His new life was going well and he wanted to help other people. Then he was assaulted.

Michael Parks teaches a recent peer support class at Broward Outreach Center. Joey Foster THE FRESH CHURCH

It’s been more than a year since robbers left 60-year-old Michael Parks with a fractured tibia. Despite still having a weak leg from the injury he suffered in the attack, he stands tall working at the front desk of the Broward Outreach Center.

On the night of Oct. 29, 2019, he had just cashed a check and was waiting for a bus that would take him to his home in Fort Lauderdale. While he was at the stop, two men rushed him from behind, threw him on the ground and took all of his cash.

“That was very traumatic for me,” said Parks. He said he was unable to feel safe for weeks afterward.

“I was very fearful in my bed, in the room,” Parks said. “And I was fearful for lights to be out because the accident happened at night.”

Though still healing both mentally and physically, he said he wants to help others by becoming a certified peer specialist — something he believes will help him on his own journey. To help him on that next step, he is looking for a Microsoft Surface Pro X. The model he’s looking for costs $1,000, and he needs another $277 to help pay for online classes.

Keith Cavanaugh, a supervisor at Broward Outreach, nominated Parks for Wish Book. He said that Parks becoming more computer literate, learning Microsoft Word and Excel, will open up numerous opportunities.

“We want to make sure we serve our people in the most holistic way possible,” said Cavanaugh.

(This story first appeared in the Miami Herald)

The shelter has served the homeless and needy of South Florida since it was established in 1992. Because of the shelter, Parks said he was given the chance to create a better version of himself.

Following surgery necessitated by the attack, Parks was set to be discharged from Broward General Hospital. But he had nowhere to go. Cavanaugh made it a priority to provide Parks with a place to stay to recuperate, giving him hope and strength he needed.

Parks was born and raised in Atlanta and moved to South Florida 12 years ago.

“I was doing very well initially when I first moved here,” he said.

He completed classes at Concorde Career College to become a medical assistant and started working as an activity director and medical assistant at an assisted living facility in Pompano Beach.

But, he said, his life went out of control when he started using drugs and alcohol.

“It took a toll on me and when I say it took a toll on me, it cost me everything I had,” he said. “It caused me to be out on the streets and to be homeless.”

Cavanaugh said Parks has really done the work to put himself back on track.

“I don’t think Mike has changed that much,” he said. “You know, I think there was always a caged bird and now he’s able to sing and be free.”

He said he truly enjoys working with people like Parks. “You get these clients that are amazing, and Michael is one of them,” said Cavanaugh.

Parks said he loves helping people, which is the main reason he wants to become a peer specialist. He said it will allow him to give back to the shelter and help it continue its mission. He currently helps out in the kitchen and provides some unofficial mentoring and has been doing so for about a year.

Parks lives with a roommate in housing provided by the shelter.

“I come here in the evenings, but it doesn’t feel like work,” he said. “I try to share with people what I deal with every day, whether it’s in here or outside these doors.”

“Physically, I’m not able to do the things I enjoy,” he said. “But I still want to give back in whatever way I can; I want to share my experience and give back strength and hope to those who need it.”

Cavanaugh has seen Parks take the initiative both physically and mentally.

“I mean really, Mike taught himself how to walk,” he said. “I have no doubt that Parks would be able to teach himself anything he puts his mind towards.”

He said the incident, though traumatic, provided him with valuable insight into his own life and what he wants to do next.

Liana Alexis Martell is a journalism major and a local actor in South Florida. While continuing her college career, she also finds time to focus on her craft by working on film projects and theater productions in Miami.