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From a Life of Poverty to a Knowledge of Plenty

WC program director for substance abuse counseling teaches from
first-hand experience

Eddie WhiteThe best teachers are often those who teach from life experience.

During his life, Eddie White has experienced poverty, drug abuse, addiction, mental illness and homelessness. And, for the past two years, he has served as the program director for Weatherford College’s Human Service Provider/Substance Abuse Counseling program.

“I grew up in the petri dish of mental illness,” White said. “It doesn’t feel like many people get the opportunity to go from living in a dumpster to being the program director of a program that teaches people how to help those who are living in a dumpster. I feel privileged to have lived both lives.”

White grew up in a small farm town full of poverty in the 1960s and ‘70s, and, without access to basic resources, he didn’t learn to read until much later in life.

From the ages of 12 to 30 he struggled with drug abuse and addiction. He “couch-surfed” for a decade before finding himself living in a dumpster near the intersection of Hemphill and Rosedale in downtown Fort Worth for the greater part of 1989. For the most part, he avoided the shelters out of fear he would hurt someone.

“The shelters were always a resource but you had to fight for the resources,” White said. “I was a big guy and I was desperate and social settings were real scary to me. I never really wanted to get into a confrontation with someone I may harm, but I knew I would fight for myself. Living on the streets is a war zone. Everybody had the same mentality. They were willing to fight for their life. It was an everyday struggle.”

Then in August of 1989, White lost his shoes. This was the event that ultimately changed his life.

“I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t know what my problem was,” he said. “For some reason – the effects drugs had on my ability to think and reason – I didn’t think I had a drug problem. I didn’t think I had a living problem or an occupation problem. I just had a shoe problem.”

So he reached out for help. He contacted his father and confided in him that he was experiencing suicidal thoughts and had a plan on how to end his life. It was at that point his father helped him find placement in a treatment facility.

White has been sober since Sept. 9, 1989.

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Following treatment, White had a relationship which resulted in two children whom he ultimately raised on his own. This lead to its own set of challenges.

To help take care of the needs of his then 1- and 2-year-olds, White received government assistance but felt guilty about the money the government gave him. He asked a mentor what he could do to give back to his community in order to even the balance.

“He told me I needed to learn to read and get my GED,” White said.

Staff at his treatment facility in 1989 had realized he couldn’t read during the intake process and had started teaching him. This time around, he was properly diagnosed with dyslexia and taught how to manage this learning disability so he could learn to read.

White earned his GED in December 1993 and began taking classes at Texas A&M University in Commerce the following month.

“I was reading at about a third-grade level,” he said. “I had to continue to learn to read and use creative resources such as recording lectures since I couldn’t read or write as fast as everyone else. I would listen to the lectures over and over again.”

As a single parent, White completed a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Texas A&M University in 1998 with a 3.40 grade point average. He immediately applied and was accepted to graduate school at the University of Texas in Arlington, where he graduated with his master’s degree in Social Work in 2001.

With the foundation of his new life in place, White worked as the executive director of a battered women’s shelter and later at a drug treatment facility. When the economy took a nose dive in 2008, White feared substance abuse programs would be the first to see funding cuts, so he went to work at the Gatesville women’s prison units as a counselor, diagnostician and psychotherapist.

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In 2012, Joe Reed contacted White and asked if he would consider working as an adjunct at Weatherford College, which he agreed to. At the time, Reed was the program director for the Human Service Provider/Substance Abuse Counseling program at WC.

When Reed announced his retirement, he encouraged White to apply for the vacancy. White said the entire gamut of his life experience has prepared him for his job at WC.

“I’m very humbled by the idea that I have this job and that I have the opportunity to influence student lives and the lives that these students may influence in the community,” said White who has now been sober for 28 years. “It’s been a ride that I never dreamed possible.”

White is also happy to announce the expansion of the HSP/SAC program to the WC Wise County campus.

The Substance Abuse Counseling certificate program at WC prepares students for careers in substance abuse counseling and offers the student direction in human services.

Students completing the certificate program will have met the requirements for state licensing as a licensed chemical dependency counselor intern and for the examination process as a licensed chemical dependence counselor.

WC offers the remaining coursework for the Associate Degree in Applied Science as a Human Service Provider on the Weatherford campus. Articulation agreements and transferability with state universities are available.

For information regarding admission to the program, contact White at 817-598-6332, or visit his office, Room 128 of the Jack Knight Building.

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