associates they were mired in before.
"Let’s be honest, we all do rehab really well," Middleton said. "We all go in and make these promises we’re going to do better, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that, but then when it’s time to leave, we really didn’t have the resources, so basically we got threw back into that environment that we came from. Excuse my French, but snowballs stand a better chance in hell with that situation. But here, it gives you an opportunity to change everything, even your environment. I think that’s more important than anything, those resources and employment are more important than anything."
Middleton, originally from Cross, S.C., and most recently a resident of Durham, N.C., is getting a fresh start in Batavia.
He thinks that's wonderful.
"By the time this program came, it saved my life," Middleton said. "That’s really all I can say. It saved my life because I was thinking crazy, I was doing irrational things and, well, I ended up in the psych ward at the Durham VA. That was the beginning that put me on this road right here and I’ve been blessed to be on this road for so long, Thank God. I’ve been seeing all of these wonderful things that are happening to me now."
The VFW Auxillary is providing many of the necessities Middleton will need to get a good start in his new apartment. They've purchased for him, as they do many other veterans who have been through Cazenovia, a coffee pot, pots, pans, dishes, silverware, dishpans, a strainer, utensils, kitchen trash can, cleaning products, dish towels, oven mitts and potholders, sheets, blankets, a shower curtain, curtain rings, a wastebasket, toilet brush, plunger, towels, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, shaving products, alcohol-free mouthwash, curtains and furniture.
They ladies buy all that for multiple veterans with funds raised from Buddy Poppy sales, social events and raffles.
Middleton joined the Army when he was 17 and served four years. His problems, he said, started when he got out. He struggled with drugs and homelessness off and on, though he also had times of stability, but hit rock bottom in Durham.
"When I got here at first started learning about myself, it wasn’t a pretty picture at all," Middleton said. "It was kind of ugly, to be honest, but the more I stayed the course, the more it just was so obvious that if I didn’t want to die in my addiction, I knew that I had to change. I just had to get down and dirty and do it.
"This program has meant a lot to me," he added.
Photo: Pictured with Middleton are Jean Dolph, Daphne Cross and Judy Cooper, of the VFW Auxiliary Veness Strollo Post #1602.