Pro golfer Jim Furyk talks with moderator Tom Relf during the NuHope Golf Classic welcome dinner.
Pro golfer Jim Furyk talks with moderator Tom Relf during the NuHope Golf Classic welcome dinner. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Jim Furyk knows how to inspire. A former U.S. Open golf champion with an unorthodox swing – it’s been likened to “an octopus falling out of a tree”  – Furyk once went 30 months without winning a PGA tournament. Then he won three in 2010 when nobody expected it – the year he turned 40 – and was named PGA Player of the Year.

That same year, he started the Jim & Tabitha Furyk Foundation to serve children and families in need, primarily in North Florida. The foundation has supported a children’s hospital, a community hospice, and provided food and backpacks for young students.

Success on the links and in charitable work made Furyk a fitting speaker Sunday night for the NuStar NuHope Golf Classic dinner at La Cantera Resort. The 12th annual Golf Classic has raised $38 million for Haven for Hope, a 22-acre shelter near downtown that serves the homeless. Philanthropist William E. Greehey, chairman of NuStar Energy, founded Haven for Hope and serves as its chairman.

“The amount of people Mr. Greehey has been able to help in the community is amazing,” Furyk said.

According to Haven for Hope, the shelter and its many related programs have helped more than 10,000 people transition from homelessness into permanent or supportive housing. After one year, Haven for Hope officials say, 90 percent of those who leave with a housing placement do not return to homelessness.

Its successes have attracted attention from across the country. Greehey said in an interview before the dinner that delegations from 300 cities in 44 states have visited Haven for Hope to study its approach and see its campus.

Furyk came to the dinner Sunday to discuss his career in a question-and-answer format before 800 dinner guests. Before he took a single question, though, Furyk spoke at a VIP reception about the importance of Haven’s mission and the role of the NuStar NuHope Golf Classic.

“It feels good to be part of something this special,” he said. “It’s amazing that this event has raised $4 million this year.”

Haven for Hope graduate Anita Mitchell.
Haven for Hope graduate Anita Mitchell. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Anita Mitchell, 52, is one face of hope. She came to Haven in 2010, the year it opened, hungry, homeless, addicted. It’s a wonder she arrived at all.

Eight years ago, she wandered out from her condominium onto Callaghan Road, inebriated, and got hit by a car. She suffered massive head trauma, including a brain injury, and was placed on life support.

“I got hit in July and woke up in the middle of August,” she said. “I had multiple cranial surgeries, had to learn to walk again, and had short-term memory loss. But that did not stop me from drinking again.”

Mitchell said her drinking dates to high school in South Carolina. She related how she abused alcohol as a college student at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and experimented with drugs. She took a job in Hollywood, Florida, where her addiction continued, then moved to San Antonio in 1999, hoping for a fresh start.

On the day she received an acceptance letter to nursing school, Mitchell was arrested for driving under the influence. She completed nursing school and took a job, she says, only to drink more heavily. “On April 23, 2010, the Texas Board of Nursing revoked my license,” she said.

Three months later, she lay in a coma. Four months after that, an aunt drove her to Haven for Hope. Mitchell did not want to stay.

“It was hard to surrender,” she said. “I was making $42 an hour as a registered nurse. I sat there trying to figure a way out.”

She recalls speaking with George Block, the CEO of Haven at the time, and being persuaded to enter the in-house recovery program in December 2010. Sixty days later, she became part of Haven’s first graduating class.

Mitchell found sobriety but struggled with debt and other challenges. She received pro bono legal assistance, began paying off a $50,000 debt to the Internal Revenue Service and making restitution on hundreds of dollars in outstanding traffic tickets.

On Aug. 1, 2013, she says, her nursing license was reinstated. Today, she works as a nurse for Alamo Heights Health and Rehabilitation Center.

“I give Haven for Hope credit for giving me a place when I had burned every bridge,” Mitchell said, “for introducing me to a 12-step program. I credit Haven for separating me from alcohol for the last time.”

Mitchell shared her story at Sunday night’s dinner, mixing humor with anecdotes and raw emotion. She recalled that she was able to quote the Bible from Genesis to Revelation but wasn’t able to stop drinking.

Haven for Hope graduate Anita Mitchell greets Haven for Hope Outreach Manager Reverend Ron Brown.
Haven for Hope graduate Anita Mitchell greets Haven for Hope Outreach Manager Reverend Ron Brown. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” she said, “and a recovering Southern Baptist. … I walked into this program with religion but found God. I am sober by the grace of God.”

The La Cantera ballroom erupted with applause and Mitchell nodded and smiled. Seated a few feet away, at the head table, Greehey and Furyk rose, and hundreds stood with them, cheering.

Mitchell wasn’t the only Haven success story in the crowd – others were featured in a 13-minute video – but she stole the show. Of all the people who spoke from the stage, only a recovering addict drew a standing ovation.

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Ken Rodriguez

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native and award-winning journalist.