Since launching The Baytown Project in 2014, I’ve shared stories of more than 1,000 people. And while there’s no way my 62-year-old brain can retain all those names and faces, many of their stories stick.
Most memorable are the challenging tales, where someone is going through a rough time but is working toward a more positive future. That hope-in-the-face-of-despair thing hits me right in the feels.
One such story belongs to Larry Pool Jr., 45, whose life was wrapped up in drugs, alcohol and related poor decisions. Last year, he found himself living on the streets of Baytown.
That’s when Teresa McCartney and her husband, Paul Hoffart, entered his life. The couple opened the doors of their small church, House of Mercy, and Larry decided to walk through.
The pastors not only offered him a place to worship, but also somewhere to live. The building on Cypress Street served as a temporary shelter for Larry and several others in the community.
It marked the start of Larry’s new lease on life. He has been clean and sober for about six months now, and he’s holding down a steady full-time job for the first time in 25 years.
But it gets even better. When a portion of Larry’s story was featured in the Sun’s Greater Baytown magazine in January, it led to him reconnecting with family members and friends he had lost contact with during his years of struggle.
It began with his uncle, Frank Still, who was staying at Comfort Suites while in town for doctor’s appointments. Frank happened to pick up a copy of the magazine in the hotel lobby.
He didn’t get a chance to flip through the publication until he returned to his deer lease in Apple Springs, where he’s living while a house is being built in Cove. When he saw Larry’s name and face in the magazine, it hit him like a ton of bricks.
“He told me that if he hadn’t already been lying down, he would have fainted,” Larry said. “He knew the way I had been living. He didn’t know what had happened to me, if I was alive or dead.”
It’s been about 20 years since the two had talked. After catching up on the phone, Larry is looking forward to seeing his uncle in person.
The magazine story also helped Larry reconnect with his older sister, Christy, who he hadn’t seen in eight years.
“We were about to start our church service one Sunday, when I got up to use the restroom. When I came back, there was this lady sitting in my chair. And I just have this thing about, that’s my spot. That’s my God spot, you know? So I was thinking to myself, how dare this lady sit there. It took me a minute for it to register that it was my sister,” Larry said.
Christy, who has been living in Deer Park, has become a regular with Larry at Sunday services.
Larry also has touched base with friends he hasn’t spoken with in years. He took a photo of the magazine story and sent it to one of his best friends growing up, who now lives in St. Louis.
“I’ve been seeing phone numbers in my dreams. So when I wake up, I just call and tell them, this is Larry Pool. It’s happened several times. That’s been pretty cool,” he said.
After speaking with his son’s grandmother, Larry is most excited about seeing the 19-year-old for the first time in about five years. The last time was when his son was a high school freshman, and Larry got to attend a few of his football games.
“When she told him about what’s going on with me, she said he kind of perked up. I’m definitely ready to reconnect with my son. I’m not sure when it will happen. I know it’s all in God’s time,” Larry said.
“I’ve got information that he may be smoking pot. So maybe I can use my story to let him know that’s not the way. He doesn’t need drugs, alcohol, none of that stuff. I can’t pressure him because I know that whenever people started telling me things like that, it just pushed me further into it. But I pray for him every night.”
While House of Mercy continues to hold services, it no longer functions as a shelter. Teresa and Paul did not have the funds needed to bring the building up to city requirements for that purpose.
Of the six people living there at the time, two managed to get their own place and the others found family or friends to take them in.
Larry followed Teresa and Paul, who are now renting a home in Baytown. They provided a room for Larry, who feels it’s important that he remain close to the couple who have been integral to his turnaround.
When we spoke recently, Larry was looking forward to paying rent for the first time. “In the past when I would get apartments, I just wouldn’t pay the rent. Two months after I’d be there, they’d kick me out. Because, of course, I’d use whatever money I had on drugs or alcohol.”
Opening their home to him is one more reason Larry believes Teresa and Paul have been a godsend.
“They’ve never given up on me. They’ve shown me a spiritual mother and father kind of love that I haven’t had in a long time,” he said. “They’re both very, very good to me. But they’re hard on me when it’s time to be hard on me. I don’t know. I feel kind of like I’m a little kid again, and they’re showing me the right way to go about life.”
It’s a daily battle to stay on course. But Larry never could have imagined he’d be where he is today.
“Never in a million years. I really thought that I was going to be alone for the rest of my life. I didn’t have the want-to to make a change. The drugs and the alcohol just had me so out there.”
Being able to reconnect with family and friends has meant the world to him.
“I believe it started with me. I had to forgive myself for being gone so long before I could get any chance for them to forgive me. I’ve really been working on myself, and I’ve been trusting in God. Now everything’s falling into place.”
Through The Baytown Project, David Berkowitz shines a light on everyday people in the greater Baytown area. Follow along at thebaytownproject.com, or on Facebook and Instagram.