Randy always had a creative side. As the son of a university professor in Los Altos, he was exposed to arts and culture from an early age. Over time, a passion for music began to emerge, and he started working as a touring musician, collaborating with artists who would go on to write for big name pop stars. Music became his life, and he poured everything into it. He found belonging and identity in his community of like-minded musicians.
While he was thriving in this environment, his life eventually derailed because of substance abuse. With time, he began taking his recovery seriously, and started rebuilding his life. Along the way he met his partner Sophie, who was also in recovery. They anchored one another, strengthening their sobriety.
Randy’s world fell apart again when Sophie tragically died. It sent him into both emotional and economic turmoil. He reflected on the time recently. “I had trouble figuring out who I was. I had to figure that out while in crisis, with unstable housing.” He hit rock bottom when he ran out of resources and found himself sleeping outside. He vividly remembers his second night on the street, when a torrential storm hit. He described it as “absolutely traumatic.”
This trauma led him to seek out local shelters, which led him to AFC. While things didn’t turn around overnight, he was able to stabilize. He connected with several of AFC’s volunteer cooks, some of whom he is still keeps up with. “AFC was a God given thing. It turned the most hellaciously terrible experience into something meaningful,” Randy said.
Part of that meaning came through an unexpected avenue: the pandemic lockdown. Randy sheltered in place at the United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz. The church generously offered their space, even creating an art room. This room turned out to be a safe haven for him. Even though he had never painted before, he spent hours in the room putting his emotions and dreams onto canvas. It reignited his creative passion. “Once I started, that’s all I did,” he remembers.
He soon found his favorite subject to paint: his dreams. He had often reflected on his dreams, but putting them in to images was transformational. Even though the images were often abstract, they reflected profoundly personal experiences for him. One of the most personal was a dream he had about Sophie, his late partner. In the dream, she comforts him with words he can’t forget, “I know how it all ends up. You’re going to love it.”
Finding creative momentum led to momentum in other areas of his life, including his housing search. He began putting his name on every affordable housing waitlist he could find. With time, his hard work paid off, and he was offered a small affordable studio with just enough room to paint.
Randy had a particularly meaningful milestone this past winter when he had his first art exhibit. The show took place on a First Friday at London Nelson Community Center. Hundreds of people passed through, taking in Randy’s works and hearing the stories behind them. He even sold his first painting. More than the money it brought in, the experience brought Randy a sense of pride and gratitude, putting his journey into perspective. “Doing this art exhibit was such an accomplishment,” he said. “It symbolized turning such a terrible experience into something positive. It made the world a little bit of a better place.”
A few of Randy's works displayed at his show at London Nelson.