William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (May 9, 2022)(CNBNews)--For some time now whenever we heard about someone having a drug or alcohol problem in the Gloucester City area the name George Merryfield was mentioned as the person who helped so and so to get on the road to recovery.
Curious we wanted to know who was this guy Merryfield? How has he been able to help so many? Where did he come from? Why does he call his organization The We Can Foundation?
After asking around we were able to hook up with George and arrange an interview to get those answers along with answers to many other questions we had.
As our conversation began we learned that he grew up in Gloucester City, went to Gloucester High School, and was first arrested for doing drugs when he was 15-years-old.
“I was first sentenced to a three-year term, then five, followed by six years. The last time I was before the judge I received a 25-year sentence with a mandatory sentence that I serve half of that time before being eligible for parole.”
During his time in prison, Rahway in Trenton and Riverfront in Camden City, he worked in the prison library, took numerous classes and became a paralegal, and also studied how to become a counselor. He got his barber’s license while incarnated. With what he learned about the law he was able to file a number of appeals and got his 25-year sentence cut down to 20, and was released in the late 80s after serving 10 years. He served a collective total of 20 years behind bars.
“I got old in prison. I started out as a teenager and when I got out I was in my 40s. While in prison I worked with the Scared Straight Program. I would send you letters about that organization when you owned the Gloucester City NEWS that you published in the paper. When I was transferred to Riverfront Prison to serve the remaining three years of my sentence me and a guy named Thomas Trantino started a program called Fresh Start. ”
Trantino was sentenced to life in prison after the death penalty was abolished for killing two police officers. After serving 38 years he was released at the age of 63 in 2002. Merryfield said presently Trantino is doing the same thing he is doing, helping people with addiction problems.
“The judges would send the juveniles that appeared before them for some crime to Riverfront Prison for us to talk with. We also talk with the kid's parents. I liked the Fresh Start idea because we got to talk one on one with the kids,” said Merryfield.
“After I got out of prison, I still messed around a little bit with drugs. At some point, I finally said to myself I can’t do this anymore. I was divorced and I took custody of my two young sons, Lewis and George. After they got out of high school and got settled down I moved to Florida for 12 years. There I met another lady, straighten my life out, and ended up getting divorced from her. Grandkids came along while in Florida and my mother, who I loved dearly, got ill. When that happened I decided to move back to Jersey.”
“A few years ago I read about this drug called Fentanyl and how it was being mixed in with other substances. So many people were dying from overdoses. In the mid-90s I decided to get involved and try to help those who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. Every Saturday I would go to Camden City and hand out used clothing that people donated for the homeless, along with food donations. I would talk with the addicts and offer my advice. Plus I tried to steer these individuals to the various organizations for help. As I continued with my idea I kept seeing more and more people who were either hooked on drugs or alcohol. Many were homeless and had mental problems. In 2015 or thereabout I went to Gloucester High School to tell my story to the students. I went back several times after that but when COVID came along I had to stop. Plus I also had a battle with cancer, which I won, that delayed my speaking engagements. Now that things have improved I plan on going back to Gloucester High in the near future. “
THE WE CAN FOUNDATION NON-PROFIT REGISTERED IN 2017
“I found you have to show those who are battling drugs and alcohol that they are loved. That they are not alone. I can’t beat drugs by myself and neither can you. But, together we can beat the addiction. That is why I named the network The We Can Foundation."
Asked about how many people he thinks he has helped George said, “It isn’t a ton of people but collectively we have gotten over 100 people off the streets who are now living productive lives. I have worked with thousands. I continue to go to Camden on Saturday and for seven years I have never missed a Saturday except when I had cancer.”
He has two sober houses in the Woodbury area and he recently opened a third house. There is a total of 27 people living in the three houses.
Merryfield said, “They all work and help pay their way. Before coming to me some go-to crisis centers that I am aligned with to get help with their mental problems. They are seen by psychiatrists and other medical doctors during the time they are in the hospital. The mental problems are in most cases the reason they are using drugs and alcohol. After staying there for about a week or so they are released to me. They have to sign a contract that states that they have to attend support meetings. Anyone who brings alcohol or drugs into the house is expelled. They are not allowed to use either substance. They must attend support meetings several times during the week both in the house and outside the house. After six months of living in this regime, they leave us and head back into society.”
According to Merryfield, he has a half dozen women and men who help him with his crusade. “They volunteer their time, and without them, I couldn’t do all that I do. There is no money involved. We don’t get paid. We don’t have any outside funding. I have gone to 13 funerals over the past month to six weeks. All people I tried to help but failed. Those funerals are what inspire me to keep trying to help these individuals. ”
Merryfield related a personal story about being saved by Jesus Christ
“ In 1973 I am in county jail. I had been sentenced to a seven-year prison term and I am waiting to be transferred to another jail. On Sundays, some women from a church would visit the prisoners. One woman said, George when you are in your cell tonight talk to God. One or two o’clock in the morning after the lights had been turned off I got on my knees and said Jesus if you are real if you are really real show me a sign. I got into my bunk and was thinking about my prayer when all of sudden there was a bright light and my hold cell lit up. Did I just dream this I thought? All the lights were out, it had to be a dream I said to myself. In the morning they opened up your cell door and you step out and wait to be counted. The guys on either side of me wondered what happened during the night. They too saw the flash of light. I knew then that God had shown me something; he showed me the sign I had asked for.
“Fast forward to today, I will continue to do what I do until I die. In my heart, I believe what I am doing is what God planned for me to do. Consider too that I had Stage 4 cancer, the two surgeons who operated on me spent 16 hours taking out cancer. The tumors were in my head and neck. I lost a third of my tongue. During the surgery I flatlined, they told me I was gone for a few minutes. When I passed I saw myself leaving. I saw the room with the nurses and doctors. I saw myself on the bed. I was dead, so it wasn’t a dream. I remember being in a bus that was driving up a mountain towards a light. I was sitting behind the driver and when I looked back the bus was filled with people. I believe I was supposed to die that night but God gave me another chance. I heard a voice that asked me if I was ready. I answered no. All of sudden the bus turned around and I looked back but this time I was the only one sitting there. “
Merryfield emphasized again that he is going to keep doing what he has been doing until he can’t do it anymore. Asked what can people do to help him continue his mission he said, “We are overwhelmed with food and clothing. Presently I have no place to put those items. It cost $6500 a month to operate all three houses. Your financial contributions, any amount, would help with those costs. Please make your check or money order out to The We Can Foundation, 573 Homewood Lane, Williamstown, NJ 08094-7513.”
ANNUAL WALK TO REMEMBER JUNE 19TH FROM NOON TO 3 PM
On June 19 from 12 noon to 3 PM The We Can Foundation will be holding its annual walk to remember those who have passed due to drug overdoses at the Pine Grove Fire Hall, 9th and Jersey Avenue. Kids under 12 are free. The cost for all others is $10 paid at the door. Plenty of food, salads, pizzas, hoagies, soft drinks, and live music. 50-50 drawings, Chinese Auction. Shirts must be ordered in advance...small, medium, large $20. Size 1X to 3X cost $25.
To order your shirts or for any questions call 856-371-8385.
There will be people there to talk about their battle with addiction, along with medical professionals who will answer your questions, and rehab counselors to offer you advice along with information on where you can get help.
If you are unable to attend and would like to make a donation send your check or money order to We Can Foundation, 573 Homewood Lane, Williamstown NJ 08094
Lastly, the video below is worth the few minutes it takes to watch it.