• Jesse Teverbaugh
  • Paige Wynne

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Jesse Teverbaugh, director of student and alumni affairs, The Cara Program.

“I always wanted to be a father. I was careful, in my young adulthood, to not be so promiscuous that I had children all over the place, because I was not going to have any children that I was not going to raise. But I always, always wanted to be a father. I got married, and we had fertility challenges. It was just a roller-coaster ride month to month.

“We eventually divorced. I still wanted a family, and I got into another relationship. We were engaged for six years. Usually it’s the woman hollering at the man, ‘When we gonna get married?’ Well, this time it was the man hollering, ‘When we gonna get married?’

“Come to find out, she had been cheating on me the whole time. I was on workman’s comp at the time, too, and I was in a fight with my company to pay for this surgery I needed. So I was being betrayed by someone I had given my all to and being betrayed by my job.

“I had a history of substance abuse, and I knew firsthand what could make this pain go away. I consciously went out and started drinking. That led to me losing my job. Next thing I knew, it was two years later and I had lost everything. The 401(k) was gone, the life insurance was gone, the savings were gone. I signed over power of attorney to my sister and told her and my mother, ‘Tell me what to do.’

“When I was in treatment, the Cara Program came and put on a presentation. Cara is a job-readiness program that assists individuals with extensive challenges to get back into the workforce—people coming out of the Department of Corrections, women coming from domestic violence shelters. But we also have individuals with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It’s not just for ex-felons and former drug addicts. Cara has this concept that it’s not just about a job; it’s about changing the way you think. I was hooked. I drank the Kool-Aid.

“I became a student in the program, and I went from student to student liaison to assistant trainer to trainer to supervisor to director of leadership development for our social enterprise Cleanslate, and now I’m Cara’s director of student and alumni affairs. I know what it feels like to be in pain and not have any hope. Throwing a job at someone is not going to make that go away. Because of our experiences, we have cut the nerve endings and stopped caring: ‘I don’t care about nothing or nobody, because when I care, I get hurt.’ Part of what we do is reattach those nerve endings and add some coping skills.

“These students, they become like my children. I’ve been asked by a student to be her adopted father. She had been homeless and never known her father, and she got her life together, and she was getting married. She asked me to walk her down the aisle. How freaking great is that? Who gets to experience this? Had my life come out the way I planned, I would not be sitting here. I know it’s a miracle.”