Homeless, an addict or in crisis? A.C.E. is the place

ACE martin, mcgrath carper

From left, A.C.E. Peer Resource Center Director Jim Martin, Karen McGrath, Sussex County director for U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper, and Sen. Carper look on during a presentation on the center that assists people in crisis, including the homeless and those battling addiction.

SEAFORD — Last Friday U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper got to peer into grassroots efforts structured to help the homeless, addicts, persons battling mental health issues and those in crisis.

Community support, ongoing challenges and success stories punctuated Sen. Carper’s visit to the A.C.E. Peer Resource Center – a drop-in center with an open door that serves the homeless and drug and alcohol addicted in Sussex County.

“We try to help them get whatever they need. One of biggest goals is to provide peer friendship and hospitality. It is a bonding,” said Linda Williams, a peer education specialist from Georgetown.

“We want to reduce the stigma of mental health. We want to be good neighbors,” said A.C.E. Peer Resource Center Director Jim Martin.

An acronym for Acceptance, Change and Empowerment, A.C.E. provides a sheltered resource for creating positive, sober support relationships, job search assistance and placement in affordable, sober housing.

“We are a re-entry program. We think outside of the box when there isn’t a box,” said Mr. Martin. “It’s networking.”

“This place is a sanctuary. We are all family here,” said Philippine native Bert Rosas, who has been with the center since its inception four years ago. “We’ve had a lot of progress. In the beginning there was so much more drama than there is today. We’ve seen a lot of great success stories here. That’s what we are all about.”

Education is among the many spokes in the wheel.

Dagsboro resident Jamie Basara is pursuing her associate’s degree in Human Services at Delaware Technical Community College and is serving her internship at the peer center based in Seaford.

“My teacher actually brought us here in the beginning of last semester. I really liked what I saw at the center, so I actually chose this as my internship,” said Ms. Basara, a 2005 Indian River High School graduate. “And something I learned from coming to the center as an intern is originally I came in thinking I was going to help a bunch of people and every day I walk out and people are helping me.”

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Roy Nelson, left, talks about the role A.C.E. Peer Resource Center has played in his desire to obtain his GED. Also pictured at the table, Mr. Nelson’s wife Christine and U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper.

A recipient of her tutelage is 51-year-old Roy Nelson, whose interest in obtaining a GED led to the establishment of a program that Ms. Basara leads.

Mr. Nelson moved to Delaware from New Hampshire when he was about 18 years old. Within the next year, he plans to earn his GED. He recently graded a 100 on a math test.

“The highest grade I completed was eighth grade. I am going to get my GED,” said Mr. Nelson.

“He has done a lot of it himself when he got the self-confidence,” said Ms. Basara.

On average, 30-50 individuals check in daily at the resource center. Some are frequent attendees.

“Actually what I have noticed is that a lot of peers that we help, they come and end up being peers who are helping others peers,” said Ms. Basara. “We see a lot of new people.”

Mr. Nelson and his wife Christine are A.C.E. Peer Resource Center volunteers.

“God put us in this place to help people out,” Ms. Nelson said.

“There is an old Hindu saying. It goes like this: “In the joy of others we find our own,” said Sen. Carper.

The center has a strong relationship with churches. It receives food in part from the Food Bank.

Breakfast is served and other hot meals are prepared sometimes by peers and also by the community volunteers.

“Every other Tuesday morning we have a man who comes in. He’s from the Odd Fellows Club and he comes and makes pancakes,” said Ms. Williams, who works with Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania which is the center’s sponsoring agency.

Through a creative writing program, the center’s peers published a book entitled Encouraging Words. Plans are in the works for a second book.

“We do try to help people be independent,” Ms. Williams said.

A.C.E. volunteer Lenny Butler shared his life story punctuated by a series of “misfortunes” that put him and his wife in the woods living in a tent. “Then in March of last year my disability came through and I got us out of the woods,” he said.

Their home now is a church parsonage.

“I am another peer here. I’ve been here almost three years,” Mr. Butler said.

Mr. Rosas, who attended Duke University, said he utilizes his experience in the mental health arena to run a few therapeutic groups.

“However, I have received much more from the center and my peers than I have given,” said Mr. Rosas. “We all try to help one another advance and move forward in life, especially in attainment of individual goals. I have attended many day programs and I can honestly say that A.C.E. stands out as the best.”

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

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