With the support of HPOG, Charles Hacker didn’t just launch a new career — he got sober, too
When Charles Hacker’s mother passed away in 2015, he thought he was done with the medical field. He had nursed his mother through two years of illness. Although Charles had been a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in his home state of South Dakota, the loss of his mother made the idea of caring for others too painful to bear.
“Then one day when I was in CITC, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the flyer for the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG),” Charles recalled. “I felt a tug in my heart, telling me to look further into it.”
In June of 2018, Charles took a leap of faith. He enrolled in the HPOG program and began to take classes that would prepare him for a career in the health care field.
But Charles had one more hurdle to overcome: His struggle with addiction.
A Bad Spot
“I was very beaten down,” Charles recalled. “I was in a really, really, really bad spot. I didn’t know if I was going to make it.”
As early as thirteen, Charles said, he had been “putting something in my body.” Something ranged from huffing glue and cooking spray to smoking weed and abusing alcohol. These early addictions eventually led to cocaine and meth.
He grew up in South Dakota as part of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Even as he struggled with addiction, he managed to work as a CNA. But he had several run-ins with the law — including a felony charge of Grand Theft that would eventually come back to haunt him.
Despite his substance abuse problems, Charles managed to complete the HPOG program’s Preparing Alaskans for Training in Healthcare Academy. He obtained certifications in Mental Health First Aid, First Aid, Basic Life Support, and Bloodborne Pathogens.
Initially, he kept his struggles with addiction hidden from the HPOG team. Meanwhile, though, he had applied for the residential inpatient program at CITC’s Ernie Turner Center (ETC). Charles knew that in order to be successful as a healthcare professional, his sobriety would have to take priority.
In August of 2018, he was accepted to ETC.
“Charles recognized the importance of taking care of himself and that his sobriety needed to be his priority,” said HPOG Program Manager DeAnna Roering. “CITC was in his court, providing Charles with the crucial support that he needed to achieve his goals.”
Charles worked on his sobriety for half a year.
“Going through ETC, all the stuff they taught me — there were so many classes, it got to the point where it was kind of irritating,” he admitted. “But I think I needed every minute of it. It boosted my confidence and helped me not feel sorry for myself. They provided me tools to come out of treatment and move forward in my walk of recovery.”
By May 2019, Charles was ready to rejoin HPOG. But the CNA training he’d planned to do had been cancelled; his only option was to make an hour-long commute to attend training in Anchorage.
Throughout the fall of 2019, he dedicated himself to completing his training. Meanwhile, he transitioned out of ETC to a transitional home in Anchorage. Soon, he was celebrating a year of sobriety.
But one more challenge was just around the corner.
One Last Hurdle
Charles applied to take his CNA exam, necessary to earn his certification. But his application was flagged by the State of Alaska Board of Nursing: His felony had come up during the Board’s background search. Charles was informed that he might not be allowed to test at all.
“I was crushed,” he recalled.
While he worked on completing the list of tasks the Board required, Charles landed a job with the facility where his mother had lived. His employer gave him 90 days to become CNA certified. Charles knew that time was ticking; if he didn’t earn his certification within the allotted timeframe, he would be terminated.
On January 7, 2020, almost three months after his CNA training ended, Charles received a letter from the Board of Nursing: He had been approved to take his exam.
“It felt awesome!” Charles shared. “Man, what a weight off my chest!”
A short time later, HPOG Program Specialist Hannah Warren was calling Charles with the news: He had passed his test. Hannah recalled, “Charles was cool, calm, and collected; I was not surprised that he passed his exam. He was so grateful and relieved to hear the news. I was honored to share this moment with him and celebrate in his success.”
A Well-Lit Path
Today, Charles works as a CNA, and he is determined to continue his education to become a Registered Nurse.
Looking back on his journey with HPOG, he shared, “I went from being nearly homeless to having a bed at the ETC and then back to HPOG. I now have a steady job and I love what I do! Stay the course and HPOG will stay in your corner. My path is well lit now and with every step forward, it just gets brighter and brighter.”
And if you are looking for support on your recovery journey, reach out to CITC’s Recovery Services Department to learn about inpatient and outpatient services, youth recovery programs, peer support, and more.