Senator Tom Carper pays a visit to Seaford A.C.E Center

By Rachel Farris

On Friday, Feb. 12, U.S. Senator Tom Carper arrived at Seaford's A.C.E. Center. Randy Wothers and Drew Ward purchased the property and helped to build the center up in 2011.

"There's a big need for this," Wothers said. A.C.E. stands for "Acceptance, Change, Empowerment," and they help 30-50 people every day. Some of these people, referred to as "peers," may come in on a daily basis. It focuses on providing a place for those members of the community suffering from mental health issues, addiction, homelessness, and loneliness. It is, as Director Jim Martin puts it, "a welcome center to a better life."

To better understand the services they offer, Jamie Basara, an intern from Del Tech, put together a presentation for the senator. "I originally came in thinking that I would help a bunch of people," Basara said, "but every day I leave people have helped me."

During the presentation, Sen. Carper asked how the center helps people find employment. Collectively, volunteers and employees answered that they do this through networking, job listings, as well as helping them get documentation necessary (such as I.D.s) and helping with housing agencies, getting them GEDs, and doing resume builders.

"Are some employers and businesses more welcoming than others?" the senator asked. The answer was unanimously in the affirmative, citing Dunkin Donuts, IHOP, and "the chicken plant" as much more accepting of the peers as employees.

Assistant Director Linda Williams elaborated, saying that they had good relationships with churches and their congregations and some of those people owned businesses. "It all stems from our good reputation," she said.

Sen. Carper also inquired if meals are served at the center. Martin and volunteers discussed the options provided through the center, such as peers being able to cook for themselves, and volunteers and churches that cook as well.

The center provides a variety of peer groups. Some examples are Stepping Up and Stepping Out, a group for 18-30 year-olds; You Are Unique, a Hearing Voices Network; Art Therapy; and a Creative Writing group that has published a book entitled "Encouraging Words." This group is even getting ready to publish a second book.

The A.C.E. Center offers many other services. "People come in and do free haircuts, massages, aromatherapy," explained Beverly Hitch, a full time volunteer. "[These volunteers provide] a lot of unique things."

"We do a lot of networking," Martin said. One man, he said, always rode a bike, and by posting a picture of him with his bike on Facebook, they were able to gather enough donations to get him a car.

In November of 2015, they were provided a van, which helps with taking people to helping hands clothing center and on trips, among other things. The Nanticoke Hospital sponsored a drive for Christmas that provided gifts, volunteers, and much needed everyday items for peers.

"It's about the community," Martin added, "and it's all about increasing self-worth to get around barriers."

Roy Nelson, a peer who has been coming to the center for about a year, told the senator about A.C.E.'s assistance in his pursuit of a GED. "I was the first person that stepped up to Ms. Linda that said I wanted to get my GED," Nelson said. Having completed up to the eighth grade, Nelson is proud of the progress he has made, stating that he got a 100 percent on his first math test and that he has done all of his papers on his own. Since Nelson, two other peers have stepped up to get their GED. Nelson and his wife of 11 years, Christine, are "peer supporters" and volunteer at the center. When asked by Sen. Carper why they do this, Christine replied, "God put us in this place to help out." Carper responded, paraphrasing the Hindu guru, "In the joy of others, we find our own."

Bert Rosas, a peer and Philippines native, described A.C.E. as "a sanctuary for people with mental issues, addictions, and homeless people. I've made so many good friends here," he added. "It's a family. We've made so much progress."

"Why do you think some people are successful here and some are not?" Sen. Carper asked Rosas. Rosas said that it had to do with motivation, as well as communication and taking action. He added that not everyone has a choice, that some people with mental health issues have been abused in the past.

"We empathize with each other here," Bert said. "We all have our stories. You are not the only one, you can get through it like we have."

Lenny Butler, another peer, said that some issues getting help people need stem from location. "In 'slower lower [Del.],' we're forgotten," Butler said. "People say go to Dover, go to Wilmington, but we don't live there."

In light of this, Director Martin continues to advocate and advertise the resources available to the community. On March 1 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Church of God in Seaford, a program entitled "Nuts and Bolts" will take place. This presentation will feature Jean Bennett, regional administrator for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and will focus on how to battle heroin.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.