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University of California San Francisco

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Robert Mansfield Makes UCSF the Latest Stop on His Comeback Trail

UCSF prides itself on employing staff with diverse and unique personal stories. One such employee is Robert Mansfield, a program assistant with UCSF's program in Global Health Sciences. At age 56, Mansfield truly has seen the world, but it's not one full of museums or resorts.

"If you've ever been to Turk and Taylor at two in the morning buying drugs, you would see that there is another world in San Francisco that most people don't know about."

Mansfield, whose drug addiction resulted in eight prison sentences between 1985 and 1995, turned his life around when he joined the Delancey Street Foundation 10 years ago.

This last year has been particularly notable. He began working at UCSF and he was accepted into the Chamber of Commerce's Leadership San Francisco program, a prestigious 10-month leadership, educational and skill development program.

The turnaround began with a job working 17-hour days at one of the Delancey Street companies - Delancey Street Restaurant, Crossroads Café and Bookstore, Delancey Street Paratransit Service, Delancey Street Moving Company and Delancey Street Christmas Sales. During the past decade, Mansfield has swept floors, driven airport shuttles, headed up the credit and collections department, and helped open the Crossroads Café - where he earned a reputation for making one of the best cappuccinos in San Francisco.

After the average of four years with the program (the minimum commitment is two years), says Mansfield, most participants "graduate" drug-addiction free, with literacy and marketable skills, as well as a sense of responsibility and competency. The Delancey Street Foundation has helped substance abusers and former felons with housing, education and work opportunities since it was founded in 1971. Since there are no professional educators or drug counselors overseeing the program, the 500 participants take it upon themselves to educate, train and support one another.

"There's no pill you can take to stop drugs; you have to do it yourself. And Delancey provides the opportunity to do it by providing responsibilities and trust, two things many of us didn't have for years," says Mansfield.

Both came with a heavy dose of irony. "I used to sell drugs so that I wouldn't have to mop floors and do dishes," says Mansfield. "But after I'd been on the streets doing dope, it was very rewarding to be a part of this community."

Mansfield has made good use of his newfound sense of worth. He returned to college and earned his bachelor's degree in urban studies from San Francisco State University, graduating magna cum laude with a 3.8 grade-point average. For his senior project in 2004, he evaluated outreach services for San Francisco homeless. In May 2006, Mansfield was one of only 60 people selected to participate in the Chamber of Commerce's Leadership San Francisco program. This community service program brings together a diverse group of leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the quality of life in San Francisco. Each month, the participants meet to discuss a different economic or social issue, and once the program is completed, the class develops a community service project.

Mansfield's $3,500 tuition was covered by a full scholarship from the San Francisco Examiner. "I've seen this city from both sides," says Mansfield. "With Leadership San Francisco, I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to make a difference."