A Full-Circle Journey in Recovery

Jim – or “Jimmy” as his family calls him – Engelhardt brings a unique perspective to his work as an alcohol and drug counselor at Joseph House; he has walked in the same shoes as his clients.

In fact, the 71 year old is a former Joseph House client himself. Now going on 10-years sober, his journey hasn’t always been an easy one. His recovery helped him pinpoint some of the root causes in his battle with addiction.

“I learned that something traumatic happened to me as a child,” recalls Engelhardt. “I was looking for relief and I found it in alcohol.”

Client Mike Tenhundfeld speaks with Jim Engelhardt.

He had his first drink when he was 14, sparking a downward spiral. Engelhardt struggled with school and eventually flunked out of college. He set his sights on military service. Both his dad and grandpa were sailors, so the Navy seemed like a natural fit. Engelhardt served during the Vietnam War. 

“I was 20 miles off the coast working on phantom jets. Three good friends of mine were killed in a plane crash while returning from the Philippines. I also saw a guy fall over the side of our ship. We lost him. It hurts to even think about it. Some of my comrades returned with PTSD.”

Upon returning from service, Engelhardt had a hard time keeping a job. And without a regular paycheck, homelessness became a harsh reality. He went to treatment nearly a dozen times before finding Joseph House.

“I wasn’t planning on drinking, but I always ended up drinking. When I came here to get help, I started crying. I thought I was doomed to die. I was broken.”

Engelhardt credits the camaraderie with fellow veterans and a discovery of faith with keeping him serious about his recovery. “It took a long time to repair me. The team at Joseph House was patient with me and was extremely helpful in my recovery. It all came together at the right time.”

Following treatment, Engelhardt was determined to get an education. He knew he wanted to go into social work and he turned those aspirations into reality. He obtained an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree and, finally, a master’s degree.

“I was 68 years old – the oldest in my graduating class – when I earned my master’s.”

Eventually, Engelhardt’s journey would lead him back home to Joseph House. He was hired as an alcohol and drug counselor in January 2019. Engelhardt meets with clients to understand their journeys and help them achieve their goals on the road to recovery.

“It’s a dream come true. I wake up every morning, happy to go to work. I have never done that in my entire life. These are my people. I can relate with them. I can empathize with them. I went through treatment here, I recovered here and now I am working here. I am giving back what was given to me freely, and I love what I am doing.”