Non-profit News

From Gangs to God to Giving Back

Nicholas Holbrook only has a few memories of his birth parents, but that’s probably a good thing. He was only three when his father slammed his little head into a door so hard it knocked the door knob off. It wasn’t punishment, though. His father said it would make him stronger. In another memory, Nicholas asked for a cookie, and his parents cut him with kitchen knives instead. He even ate dog food alongside the family pet, Floyd, when his parents refused to go shopping.

Nicholas blames the violence on drugs — both of his parents were addicts.

“Drugs change a person,” Nicholas said. “There is no right or wrong when someone is on drugs. All they want is the drugs, and they’re always right.” His parents died when Nicholas was three. His father was shot in a drug deal, and his mother overdosed.

A new family adopted Nicholas, but they weren’t much better. One time they told him they loved their biological daughter more than they loved him. It was a rough start, but Nicholas kept going. He ran away when he was 13 and couch-surfed until he graduated high school.

“To me, the hardest part was … being in school and people knowing that I didn’t have a place where I was. It felt kind of (de)grading,” Nicholas said. “I wasn’t really part of any social group. I didn’t have very many friends. I played football just to keep my anger out.”

Fresno Bulldogs

After high school, Nicholas started doing drugs.

“Life out on the streets got to be too much to handle,” Nicholas said. “I didn’t know what to do. High school gave me something to do. It gave me something that kept me busy, and upon graduating, I didn’t have anything to occupy my time … my first job out of high school was selling drugs.”

Soon enough, Nicholas found both something to do with his time and a long-sought-after group to belong to.

He joined the Fresno Bulldogs, a street gang affiliated with the Bloods.

It’s hard to believe Nicholas is only 24, that he has experienced so much in so little time. The five years he spent with the Bulldogs were some of the most eventful.

Once a rival gang confused Nicholas for someone else — apparently gangs don’t check IDs before they attack — and beat him until they broke his back. Then they left him to die on some railroad tracks. Thankfully, one of his friends heard him yelling and called an ambulance before the next train was scheduled to pass through.

Another time, one of the members of the Aryan Brotherhood gang held Nicholas hostage for a few hours in a drug deal gone wrong. Nicholas had an eight-inch knife for protection, but the other gang member took it and snapped it with his bare hands.

In that moment, Nicholas prayed for a miracle. Specifically he prayed for his friend to come find him and help him get away.

Nicolas detailed how, at that very same time, his friend felt an overwhelming need to go find his friend, Nicholas. He arrived just in time — the other gang member had a gun pointed to Nicholas’ head. The friend was able to diffuse the situation and the two got out with only a few broken bones.

Still involved in the gang, Nicholas started looking for something bigger, some other purpose for his life and the God he knew existed but hadn’t thought about in a while. He knew he had to leave California, leave the drugs and leave the gang life if he wanted to start over and think more clearly. When his friends, a married couple from the area where he used to sell drugs, got a spot at a shelter in Huntsville, Nicholas knew it was the chance he needed to get away.

Nicholas went in with the couple to buy a Cadillac for $500 and hit the road that same night. It was the first time Nicholas ever left the state, and he was headed 2,000 miles away from the only home he’d ever known. As soon as they started driving, things started happening that showed them just how kind people could be. They lost a tire outside of Houston. A stranger bought them a new one and give them $500. When their fan belt broke, another random person helped them fix it.

Nicholas didn’t know it at the time, but all of those things — the yearning for God, the blessings on the road and the chance to get away from Fresno — were about to add up to something good for him.

“I’ve always known who the Lord Jesus Christ was, but there was a time in my life where it just didn’t matter to me who He was,” Nicholas said. “I wasn’t following the path I should have been on. I wasn’t following Him. I was going after my drugs. When I realized that my life was literally a living hell … it wasn’t the life I wanted to live.”

Rose of Sharon

Nicholas’ friends got into a shelter exclusively for couples, so that meant Nicholas would still be out on the streets — albeit with new surroundings and nicer folks. He set up camp behind the Walmart on Sparkman Drive and got ready to start a new life.

That was five months ago, but things have been looking up since then.

One day Nicholas walked over to the Rose of Sharon thrift store and soup kitchen with a unique proposition: Instead of asking for food and handouts, he wanted to help them serve others.

Now he volunteers there every day and is in the process of getting a new photo ID — something he desperately needs in order to get a new job. But more than anything, Rose of Sharon has given Nicholas something he lost a long time ago in California.

“I struggle, but I have hope,” Nicholas said. “I know where I’m going. I have hope for the future. I found the hope that I wasn’t able to find in California because I was so stuck.”

Sharon Walker founded Rose of Sharon more than 13 years ago. Since then, the soup kitchen has served more than 200,000 people in the Huntsville area with food and clothing. The nonprofit operates on donations, without any government funding or grant money. You can make a monetary donation through PayPal or drop off thrift-store donations at their North Huntsville location, located at 2412 North Memorial Parkway, 35810.

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