Meet Vernon Kirkland. But you can call him Kirk, everyone else at the Eagle’s Nest Ministry on Edgewood Avenue in downtown Atlanta does. On any given day, say about dark-thirty in the morning, you can find him running around the kitchen, helping to serve dozens of homeless who come by for a hot breakfast.
He is, says Larry Arnold, the long-time pastor of Eagle’s Nest, a magical and positive force for the organization’s outreach programs in the area as well as an inspiration to so many who struggle with addiction on the streets of downtown Atlanta.
That’s because Kirk hasn’t always been this steady. For most of his life, in fact, he’s struggled with alcoholism. Take your pick, choose your flavor, it was all the same for Kirk; whisky, bourbon, scotch, malt liquor (the plague of downtown Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn district, he and Larry Arnold say.)
And it’s been a long ride. As a tot, Kirk says, he would wander the aftermath of his mother’s liquor-drenched parties, sipping the remains of the diluted and strange-smelling drinks. By elementary school, he had developed a taste and not long after, found himself regularly fighting through hangovers.
Thus followed the nightmarish course of his life; moving from city to city, from job to job, on the streets, his only companion the one that was killing him.
And then, in the depths of his hopelessness, he stumbled upon Larry Arnold, a man who cared enough to give Kirk a reason to quit and a reason to live.
“I knew he could do it,” Larry will tell you, looking over at Kirk busting his butt -- and feeling oh so good about it -- for the sake of others.
And indeed – although he says the temptation will always be there -- he has done it. Sobriety is home.
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Vernon "Kirk" Kirkland, 48, continues to work at Eagle's Nest Community Church - a Downtown Atlanta ministry that serves the homeless.