With the life she's lived, it's safe to say 36-year-old Michelle Whitaker is lucky to be alive.

Once addicted to alcohol and then drugs, living homeless on the streets, a victim of serious domestic violence, Whitaker is more than just a survivor. She's the Client Services Director at HOPE Family Shelters in Manteca, a network of shelters assisting people through substance abuse recovery, homelessness, and financial issues.

"I really feel like I went through the things I went through, for a reason. In a sense I'm glad I went through it. I can connect with people on a different level than if I was book smart. I don't think you should be embarrassed, if you learn by your choices. If you learn and grow," Whitaker said.

As Client Services Director she oversees case managers who work with clients. She lives at one of the shelters and manages the many apartments where young families are earning their way back into employment and getting past bad credit ratings.

"We're not trying to tell them what to do. We're giving them options, as opposed to the ones they were trying that didn't work out," she said.

Michelle isn't just working at the shelters, assisting others. She has big plans for herself.

"I just graduated last semester with an associate degree and high honors in psychology. I'm getting a second degree this semester for teaching," she said.

Her ultimate goal is a doctorate in psychology.