Downtown Reno Partnership ambassador Don

Meet the ambassadors: Don Griffin’s former life of addiction and homelessness motivates him to help others

Donald Griffin overcame a troubled past of addiction, homelessness and heartbreak. The 39-year-old Downtown Reno Partnership ambassador and Reno local of 20 years uses his personal story to inspire everyone he meets on the street.

As a young adult, Don moved to Reno from Los Angeles. Like many, his addiction to drugs and alcohol did not immediately begin as one. He experimented with substances as a teen and before he realized the severity, it turned into an uncontrollable cycle that consumed his life.

Don continued his lifestyle in Reno and it led to more turmoil. The tragic death of his partner and the loss of one of his children to Child Protective Services took an overbearing toll on him that neither drugs nor alcohol could fix. For a period of time, Don lived on the streets and slept under bridges. In May 2017, Don was brutally robbed and beaten, suffering a broken jaw, which led to him spending days recovering in the hospital.

Don knew this was not the life he wanted but did not know where to turn for help.

His journey to sobriety did not begin until he came face to face with a public defender who challenged him to take a one-year program.

“I mentally detoxed,” Don said.

This kickstarted the transformation of his life. After 23 years of struggling with substance abuse, Don has been sober for two years.

Don’s past lit a fire within him. It drives him to help Reno and everyone he encounters.

“I was given my life back and I want to help others get theirs back,” Don said.

Being an ambassador is one of his major contributions to giving back. He believes Reno is small enough to make a big difference and people have major potential to succeed in this city.

“Every day is like a Friday to me. I believe in helping people,” Don said.

Downtown Reno Partnership’s ambassador, Don rides his Segway along the river to check in on the Reno community. Photo by Rachel Ribeiro

He works to fulfill the Downtown Reno Partnership’s mission and dedicates 100% of his effort to improving the lives of others. People who have met or heard about Don look up to him. He provides a glimmer of hope and touches the hearts of many by sharing his own experiences of overcoming hardship. 

From living on the streets to trying to save them, Don continues to be recognized for his hard work. The Partnership awarded him for assisting a man with an injured back. He walked the man for 45 minutes to his car. Don always takes the time to listen and offer his services to anyone in need.

Don is not only passionate about helping people in his community as an ambassador, but also loves to write. He is currently writing his own book that includes an autobiography and excerpts of his poetry. His poetry can be heard on 97.7 KWIN-FM radio. He also dedicates a portion of his time advocating for affordable housing at the Nevada State Legislature.

Don cares about downtown Reno and its electric community of people. He considers each day his greatest privilege in life to give back, help others and make downtown Reno a great place to work, visit, play and live.

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