Addiction recovery leads Cary resident to life of volunteer work

Cary resident Mike Goldman began using drugs when he was in seventh grade, but professional recovery services and decades of volunteer work have helped him maintain a life of sobriety for more than 40 years, he said.

Goldman never thought he had low self-esteem until he was away from drugs. Now, 44 years sober, gratitude is the 70-year-old's greatest source of motivation, he said.

"The simplest way I can put it is I think if you really, really deeply feel gratitude, it's really hard to feel miserable," Goldman said.

Coaching soccer and bowling for the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association, volunteering with the Cary Soccer Association and Red Cross, and bringing food and coffee to homeless communities, Goldman expresses his gratitude through acts of service for his community.

"He just commits like nobody else," said Catherine Bott, NISRA's former manager of support staff.

Goldman has coached soccer for more than 30 years and said the sport has become "a passion."

"I don't know if there's anything that compares to the Special Olympics," he said.

But before Goldman began his journey of volunteerism, he battled a heroin addiction that persisted into his early 20s.

"I ended up getting into some very serious heroin problems," Goldman said. "That's when I found the Gateway Foundation."

The foundation offers substance abuse treatment services throughout Illinois, including in Lake Villa, Aurora and Joliet.

Goldman spent about two years in recovery, where he attended meetings and counseling sessions from 1977 through 1978.

"I started doing volunteer work pretty much at that point and I won't say that's the only thing that helps me but it's been a major part of my life since then," Goldman said.

Addiction can be isolating, so although recovery takes many forms it's not uncommon for people to find solace in human connection, Gateway Foundation Executive Director Jim Scarpace said.

"Really, it's about hope," Scarpace said.

Equally important in breaking down the barriers to recovery is shattering the stigma surrounding addiction, Scarpace said.

"Really it's about breaking down those walls because none of that is true," he said. "It's a medical condition, and it can be treated. This is not who someone is but an illness they're struggling with."

Carol Lee, a 77-year-old Johnsburg resident who has coached NISRA teams with Goldman for almost a decade, wasn't aware of Goldman's past addiction until recently. To fellow coaches and volunteers, Goldman is known simply for being outgoing, friendly, committed, compassionate and "so wonderful," Lee said.

"I can depend on him," Lee said. "He's always in touch. He's reliable. We just always have a great time with the kids, and that makes it fun."

Goldman's gratitude isn't unreciprocated. The impact of his volunteer work is far-reaching and long-lasting, Lee said.

"(The players) come back and visit. They come and watch different games that he might be coaching," she said. "He coaches younger kids, youth soccer, to high school teens so he's capable of influencing all of those age groups," she said.

Outside of volunteering, Goldman enjoys spending time with his wife, being a grandfather, participating in fantasy football and playing poker, he said.

"I go to Vegas once a year for work and do pretty well there," Goldman said, laughing.

Information about substance abuse and treatment options is available through the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition online at

Cary Soccer Association coach Mike Goldman works with youth in the league at Cary Grove Park on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Cary. Goldman, 70, is a recovered heroin addict from 45 years ago through Gateway who has focused his efforts into various volunteer opportunities, including coaching youth soccer. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media
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