Sandra Collins ran away from her Spanaway home at 16, and for most of the next two decades barely understood all she was losing to a methamphetamine addiction.
Family. Friends. An education.
“I’d get clean and sober for a few months — twice while I was pregnant,” Collins recalled Monday. “As soon as they were born, I’d go back to meth.”
By her 30s, she had two preteen children, an abusive relationship and a habit that dominated her life.
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“I’d wake up in the morning wondering how I was going to get high,” Collins said. “On meth, you do things you’d never do in your right mind. I’d been homeless, lived in a car with the two kids and a dog. I’d been in jail a few times.”
By 2007, there was no doubt where her life was headed — which makes where she’s landed today all the more remarkable.
When Goodwill’s Olympia Outlet Store and Recycling Center opens Thursday, Collins will be the manager of the store and its 35 employees.
Six months ago, she bought her first home: a Tacoma two-bedroom where she lives with two children — Brittney, 22, and Christian, 21 — and her first grandchild.
What happened? Strangers helped her. When she applied for federal assistance, the WorkFirst Program got Collins into a GED class and put her to work, 20 hours a week, at a Goodwill outlet store in Tacoma.
That’s the short answer. The longer one is more complex.
“I was arrested in 2006 in a stolen car and taken to jail, and my kids had to fend for themselves,” Collins said. “In jail, I started praying. I said, ‘God, get me out of this, I won’t get high any more.’ A few days later the jailer came to get me and said no charges had been filed and let me leave.
“Outside, I remembered my promise. I thought, ‘Oh, no. How am I going to do this?’ ”
Her son had stayed with a small-businessman and his family, and when Collins was released, that family took her and the two kids into their home.
“They weren’t well off, but they shared everything with us, including their home and their food,” Collins said.
Her first Goodwill job paid $8.25 an hour. After six months, she had earned her GED and had proved herself a reliable employee, but the Tacoma store had no opening.
A Lakewood store did, and she was hired as a full-time production worker.
“I worked in Lakewood, and the manager there saw things in me I hadn’t really seen yet — leadership skills,” Collins said. “When my original Goodwill store had an opening, the Lakewood manager suggested I begin training to be a manager. A few months later, I became a supervisor.”
Collins said her greatest fear while addicted was that her son and daughter would emulate her behavior. She’d seen the kids of other addicts start down the meth road.
As she pulled her life back together, her relationship with her children flourished.
“I started coming home at night, cooking dinner, finding out what they were doing with the lives,” Collins said. “My daughter dropped out of high school, but got her GED and went to work full time. My son graduated from high school, and he’s working full time.”
The goals Collins set for herself were, she admits, small steps toward becoming the person she was once convinced she would never be.
“All those years on meth, my friends and family had given up on me. I’d failed to get sober again and again,” Collins said. “Meth rids you of your identity. Working made me feel like an important person.
“I’d show up for work and everyone would say ‘hello,’ and some days the only reason I went to work was to hear them say that. It made a difference.”
By 2010, she became a salaried employee, making about $30,000 a year, and two years later she helped open a Goodwill outlet in Kent.
When the Olympia store was being completed last November, Goodwill hired Collins to manage it.
Collins is 44 now, clean and sober for about nine years, and she still has goals.
“I want to be a mentor to people who were like me, people just starting with Goodwill,” Collins said. “I can make a difference now, help people change their lives.”