I'm Jason Knasinski, founder of Stronger by Choice. I grew up in Mansfield Ohio and went to Mansfield City Schools. Grew up very poor and moved around from one bad neighborhood to the next. It was pretty rough.
When I turned 18, I moved to Columbus Ohio to go to college for Computer Science. Began working for a large company at an entry level IT position. I moved my way up the corporate ladder in the IT world.
When I moved out of Mansfield, I brought what I thought wasn't a problem with me. Alcohol.
It became a big problem. Lost jobs and a whole lot more...
Joined the United States Army Infantry at age 29, to start over. I was not able to complete my full service agreement. Came back to Columbus Ohio to start over, again.
Started working in the computer field again. Worked my way up again. Continued a drinking problem, lost more jobs and much much more, yet again,
Once I used up the couch time at friends, I left Columbus Ohio and came to Mansfield since I had family here. I soon used up their couch time too so I slept in my car until it was repossessed. I sold whatever personal belongings left I had to buy a "beater with a heater" (and alcohol) and slept in it until it was towed for whatever reason.
I slept on a porch in a tent for during one winter. My only goal each day was to get alcohol and cigarettes. I had truly given up on everything else. I honestly did not care anymore.
During this time I found out the hard way that if I didn't drink enough I would have seizures. One day I was not able to get alcohol and had a seizure and fell down a flight of concrete steps, biting my tongue in half and cracking my heading open, bleeding everywhere, I walked to a drive through and begged for alcohol which they gave me and I remember passing out seeing ambulance sirens. When I woke up to hospital staff putting staples in my head and them explaining my new problem to me, letting me know they would release me when they were done. All I could think about is where I would get alcohol from so I wouldn't die... Least now when I beg for money I have a legit story to tell people? What a life I've drank myself into.
So clearly at this point I was on the road to death if this continued and I really didn't care. I think I had been arrested 9 times here in Mansfield for alcohol related things. I was thinking I was never going to be sober enough to get a job to pay the fines, to get back my license to get to a job, since they took my ID I couldn't get into the shelter I knew of here so I figured I couldn't get help anywhere.
Homelessness was hard, being and staying drunk was hard, trying to find a way and reason out of it was harder...
One cold, snowing winter night I passed out or fell in an alley somewhere. I woke up in the morning and couldn't move. I remember trying to yell out, can't be sure if anything came out, remember seeing sirens, remember it being dark, remember someone telling me my organs are shutting down and I have frostbite and hypothermia. Remember someone saying I'm lucky but I can't just stop drinking cold turkey. I said I have no help and nowhere to go. Someone said there is a place on Harker St. called Reaching Out, ask for Angie.
Angie Henke, founder of Reaching Out. I can't explain her story, I'd just mess it up. But she operated a winter shelter home on Harker St in Mansfield Ohio that was open to homeless men off the street with no ID requirements or other restrictions. It was funded only by public donations with no Government grants or funds. Ran by non-paid volunteers. Truly a one of a kind shelter.
I was not a star guest to say the least. Now that I had a place to stay in the winter all I needed to focus on was getting drunk. I was not a mean drunk but was a fall down drunk that didn't eat or shower much. Remember I didn't care much. I could be found passed out on the porch, crawling up the steps, falling out of bed and etc... After being kicked out and let back in couple times I began to see that Angie actually cared about people. There was no check for her, no clocking out and this made me curious, so I started helping out. Began to taper my alcohol off and seeing a doctor to help get sober.
I may have not cared about myself that much but I found myself relating to those who were staying there that I was helping. That started giving me a purpose which started making me care again.
It seems with my experience over coming being homeless, growing up poor, fighting alcoholism specifically in Mansfield Ohio is of help to others experiencing the same here. With Angie as a mentor, I originally started Stronger by Choice to focus on transitional housing while she ran the shelter. It came to a point where Angie needed to retire due to health reasons and I was offered to take over what she had started and ran for years. The shelters name was changed but is still runs the same way with only public donations without Government grants or funds. Only non-paid volunteers operate it, and it only continues to operate based off donations to pay the monthly utilities and etc... We currently have another home we are renovating to use as a transitional home.
I simply can't explain my life history/story on a single page. But this gives you an idea of where I came from and where I'm going. I'm upfront, open and not hiding anything about being arrested, an alcoholic, being homeless, growing up poor, giving up, yet overcoming and still fighting these seemingly overwhelming obstacles. This is what makes me connect to people I'm trying to help. This is why I do what I do...
Thanks for reading!
Jason Kaye on FB
(Note: On Facebook, my ID is Jason Kaye due to not being able to use my name because of an old account and for a last name you can't use just an initial, ie Jason K.)