Veteran, former drug addict returns to painting thanks to Welcome Home

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COLUMBIA -  As Welcome Home marks the first anniversary of its new shelter, a once drug-addicted veteran is artfully finding his way in a new life.

“The people there did amazing things for me. I wouldn’t be here without them,” Robert Scott Gardner said.

He is one of more than 200 people served in the past year by Welcome Home, which provides emergency and transitional services to at-risk and homeless vets.

“It’s really a second chance at life that Welcome Home provides these veterans,” Development Director Megan Sievers said.

That second chance helped Gardner reconnect with his passion for painting. He had put down his brushes after he picked up a needle.

“I was a very active IV cocaine user in the 80s. I was into that and I was into shooting dope. It got really bad in ‘85, ‘86 and I pretty much lost everything I had,” Gardner said.

Drug addiction, divorce, job loss, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation colored Gardner’s existence. He was barely hanging on.

“So I made a phone call,” he said. “I was out of electricity at the time. Water was out on and off, and I called the treatment center line that I heard on the radio at the time. It started there.

That call pointed Gardner in the direction of Welcome Home, which helped him get mental health services and housing. It gave him the support and encouragement he needed to start a new canvas.

“I just focused on producing and living and the thing that I was told from kindergarten to high school was that ‘you have so much potential. So much potential,’’ he said. “My parents ‘Scott you have so much potential’ and I just realized I’m going to try to live to my potential and it’s done amazing things.”

Gardner recently won a first-place ribbon at Art in the Park.

"At that moment, I thought I can do anything. Sky’s the limit. So I’ve been trying to do it," he said.

Gardner’s work had earned even greater accolades in the past. His paintings hang in galleries around Missouri.

“He has no idea how beautiful his stuff is. I think that’s what makes it beautiful and special and priceless,“ Sievers said.

For decades, the beauty of life and art escaped Gardner. Now he sees himself as a masterpiece in progress, getting those finishing touches.

“When I'm painting, creating, restoring, using my mind. Using my talents,” he said. “I don’t think about anything else but what’s the possibilities.”

Gardner’s paintings are featured on his Facebook page.

Welcome Home also provides housing for female veterans and veterans with families. The organization’s website details how veterans in crisis can get the help they need.

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