TODAY   |  December 13, 2011

He went from homelessness to executive suite

Orlando Ward’s life took a downward spiral when alcohol abuse caused the 51-year-old to lose his job. He wound up homeless before working his way up to an executive position. TODAY contributing correspondent Jane Pauley reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> show contributor jane pauley is working with aarp, which has produced and sponsored our special series of reports, and this morning, jane has a story of a man offering hope to many who are experiencing these hard times . jane , good morning.

>> thank you, ann. orlando ward is starting a big, new job. he's a man in his prime at 51. but it was a long road to reinvention.

>> reporter: orlando ward is a familiar face on the streets of skid row in los angeles .

>> i consider myself somebody that's in the hope business. how are y'all doing?

>> reporter: he knows the business from both sides. he used to be one of the homeless. it wasn't supposed to be that way.

>> not even a little bit.

>> reporter: you were a star. a high school basketball star recruited by hundreds of colleges. he picked stanford. what the heck happened?

>> i thought a lot about that over the years. i landed a job. i had some success.

>> reporter: when did you actually fall off the rails?

>> happy hour became happy couple of hours, happy night, happy couple of days. somewhere during that period, i crossed that invisible line .

>> reporter: there were many years of drugs and denial and as many attempts at rehab, but ten times.

>> i had been coached all my life. i know how to take coaching. but i didn't feel it and i didn't live it.

>> reporter: finally, at the age of 38, he walked away. you just let go?

>> i let go of everything.

>> reporter: for two years, he was homeless. the people who loved you, did they finally cut you off?

>> yes. i remember i called my mom one day, some story about needing money again. and it was, orlando , i don't know what you're doing. i didn't raise you that way, but i can't help. and she hung up.

>> reporter: in the spring of '99, he began the slow walk back.

>> i'm sitting in my little cardboard box , and i just started to talk to god. i am an addict, i am an alcoholic, i'm here on skid row and i'll probably die here. my fight was gone. i had given up.

>> reporter: that's when he found his way to l.a.'s midnight mission . he got a job in the kitchen and started working his way toward recovery.

>> i spent over a decade of my life with the midnight mission as a client, as an employee, as a supervisor, as a manager, as an executive.

>> reporter: the highest ranking executive at the midnight mission ever to come off the street, vice president of operations. but everyone knows he started at the bottom.

>> absolutely. i don't hide it. i have a responsibility to demonstrate to people that are where i was that there's no limits. there's none. put it right into that basket.

>> okay.

>> all right? shoot. that's what i'm talking about.

>> reporter: did you ever get back to your mom?

>> oh, man, in a big way. my dad had a mild stroke. i was the first person they called. they rely upon me to be their son, and it does more for me than it does for them.

>> reporter: and today, he has a family of his own.

>> you know, god's not done with me. there's more to do, and i'm up for it. i'm game.

>> with 12 years of sobriety behind him, orlando is looking forward to a new appointment as director of community affairs at volunteers of america in l.a. the reality check. one of the keys to staying in recovery is that giving support is as therapeutic as getting it, which is why orlando has chosen to keep his work and talents in the community that saved him. and i hope you'll join me today at 12:00 eastern time for my live internet radio call-in show at aarp.org/ jane .

>> beautiful story, jane .

>> thank you.

>> it reminds us that god works in every one of us. thank you very much.

>>> coming up, we've got much more, including stocking stuffers with jill martin, after your local news.