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From the brink of suicide to saving lives

  • Story Highlights
  • Scott Silverman was on the verge of jumping from a 44th-floor window 23 years ago
  • Saved by a colleague and rehab, Silverman has dedicated his life to helping others
  • His Second Chance program has helped thousands find work and a new life
  • His targets: People in shelters, the homeless, inmates leaving prison
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(CNN) -- Twenty-three years ago, Scott Silverman found himself at an open, 44th-story window, on the brink of suicide. Two decades of escalating substance abuse, blackouts and depression had brought him to this moment.

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Scott Silverman started Second Chance to help people in shelters, the homeless and inmates leaving prison.

"I didn't think of myself as depressed, but then my drinking got so bad at the end, I felt my life was over," Silverman recalled.

Just then, a colleague entered the room and asked him what he was doing. Silverman entered rehab the next day and has been sober ever since.

Fast forward to 2008. Silverman has turned not only his own life around but also the lives of thousands of others. Rehab and volunteering brought him close to a community of others in need: people in shelters, those who were homeless, others who had come out of jail.

They all shared one problem, Silverman saw: They were unable to find and keep a job.

"I thought, I've been in treatment, I've lost jobs, but I got lucky and had a very supportive family. I had to find a way to help them more effectively," he said.

The vehicle for that assistance is his Second Chance program in San Diego, California. It provides job readiness training, housing for sober living, and mental health and employment support services for what Silverman calls a "difficult-to-serve" population.

Started in 1993, Second Chance has provided services to more than 24,000 individuals. It helps graduates with job placement and follows up with them for two years.

Of 219 Second Chance graduates in 2004, 169 found employment, the organization says. Three-quarters of them remained employed two years later.

One key to its success, Silverman said, is that the Second Chance program begins with transitional, sober-living housing for its clients.

"You've got to have an address to get a job, and you have to have a job to keep an address," he said. "I started with a little tiny house that we rented downtown, and in 2008 we have eight single-family homes and our main office where all the programs are run." Video Watch Silverman describe the moment that changed his life »

As part of its work, Second Chance targets those leaving prison. California has one of the highest repeat-offender rates in the country. Nearly two of three released inmates return to state prisons within three years.

Silverman's staff regularly enters the California correctional system to introduce their services to prisoners anticipating parole. Those who are accepted into his program are transported to sober-living housing the day they're released and given 60 days of immediate free housing, clothing, incidentals and enrollment in job readiness training.

Anthony Panarella is an ex-convict who recently graduated from Silverman's prisoner re-entry employment course. There, he learned how to write a resume and cover letter as well as how to stand out in a job interview.

"This is a big accomplishment for me." he said. "I've never finished anything all the way through ever in my life. I'm going to make it." Video Watch Panarella describe his transition from prison life »

To Silverman, that attitude is what convinces employers to take on those who otherwise face significant barriers to finding work.

"We send in individuals job-ready, smiling, professionally dressed and ready to go to work," Silverman said. "We work with employers. We make repeat referrals and they make repeat hires. So we're their partner, and that makes a big difference."

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The city agrees. Last month, San Diego declared one day as "Scott Silverman Day." Panarella says it's a much deserved honor.

"Little kids have Superman or Spiderman. I have Scott Silverman." Video Watch Silverman explain the success of "Second Chance" » E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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