Quinn House Director Conquered His Demons

Former alcoholic avoided his own suicide to become counselor and mentor

By Christy Smith Staff Correspondent

LAWRENCEVILLE - It was on Christmas morning 1995. Thirty seven year old Gene Brinkley woke up in his car only to realize that he had failed once again. The homeless, divorced, high school dropout had recently been fired from his job as Santa Claus.

Bitter and angry, he drove to the intersection of I-985 and Buford Highway intending to step in front of a tractor-trailer truck to kill himself. But before he died, Gene wanted one last drink. The bottle of vodka and bottle of whisky he had bought along with a gallon of gas took the last of his money. But, instead of staggering across the Interstate, to take his final walk in this life, Gene passed out cold in a drunken stupor.

As far as Gene was concerned, this binge and failed suicide attempt was simply one more strike to add to an extensive string of failures and uncompleted acts. Fifteen years later, this man who was determined to go on one final binge before committing suicide, has turned his life completely around. Today, at the age of 52, Gene is director of the Quinn House in Lawrenceville, a multi-purpose Christian ministry, food bank, homeless shelter and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Gene now uses his dark experiences from his past to guide people through bad places and build new lives. 


 "Drugs and drinking take away your motivation to finish things," he said. "You get so used to not finishing things and you have this series of failures. You have no self-confidence because you have no victories.

Life began for Gene in McAllen, Texas, a town      situated a few miles from the Mexican border, across which a cartel of teenage boys could drink all night. There were no age restrictions and a river of drugs flowed through McAllen heading north from South America. Gene grew up in the bar his mom tended. His dad ran away and left her to raise Gene and his sister alone. The regulars became Gene's mentors and male role models. "I did my homework every afternoon under the bar lights," he said. "My heroes were the guys who slipped me a sip of beer and gave me attention. The cheaters, drinkers and fighters. They were nice to me and I grew up to be just like them."  

After nearly committing suicide in 1995, former alcoholic Gene Brinkley went into recovery. There he discovered a new faith in God that renewed his mind and led him out of his wilderness into a life of sobriety. He is now the director of the Quinn House in Lawrenceville, one of the area's most well-known rehab center, homeless shelter and food bank.

Growing up in a shattered home, with no positive male influence and dealing with his dad's desertion, Gene suffered from poor self-image, "I was into sports and no one came to my games," he said. "I liked who I became when I drank. And I drank to turn off the voices in my head. They told me I wasn't good enough and I would always fail." A tour of duty in the marines reinforced Gene's enchantment with alcohol. "Boys bump chests and testosterone flows the most when they are drinking," he said. Civilian life offered Gene the same temptations he faced the military. “I quit a good job because I figured that I could sell enough drugs to match my income and have plenty of time to take drugs," he said. "I actually thought that through."

Nevertheless, Gene met a great woman and they were married. "But I finally managed to push her away," he said. "I slept with women. If a woman would sleep with me, she validated me. It meant I was OK. My good wife had already given me that fix. So, I had to go find it somewhere else."

At age 26, Gene came to Georgia to meet the father who fled so many years before. "We hit it off right away," he said. "We were drinking buddies. I came back when I was 35 and realized the kind of person he was." Two marriages later, following a succession of job losses and periods of homelessness, Gene woke up on Christmas morning next to 1-985 with two empty bottles and the car, which was his only home. The next day, he wandered into the Quinn House where God's plan for his life would begin to unfold.

The Quinn House began 25 years ago when founders John and Carol Quinn took home an unmarried pregnant girl they met at a Waffle House. A few months later, the Quinn's ministry was bursting out of their home. The overflow forced them to move into a 100-year-old house on Perry Street in Lawrenceville. Today, it is a ministry, a multi-layered outreach assisting hundreds of people in Gwinnett and surrounding counties.

Pat Travis moved into the Quinn House 27 years ago with her 13-year-old son following her divorce. That move opened up a new life for her little family, and today, she helps coordinate the children's Christmas program and gives free haircuts. Her son serves as middle school youth pastor at Victory World Church in Norcross.

"John Quinn and the residents took a fatherly role to my son," Pat said. "I met my husband of 15 years here. He carne through the program."

At the end of his rope, Gene entered the Quinn House 40-day residential treatment program and stayed about two weeks, drifting in and out of the program about a half-dozen times before it "took."

"I was reading 'Lord, Change Me' by Kay Arthur in 2001 and I begged God to change me," he said. "I started hanging out at the Quinn House after work. I didn't like working in a homeless ministry, but this was where the peace was."

Gene packed and delivered food boxes, cleaned, marketed the ministry and discovered he had a talent for counseling. The hardest part of the job is getting close to people and seeing them fail, he said. Phil Davis, who grew up in Atlanta's Edgewood Court, was a resident for whom Gene held little hope. Phil had hit bottom. He had been shot three times, stabbed and generally busted up all over.

"I had trashed my life, but I got tired of seeing my mom cry," Phil said. "If it weren't for Gene's encouragement, I would be dead."

Phil woke up on the night of his 29th birthday and realized God had found him. "Mrs. Quinn, she pushed me to sit back, relax, erase the world and let Jesus in," he said. "I woke up and I felt warm, so warm, and I was crying and saying, 'Thank you, Lord.' (The Lord) said, 'I have my hand on you, son. Reach for me. I gotcha. '"

God can turn anything to good, Gene said. Decades after his father left the family, Gene helped put his family back together. His half brother went through the Quinn House's treatment program. While his half-sister recovered from hepatitis C, her children lived with Gene and his wife for one year. While leading a recent prayer service in Lawrenceville, Gene realized how far God had brought him. "I thought about where I had come from, and here I am now leading prayer in the largest town in the fastest-growing county in the largest state east of the Mississippi," he said.

The Quinn House can accommodate 32 people in its residential treatment program. Guests cook for 40 people twice a day and partners with 11 local ministries. It gives away 4 to II food boxes each day, sponsors about 250 children at Christmas and gives away about 200 food boxes at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It operates a thrift store to both raise funds and to give clothing to anyone in need, all on an annual budget of roughly $350,000.


The address is: 120 S Perry St. in Lawrenceville.
For more information or to make a donation, go to
www.thequinnhouse.com or phone: 770-962-0470.