Robert Hilgenburg’s mother loved American Beauty roses. The rose bushes were the only flowers she grew, and she would sing to the plants as she tended them. Having grown up being abused by his father, these happy memories of his mother have stuck with Robert, who is now out to beautify the Mission as the sole groundskeeper.
Robert grew up emotionally and physically abused and always felt as though he didn’t deserve to succeed in life. When he was just seven years old he made his first suicide attempt, trying to smother himself with a pillow. As he got older, he repeatedly landed in prison—three of his sentences he earned intentionally. Eventually, he enlisted in the air force and fought overseas before receiving an honorable discharge.
Many years later, Robert was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a result of childhood abuse. The violence he saw in prison, the trauma he experienced during his military service, and the struggles of being homeless greatly aggravated his condition. But Robert doesn’t blame his circumstances. He maintains that his troubles were often of his own doing, created to avoid doing too well. “I always had the choice to handle it better,” he said. The choices he made, however, prevented him from getting too comfortable or happy. Instead, he chose to live the life he had grown up being told he deserved.
Robert has spent much of his adult life homeless. After months living under a bridge in Colorado, he came to the Mission when a couple offered to buy him a bus ticket to anywhere in the country. He arrived at the Mission in early spring and soon settled into the Curtis Center as one of 30 vets living there.
Since his arrival, Robert has secured a job as the Mission groundskeeper and has begun saving money to support himself. He is also taking classes, learning to live with his PTSD, and trying to overcome his self-doubt. Little by little, things are getting easier. “[My boss and] the Curtis Center staff have been phenomenal supports for me,” he said. Their encouragement has helped Robert stop running away from happiness and attempt to embrace it. Before, most days were hard to get through. “My most precious goal is to make it through a day and just be ok.” With help and time, those days are occurring a little less often.
Now, almost a year after his arrival, Robert is giving back to the place that is helping him grow and get back on the right track. “For the first time in my life I feel like I’m doing something that has value,” he said. Robert’s goal is to make the Mission “as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside.” This includes planting flowers and other plants in beds he built along the front of the shelter building and next to the steps leading up to the entrance. His plans are ambitious, be he believes the end result will be worth it.
“Flowers brighten the world and make people feel better,” he said. “They remind me that the world is not always a bad place.”
Would you consider helping Robert beautify the Mission? We are seeking donations of the following items:
· Potting soil and topsoil
· Landscaping stones/rocks
· Colorful perennials and annuals
· Rose bushes
· Medium-sized shrubs
· Ivy, hen and chicks, and other plants for ground cover
Donations may be dropped off at the Mission front desk. Thank you for your generosity!
- Category: Guests