Alumni Story: Bennie Caswell: From Addict to Counselor

Raised by a single mother in Detroit and the Bronx, Bennie Caswell had his share of trials. In the early ‘90s he lost his teenage daughter to asthma, and his ex-wife soon after to cancer. This brought him to severe depression and an addiction to cocaine, heroin, alcohol, and prescription drugs. It wasn’t until the late ‘90s did transformation manifest itself. By God’s grace, his addictions subsided and he decided to get an education. He eventually graduated with an AS from a community college, and just recently with a BS from City Vision University.

He decided to enroll at City Vision because he wanted “spiritual emphasis” in serving the poor, knowing that Christ is a crucial aspect to social justice. Caswell originally wanted to be a social worker, but as a former addict himself, when he found out City Vision offered a degree in Addiction Studies, he took advantage of the opportunity.

Caswell graduated from City Vision University in 2009 and was the first person to be handed a BS in Addiction Studies. The courses he took has enabled him to become a Certified Addiction Counselor in the State of New York. For the past 10 years, he’s worked at New York City Rescue Mission—a homeless shelter for the poor, addicts, and alcoholics—where he’s now Evening Supervisor. Caswell is involved with providing food, clothing, and shelter to the Mission’s residents. He’s also in charge of the evening gospel services, counsels guests and residents, and teaches Life Skills and Bible-based 12-step group classes to further their foundation in Christ.

He’s grateful for City Vision’s distance-learning courses and for the range of information he learned. The City Vision courses he finds most impactful are Drugs of Abuse and Counseling in the City. These courses gave him valuable knowledge that enables him to relate to the residents of the Mission. With the addicts, Drugs of Abuse allowed him to understand how different drugs affect them psychologically. And also, because of his own personal experience with drugs, he’s able to give the residents personal insight and genuine sympathy regarding their struggles. Now, as a servant to the people of New York City, the course on urban counseling was perfect and practical. It taught him what counseling looks like through a secular and, more importantly, spiritual lens.

God took the bad in his life and made it good—with his education from City Vision and the work he does now for the homeless and addicts, he expresses great gratitude to be involved in the life-changing process. With a mixture of humility and awe in his voice, Caswell says, “It’s amazing how God uses his people to be role models, advisors, and shoulders to lean on for those who need it.”

This testimonial was given in 2012.

[Edited May 2015; updated the institution’s name]