Bouncing back: A.C.E. is the place where peers help peers

 

GEORGETOWN – The A.C.E. Peer Resource Center in Georgetown is the place of temporary refuge, hospitality and friendship where peers help peers bounce back from life’s darker twists and turns.

The Georgetown A.C.E. Peer Resource Center had a special Sunday opening with a barbecue – a community-wide event to mark the center’s bounce-back from a weekend break-in during which nothing was apparently stolen.

This past weekend, there was a break-in at the two-story facility on northbound U.S. 113. The front door and several staff office doors and door moldings took a beating but nothing was stolen, according to A.C.E. Peer Resource Center Director Jim Martin.

For this occasion, the peer center – usually closed Sunday – opened with a special bounce-back barbeque featuring the barbequing talents of Jack Gibbs and his associates. Community support responded.

“I am in tears. Amazing barbeque! Bouncing back from the break-in in a big way today!” Mr. Martin posted on Facebook.

It’s just another chapter at the A.C.E. Peer Resource Center, which after a soft opening this past spring has become a beehive of activity.

“We are now seeing sign-ins like 40 to 50 a day,” said Mr. Martin. “It’s a combination of stuff. Mainly, they are unemployed, seeking employment. They are homeless and roofless seeking shelter. And there are also people seeking sobriety. So, you could have someone that has an active addiction but they want change, ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ We help them navigate. And we are strictly non-medical. That is why we team up.”

Drop in at the center around 7:30 a.m. weekday mornings before the center opens and you might find a few drop-ins catching some early-morning shuteye on picnic tables.  Some of those homeless might have spent the night in the woods.

“It’s a tough life,” said Mr. Martin.  “They duck in where they can. We do provide stuff they need to at least survive the night; sleeping bags, tents. It’s called ‘harm reduction,’ meaning that if we have no other options we reduce harm. We don’t want to cause more harm. We reduce harm by giving them cover so they can duck in somewhere and get a good night’s sleep, because sleep is so key for a human. You have to have sleep. Sleep for the mind and brain is key.”

Signatures of drop-ins and visitors at the A.C.E. Peer Resource Center in Georgetown.

“One of the things I have keyed in on is give people a place to sleep. Not a place to live but a place to sleep,” said Mr. Martin.

A.C.E. is an acronym for Acceptance, Change and Empowerment. An A.C.E. facility along the Stein Highway railroad bridge in Seaford several years ago preceded the birth of the Georgetown center on DuPont Boulevard near the intersection of SR 404.

The two-story facility’s amenities include a kitchen, shower, a computer wall, a series of rooms designated for various uses and gatherings and the infamous Stay Out of Trouble Today Café gathering place.

Foundational pillars are radical hospitality, employment assistance and tackling homelessness, loneliness and isolation. Mr. Martin emphasizes it’s a non-medical recovery learning center based on peer support.

The center is committed to building relationships that are sober.

Peer into the center’s second-floor kitchen in the morning and one might see Nick Hack, whose ongoing sober-free road to recovery from addiction and prison is cleansed with faith. The 64-year-old Exmore, VA, native has assumed a chef’s role in preparing hearty breakfast for fellow peers.

Among the peers, Nick Hack cooks up breakfast at the A.C.E. Peer Resource Center.

“I’ve been a cook ever since the 80s down in Rehoboth, different places over by the beach,” said Mr. Hack. “I saw him (Jim Martin) on TV about opening this place up and I figured he needed help so I just stepped in. My mission is just in the ‘good book’ a lot; my spiritual anointment told me to help people, help people often, people that don’t have anywhere to stay, people that are helpless and just be a walking testimony for Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Hack has been on both sides of the track. More than a decade ago, there was prison with crack cocaine, weed and other drugs in his past.

“I was in prison for 26 months. I did all kinds of recovery programs,” said Mr. Hack. “Sometimes you’ve got to go back to go ahead. Right now, I’m just staying clean. Right now, I’m busy helping these people, and acknowledge people through their recovery. It helps me.”

His immediate desire is to start a detail business. “I need a bike or a used vehicle,” said Mr. Hack.

Transportation – bicycles in particular – are priorities on the center’s wish list.

“We’re really into bikes. It may be for a guy that can’t get his driver’s license for some reason, so he can get down to the chicken plant. That work is exhausting,” said Mr. Martin.

One donated bike was recently given to a drop-in who works at Perdue. “He was getting off at 5 o’clock. I was there. He had a ride home. We give out lots of bikes. If the community wants to help us that is one way. I’m talking about getting to your job,” said Mr. Martin.

Peers, indeed, are the key, said Mr. Martin, who is himself is about eight years sober-free from alcohol and pain-killer addiction.

No longer a homeless feline, Carmel gets some attention from A.C.E. Peer Resource Center Director Jim Martin.

“That is the secret weapon, that we have the peers. People ask, ‘How can you do all of this stuff?’ We have an incredible team of peers that will give their heart and soul to this thing because they’ve been through it and now they want to help the next guy,” said Mr. Martin. “We don’t kick people to the curb.”

“Another thing we have noticed is if they have other relationships that are positive,” Mr. Martin added. “I am learning the opposite of addiction is connection, not recovery. What does recovery look like? It’s connection. That is what we are learning at the A.C.E. Center; if you can connect people to other people in a positive way then you can kick that addiction. Think about it: Why are we even addicted in the first place? Because there is a big void … loneliness and isolation. They say that isolation is a very bad trigger. If we can find a way for people to connect they feel better about themselves.”

Not that the center is immune to tension, issues or friction. Hardly a day goes by without some dose of drama. But it’s all part of the game.

“If you talk to these peers, a lot of them are really past the point of … they know that they are not going to be the CEO of IBM. They gave up on some of their dreams. They are at a point in life where they are mid-50 and mid-60s and now they are looking to give back. They want to do what was done for them. And they are stable to the point where they have a place to sleep,” said Mr. Martin. “I had never heard of the ‘minimalists,’ people actually live as minimalists. That is a chosen style where they live minimally, on purpose and they are happy with it. We’re just trying to reduce the impact of poverty on people. We’re dealing with third world problems here.”

The center is primarily open weekdays, starting at 8 a.m. During the recent blistering heat wave, however, the center opened to provide cool comfort. It is not intended to be an emergency overnight shelter.

Community support recently paid huge dividends. On June 1, the A.C.E. Peer Resource Center emerged the winner in a statewide 24-hour marathon fundraiser with Do More Delaware. The center, among 219 non-profits across Delaware, received 275 monetary gifts totaling $17,275.32.

As the winner, A.C.E. received two checks totaling $17,000 from the United Way of Delaware through the Do More 24 campaign. Funding is earmarked for new appliances, a new floor as well as others on a wish list.

“Money always follows good ideas,” said Mr. Martin. “That is saying something for the credibility that we have, that we are here and we are ready to go. I think our confidence in the program is soaring. We don’t have to hide. We can just do our stuff.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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