As a superintendent who at one time or another has been declared expendable by an employer, Bart Miller knows a thing or two about bouncing around and wondering where his next paycheck might come from. That experience has helped reaffirm the knowledge that there are people out there, and a lot of them, who need a second chance; a hand up rather than a handout. He sensed just that in a homeless panhandler near the Washington, D.C. golf course where Miller is the superintendent.
By John Reitman •
A story of healing
Each morning, when he stopped in for his morning coffee at a gas station near the entrance to historic Langston Golf Course, Miller would speak with one panhandler in particular whom he referred to simply as Milton. He'd offer him a buck or two, along with the occasional conversation.
There was just something about Milton that, to Miller, stood out from the other 11,000 estimated homeless people wandering the streets of the nation's capital.
"I could tell this guy had something going on," Miller said. "One day, I asked him what would it take to get you out of this? He told me no one was willing to give him a chance, but if they would, they wouldn't be sorry."
That was the day Miller pointed to nearby Langston and told Milton to stop in and fill out an application.
What ensued was the hiring of an unlikely job candidate and a story that ended in a homeless vagrant who earned back the trust of his wife and children. It's a story of courage, redemption, trust, faith and love for one's fellow man.
What ensued was the hiring of an unlikely job candidate and a story that ended in a homeless vagrant who earned back the trust of his wife and children. It's a story of courage, redemption, trust, faith and love for one's fellow man..."
"Because he got back to work, he eventually got off the street," Miller said. "Now, he's back with his wife and kids, he's made amends with his father. There are a few others up (at the gas station) I'd like to hire."
To understand the relationship between Miller and Milton, it's important to know a little of the former's background as well.
Miller had been working for a large management company when he lost his job at a D.C.-area golf course in Maryland in 2008. He foundered about the industry for a few years, even taking a job as an assistant superintendent, when one of his former employees who had since taken a supervisory role for a small Washington-based management company called Miller early in 2013 asking if he was interested in a job as the superintendent at Langston.
"It's funny, you never know how things are going to come back around for you," said Miller, a 49-year-old single father.
"I once had aspirations of working at Augusta (National Golf Club). Now, I just want to spend time with my kids and be appreciated by the people I work for."
Founded as an all-black golf course, Langston was built in 1939 as a cog in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal that put Americans back to work and helped lift the country out of the Great Depression. Located just east of Capitol Hill along the Anacostia River near old RFK Stadium, the course today remains the capital of minority golf in D.C. Past club pros at Langston include Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe.
Today, the course is an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary property and a First Tee facility, but aspiring youth golfers from inside the Washington Beltway aren't the only ones who get a hand here.
Miller, 49, who describes himself as a liberal democrat with a bleeding heart, stops almost every day at a Shell station near Langston's entrance for coffee or a soft drink. And almost every day for two years he noticed a homeless man who just seemed different than the others. Finally, the day came when he convinced the 36-year-old Milton to apply for a temporary, seasonal job and take that first step in getting off the streets.
Miller recalls some questioning his judgment when an applicant couldn't provide an address or a phone number. But Miller was unwavering in his desire to help Milton, an out-of-work delivery truck driver who became estranged from his wife and two young daughters after his truck broke down. With no means to get the vehicle repaired, the situation spiraled downward rapidly.
When someone asked Miller why he wanted to hire someone with a spotty past and possibly no future, his reply was convincing enough: "I drive 65 miles one way every day to work. I don't do that just for me. I want to give back to the game and the community. Would it matter if he had a phone? Would that make him a better person?
"I could tell he was reluctant to be a beggar, a panhandler. I talked to him every day, and I could tell he had ambition. He just needed a chance."
Once seasonal workers from the previous year had decided one way or the other on whether they were going to return to Langston, Miller, who is able to hire just a handful of workers, extended a job offer to Milton, who eagerly accepted. He spent the summer raking and edging bunkers, changing cups and edging around sprinkler heads.
"I told the rest of the staff before I hired him," Miller said. "They took Milton under their wing and showed him the ropes. They all called him The Rookie.' "
Milton immediately became a model employee.
I could tell he was reluctant to be a beggar, a panhandler. I talked to him every day, and I could tell he had ambition. He just needed a chance."
"He's always polite," Miller said.
"There are a lot of factions at a golf course. He crossed the lines and got along with everybody. He's just a great guy."
The transition of getting off the streets and on the path to a normal life didn't happen overnight for Milton. He spent the first few weeks as a golf course worker by day and a panhandler at night. He was beaten and robbed the day he cashed his first paycheck. His colleagues - the ones at the golf course, not those on the streets - rallied, giving him food during lunch breaks. Miller gave him money for food, which Milton repaid in full.
After about five weeks on the job, Milton patched up his relationship with his mother, a move that got him off the streets and into a bed at night. Eventually, he reconciled with his family, and now has a life again with his wife and daughters.
Beginning in late September, Miller begins laying off one worker every two weeks, based on seniority. Each employee receives a month's notice so they can begin making plans
On Sept. 19, Milton, being the employee with the least seniority, was the first to go. Two days before his last day on the job, he called Miller to thank him.
"It's touching," Miller said. "I've never known what it's like to go hungry. He called me last night and said I want you to know I've put on 20 pounds, and I'm not hungry anymore, boss. I love you.' "
A bunker renovation is pending at Langston, and if Golf Course Specialists Inc., the company that manages Langston as well as three other courses, secures the funding before the end of the year, Milton and other part-time seasonal workers will be brought aboard through the winter to complete the project in-house.
The experience of helping someone who can make a meaningful contribution while picking themselves up albeit with a little help and getting their life back together has left Miller fulfilled and eager to help others in a similar situation.
"Something like this just builds. He gets a job, gets a place to live, transportation. It all just snowballs, but it has to start with a chance," Miller said.
"I'm sure he won't be the last (homeless person) I hire. There are a few others (at the gas station) right now I'd like to hire.
"This has to happen more. Everyone needs to step up and make it happen, step up and try to help people out. There are a lot of people who need a lot of help."