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John Houston Overcomes Addiction to Help Others

A former addict, he is now a public school counselor, coach and founder of the Renton Youth Advocacy Center. Sponsored by Grape-Nuts.

About this sponsorship: In honor of the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent of Mount Everest, Patch and Grape-Nuts are teaming up to highlight those who inspire people around them to climb their own mountains.

John Houston recalls one of the happiest days of his life was graduating from Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington, with a degree in Family Services as a chemical dependency counselor as his two grown daughters watched. No one would have predicted the 59-year-old's success when he dropped out of Renton, Washington’s, Hazen High School in 1972, where he was an all-state basketball player.

“I am a recovering addict and abused drugs in junior and senior high school which eventually led to a serious drug addiction, which lasted most of my adult life. It did not stop until I was arrested and sent, as part of my probation, to a life changing program called Kitsap County Drug Court,” he said.

After successfully completing the program, he returned to college in his 50s, decades older than most of his fellow students. Since graduating, Houston has used his life experience and education to help many young people stay on their path to success through his work as a counselor and coach and founder of the Renton Youth Advocacy Center.

Q. What goal are you trying to achieve right now?

“There have been many goals that I have achieved in my recovery that I never would have dreamed possible, but the biggest goal is one that I am working on right now. I am founder and director of a nonprofit called Renton Youth Advocacy Center. RYAC will be a teen drop in center serving middle and high school aged students. Opening the doors to RYAC will provide a safe positive environment in the after school hours and will provide tutoring, mentoring, drug/alcohol education and life skills training. It will also give area kids an opportunity to become good citizens and invest in their community by participating in community service events. I know, as do many on the RYAC executive board, that when kids know there are adults who care about them and are willing to invest their time in them, attitudes change. 

Q. What inspired you to take on this challenge?

I feel very fortunate to be alive and to have this opportunity to give back to kids and to the city I love, so my goal was to start a drop in place to serve at-risk teens, much like myself when I was younger. I was a youth who was at risk and know by offering kids a safe place to go after school and during the summer months we can change young lives. Daily I see kids like I once was, with nowhere to go after school and no one waiting for them at home, wandering the streets, getting high and committing crimes. I also knew that due to budget cuts, many of the City of Renton recreation buildings have been closed for several years. I put the two together; wandering kids and empty buildings and started working with Renton Police Department and some of their youth activities and together with a few of the police officers came up with the idea of a teen drop in center. It is ironic that the same police department, who had dealt with me as a kid, is now partnering with me to help kids like me.

Q. What will you do when you succeed?

I honestly feel that I was meant to do this work and my personal experience has allowed me to connect to even the toughest kids. Every step of the way I have shared my story of an addition that started as a teenager and lasted for almost 40 years to students, many of whom after hearing it, say they will never do drugs. Renton Youth Advocacy’s success will be measured by providing a service for area teens, with the knowledge that each time a teen drops into RYAC means less kids we lose to drugs, crime and  dropping out school.

Richard Bray May 10, 2013 at 06:43 PM
Great story of redemption! Congratulations John for your work to begin the Renton Youth Advocacy Center to help young people. Each of us has a cause to champion. Find yours!
Ange May 11, 2013 at 06:03 AM
This story made me smile!

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