Dan Rock seemed to be on the road to success. At an early age, he landed a job with Amgen and made a decent living, had a decent home and saved up quite a nest egg — until his desire to chase his dreams took over.
“I was making a lot of money, but I wasn’t happy,” said Rock.
After several years attempting to kick-start a screen printing business, Rock sold the equipment that he’d spent his savings on and traveled to Oregon. From there, he found himself in a van accompanied by a dog as he traveled back toward Ventura, where he found that his only possessions were just those — his dog and a van.
“I cried myself to sleep every night, not really caring about myself but thinking that I was going to die and my dog was going to be left alone in this van,” said Rock. “That was the beginning of when I started to think a little differently.”
Standing on the corner of Mills Road and Main Street in Ventura, holding a sign that read “homeless, not hopeless,” Rock — whose right arm from the elbow down has been missing since birth — was unsure if he believed what he’d written. On one particular day in March, a woman approached in her car, bought him a meal and offered to give him her recyclables that would otherwise have gone into the trash bin.
The meeting with Susan Lindahl would prove to be the spark Rock needed to get out of his rut.
Lindahl, sales manager and co-founder of Guard-Dogs Aggressive Eyewear in Ventura, realized something different about Rock from the moment she saw him.
“I said to him, ‘You don’t come across to me as someone who chooses to be homeless,’ ” said Lindahl to Rock. After buying him lunch, Lindahl returned with an idea. " ‘I’ve got a thought for you,’ " she said to Rock. " ‘How about asking for people to give you their trash?’ "
The night after their meeting, Rock took a cardboard box and painted “Got CRV?” onto the side. Rock found that enthusiasm surrounding his business would not take long to materialize.
“I was amazed by how many people, within one week, went home to grab their bottles and cans to give to me,” said Rock. “It was like, ‘Wow, you did that for me?’ ”
From its humble beginnings, Dan’s Cans grew overnight. Rock maintained a regular schedule and moved his collection box to the corner of Telephone Road and Main Street, where he would appear daily, bringing the day’s collection to local recycling shops for extra cash.
But Rock was still sleeping in his van. His biggest fear was losing his home — the van he had traveled in from Oregon with his dog, a dog he had chosen to give to a family in hopes of it finding a better home.
With a steady income from Dan’s Cans, however, Rock was able to renew his driver’s license and car registration on a payment plan — by showing the city receipts from his daily recycling efforts.
Less than 45 days later, Lindahl returned to find that Rock had taken her words to heart.
“He goes from being as happy as he had been since he started the program to ‘I’m a part of society again,’ ” said Lindahl.
“For the first time I wasn’t necessarily asking for money,” said Rock. “I wasn’t asking for a handout. It felt like I was doing a good thing and providing a service.”
It wouldn’t stop there. Lindahl offered Rock a position at her company in the sales department. Rock’s schedule found him working with Lindahl part time and returning to his corner from 3 to 6 p.m., collecting cans for his program, which has evolved into Dan’s Cans 4 Causes.
Now, after his own success, Rock donates 10 percent of his recycling proceeds to charity and has given speeches about the path to success at Harbor Church in Ventura. His story has inspired other homeless to attempt the same thing — but the motivation to do so is something that isn’t found in everyone.
Paul White, founder of the Stronghold School in Ventura, reached out to Rock to assist after spotting him on the street. White, whose school offers classes for the underprivileged, found Rock to be an inspirational story for those looking for motivation.
“It’s what he does, not what he talks about,” said White. “Look how many people give up just on alcohol, let alone if you’re struggling with the issue of a missing limb.”
Recently, Rock and White met with Ventura community services manager Peter Brown to discuss the direction in which his business can go, whether that be working with E.J. Harrison — the city’s go-to trash and recycling collector — or by attempting to replicate his success with any number of the city’s homeless.
“I want to be the guy encouraging and promoting recycling in Ventura,” said Rock, who is also an avid surfer and environmentally conscious.
No longer homeless, Rock continues to promote recycling through Dan’s Cans 4 Causes and hopes to spread his influence throughout the city — for the homeless who wish to change their situation through a little work and for the sake of cleaning up the city.
“I smile, for many reasons; I’m a happy guy now and life is good,” said Rock. “If someone is willing to do this program, I try to be that mentor to let them know, too, that this is how it will work and how it will work for you.”
Dan can be seen on the corner of Telephone Road and Main Street, Monday through Friday, 3-6 p.m. For more information on Dan’s Cans 4 Causes, visit www.facebook.com/dcpayitforward.