Shadley Stephens is a Santa Cruz County native, born and raised by loving parents in the Santa Cruz Mountains. By all accounts, he had a stable childhood including school, soccer, Little League and church every Sunday.
But during his sophomore year in high school, after he started his first job as a part-time busboy in a restaurant, his lifestyle started to deteriorate. He began smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and smoking pot. Soon, Shadley was skipping school and work so that he could drink, get stoned and meet girls. Halfway through his senior year he left home, couch-surfed at friends’ places and dropped out of school.
Working at a restaurant exposed Shadley to a constant party atmosphere through which he was introduced to cocaine, then methamphetamines.
His lifestyle spiraled. He was often drunk or hungover, and found himself dreading going to work every day. Shadley was stuck in this mode for a decade before he decided to pursue his passion for graphic design and other artwork. But struggling with drug addiction and a toxic relationship that ended with a brutal break-up, he found himself alone and addicted.
With nowhere to go, he began life on the streets of Santa Cruz. At rock bottom he was stuck in a vicious cycle of homelessness, multiple incarcerations and probations, and ongoing drug addiction.
While in jail for the final time, Shadley met Darrie Ganzhorn, executive director of the Homeless Garden Project. Darrie introduced him to the job training opportunities available at the Homeless Garden Project. With the help of Encompass’s START (Successful Team Approach for Reentry Transition) program, Shadley created a plan for himself that included entry into New Life drug treatment center upon release from jail. While in the New Life program, Shadley started work at the Homeless Garden Project.
“Everyone at the Homeless Garden Project welcomed me with open arms, knowing my background and my struggles. Not once was I judged or treated poorly. I was quickly accepted into this unconditionally loving family,” said Shadley. “They have helped me not only figure out my goals, but they support me in accomplishing them as well. They are supporting me in my sobriety, and giving me a healthy atmosphere in which to grow.”
At the time of his graduation from New Life, and after just four months working at the Homeless Garden Project, Shadley was promoted to the position of field crew lead at the farm.
“I get to work on a beautiful farm every day. I’ve learned how to grow organic produce, and I eat fresh cooked meals daily from what we grow on the farm. I get to watch the plants grow from seed, while I grow alongside them as a human being. Caring and nurturing for these plants has re-taught me how to care and nurture for myself.”
Shadley has successfully turned his life around and is now taking classes at Cabrillo College. He hopes that his art and graphic designs will one day be on skateboards in Santa Cruz and beyond.
“People who are struggling with substance abuse and homelessness should know that there is a way out. But that door is not open until they are ready for it. My advice to them if this time ever comes in their lives, would be to hit the ground running and don't look back.”