For the first 24 years of his life, Chris Rickerson's future looked dim. He grew up in poverty, with a drug-addicted mother and drug demons of his own. Facing dire consequences, he turned his life around and, in 2013, started Elite Staffing Solutions, a Wichita, Kansas-based staffing company that lifts up people who are struggling as he once did.
--As told to Sheila Marikar

Finding peace and prosperity

My mother was addicted to drugs. She raised me in low-income housing, in El Dorado, Kansas. We got by on government peanut butter and cheese. I remember food stamps and sitting outside the closet, waiting for my mother, who'd be shooting up behind the door. My breakfast spoons had to be bent back into shape so I could eat with them. I found drugs in a compact disc case, needles by her bed, and pot under the coffee table. By the time I was 13, our house had been raided twice. But I don't blame my mom. I remember telling myself that I would not become like her. For a while, though, I did--I started using in sixth or seventh grade, after she brought me to her drug dealer's house and he offered me meth.

Change or die

I dropped out of high school and started selling drugs. At 24, realizing I was going to end up dead or in jail, I checked into a treatment facility and embraced Christianity. When I came out, I was homeless. Then I found Oxford House, a sober-living center. While I was there, I started tending brick--moving it up scaffolding, doing manual labor. That led to other jobs--regional manager for an amateur poker league, dispatcher for petroleum trucks. I met a couple of doctors who owned a vacant building. They said, "If you can do something with this space, we'll give you 40 percent of the income." I turned it into a banquet hall that did a lot of quinceañeras. That was my first entrepreneurial endeavor.

Creating a new, bright future

At the same time, I was also working as a sales rep for a staffing company in Kansas, but it wasn't a good fit. I wanted to strike out on my own, but it was a huge gamble. I'm a single father of three. I maxed out my credit cards, sold a car, and refinanced my minivan to pay for daycare while I started Elite Staffing Solutions. We open at 5:15 a.m. We require people to show up with the right attitude and a pair of boots. I employ a lot of people who have had their struggles. Someone gave me a shot once, and I'm adamant about doing the same for others. The cycle that I was born into ends with me. My kids will get to pick where they go to college. Also, my mother lives with me now. She is clean and sober, and an amazing grandmother to my children.