R-C Neighbors: The Rev. Tony Williams wants to be a mentor for teens
The Rev. Tony Williams wants to be a mentor to the teens so he can tell them he’s been there.
A Ranchos resident for the past five years, Williams spent years on the streets of Las Vegas and in jail because he felt there was nowhere else for him to turn.
And, he says, he’s still feeling the effects of his unlawful life. In December Williams had brain surgery to repair damage done when he was struck with a pipe in a fight about 15 years ago.
At, 42, he said he sometimes feels a million miles away from his misspent youth, but that he also knows what young people today are going through.
n Grace of God. Williams is one of those unique individuals who is able to tell teen-agers, “I understand.”
“Kids think they know what they’re doing and adults don’t know what it’s like to be out there. I can sit down and say I know the real deal,'” he said. “I should have been dead several times. Only by the grace of God am I alive, because he had a better job for me.”
That job has been ministering to those who by their choices, or through no fault of their own, ended up in the same environment where Williams spent most of his young adult years.
Williams works at the Center Street Mission in Reno, which helps people who have drug problems get back on their feet.
n Growing up. Williams was born in Herlong, Calif., a northeastern California town near Susanville. After high school, the military seemed like a logical choice since there was a base in his hometown.
After the service, his brother talked him into moving to Las Vegas where he lived with his wife.
“I got caught up in the fast life – drugs, alcohol. A way to make quick money was to deal drugs and to do that, I had to associate with different gangs for protection,” he said.
Years passed and family members begged and pleaded with him to clean up. In and out of jail, Williams refused to listen. Finally, they gave up on him.
“My brother told me when I was 23 he knew I wouldn’t live to be 30. He said, ‘I love you, and I hate to see this happen to you,'” Williams said. “But I didn’t listen.”
n Time to change. His mother died when he was 34, and he decided to try to change his environment.
“One night she begged me and made me promise I’d give my life back to the church,” he said. “I didn’t make good on that promise right away, I stayed in Vegas another year. But after I got out of jail another time, I knew I had to get out of town and came back up to Herlong.”
After final arrest convinced Williams to leave drugs and alcohol behind forever.
“I was arrested. They said I accosted a police officer and tried to wrestle his gun away from him. They took me to jail, but by the grace of God when I woke up the next morning, they let me out and the charges were dropped. I knew it was a sign.”
Williams joined the Salvation Army alcohol and drug residential treatment program in Reno. The program was four months and it helped him develop that final determination to change his life.
While he was there Williams worked at the day camp with troubled children.
“I realized there were so many kids in troubled homes whose parents were hooked on drugs and they had no one to love them and guide them. These kids were not choosing to go that way, but they didn’t know anything else because that’s how they see their parents living.”
A year after he got out of the program, Williams returned to the work he had done when he first moved to Las Vegas, working in correctional facilities as a guard. He worked at Stewart Conservation Camp in Carson City.
Williams met the director of the Center Street Mission, Mike Stickler, while Stickler was an inmate at Stewart at a prison Bible study. At the time, Stickler told Williams they would someday minister together.
Four and a half years later, the day he lost his job at the prison, Williams walked by the Reno mission and stopped in to talk to Stickler.
Stickler told him he was sorry because he had been praying Williams would lose his job so he would come work with him. And Williams did.
“Our goal is to give people freedom from their addictions, whether it be gambling, alcohol, drugs, and we help them set up a budget and help find them an apartment. They have to put their work into it, too, but we make sure they are set and ready to start life.”
The mission has a 90-day drug inpatient treatment center, half-way houses and life skills classes.
Williams recognizes many of the people who have come through the mission from prison.
Some are young people without family support because they have become addicted to drugs or their parents are.
Williams likes working with the kids, and said one of his dreams is to have a teen center in this area.
“I see the need. I talk to kids in the neighborhood and they respect me. I know they’re looking for that guidance,” he said.
He said he has witnessed the response he gets from teens he has ministered to at Rite of Passage, a residential facility for male juvenile offenders.
“At first they are skeptical like I’m just another adult who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But I ran off copies of my police record and it gets their attention. They give you their sincere interest after that and ask, ‘How’d you change?'”
n The Brady Bunch. Family life has been a big part of Williams’ turn-around. Church members refer to Williams’ family with wife Geri as the Brady Bunch. When they were married six years ago, they both had children and have since had 4-year-old Kagelica.
The rest of the group are: Kai, 20, and her 2-month-old son, Marcus; Angelica, 19, Jessica, 17, Antonio, 18, and Michael, 18.
Williams and Geri have known each other all their lives because their mothers were best friends.
“I had a crush on her when we were younger, but she was a year older than me and wouldn’t look twice at me,” he said. “After I gave my life to Christ, we came back into each other’s lives.”
After Williams moved back home, they renewed their friendship and that deepened into something more.
One night, Williams had a dream.
“We were walking together down a path and there were roses on both sides. We walked up to an altar and we were getting married,” he said.
But, when Williams told Geri about his dream, she had different ideas.
“She said she didn’t care if God himself came down, she wasn’t getting married again,” Williams said, obviously enjoying the story because he eventually changed her mind.
Geri, a housewife, is also a minister who shares in her husband’s work and leads a women’s Bible study at the mission.