Beyond The Fog
By Adrian Diaz
Charles is a resident at Place of Promise, CUMAC’s supportive housing program. He’s a Paterson-native with a big smile and an infectious laugh. We had the chance to spend some time together last week and I’m so glad that we did. I learned a lot about him and why places like Place of Promise are so important. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share his story with all of you. But first, I’d like to thank Charles for his openness and his willingness to shed light on an issue that is difficult for so many to discuss.
Charles is in a good place today, but for over 30 years he struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. As a teenager, Charles started drinking and doing drugs. His dependence on these substances soon took over his life, leaving him unable to hold a job or keep a roof over his head. Charles spent years living in and out of shelters, often sleeping on the streets or in abandoned properties. His only worries: to stay warm and to find a way to get high or drunk. This lifestyle wasn’t easy on Charles, but the streets became all he knew and he couldn’t even imagine a different life for himself. “When you’re in the fog, that’s all you can see. Deep down you know you need to step out, but that’s the hard part because you’re so used to what’s inside the fog. You’re scared. You don’t know what’s out there. The fear of the unknown is what kept me in the middle for so long.” For years, fear kept Charles in the shadows, even when his life was truly in danger. While living on the streets, Charles has been stabbed, shot, and mugged. Despite all of these dangers, Charles’ addiction was his main priority, even over his own safety. It couldn’t allow him to leave the street life and everything that came with it.
Charles recalls a day when he first met Isaiah, Case Manager of Place of Promise, by chance. Charles had been sleeping near an abandoned property when Isaiah found him. They had a long talk and before Isaiah left he told him, “When you’re ready to get yourself straight, come see me.” At the time Charles wasn’t ready for recovery, as much as Isaiah wanted to help. It would be a few long years until Charles would be ready.
The Night That Changed Everything
Charles was drinking outside of an abandoned property one night when the police took him in. For most, getting arrested would be an awful ordeal, but for Charles it was an opportunity. After years of living on the streets, he realized how out of control his addiction had become and decided — then and there, in the back of a police car — that he needed to get help. Afraid to go back to the streets and what that might mean for him, Charles told the police officers to look into his record. It was a desperate move, but Charles knew that he couldn’t get sober on his own. Charles had some fines and other minor offenses pending, and that was enough to keep him in prison for a couple of months. “For 34 plus years I was tired, but I didn’t know how to get out” says Charles. “What made the police stop me that night? I don’t know. But I took it as my way out and I ran with it.” Away from the temptation of drugs and his circles on the street, Charles made a vow to never touch drugs or alcohol again. He got clean in prison, and made a commitment to recovery.
Recovery & Place of Promise
After Charles was released from prison, he knew the real work was about to start. The process hasn’t been easy, but he’s learned that he doesn’t have to do this alone. He’s joined support groups, made new friends, and has learned to listen to himself and others. For Charles it was a breath of fresh air to finally be able to call Isaiah and say that he’s ready to make a change.
Thanks to Isaiah and Place of Promise, Charles now has a home after over three decades of homelessness. But for Charles it’s much more than a home, it’s a family. “Place of Promise is a wonderful place. It has a lot to offer. We have meetings, we talk about our problems, and if you’re going through anything you can always go upstairs to talk to someone and vice versa.” Living with others who have faced addiction and understand his struggles, Charles has found great comfort. With a strong support system around him, Charles says it’s made his recovery much easier. “I haven’t felt this good in 34 plus years” says Charles. “I have Isaiah and my new home to thank for that.”
Isaiah has been a rock for Charles through his recovery, helping him to stay focused and positive through it all. He has also inspired him to be a better man. “What man would take time out of his day to see how we’re doing, how we’re feeling, what we’re going through, to share with us and to help us. He’s been awesome. You can’t ask for anything else” says Charles. “He helps everybody — not only in the house, but in the neighborhood. He’s always ready to help. And that grabs my attention – I think wow, this is what it’s about: trying to help others and giving back to those who need it.”
Seeing the ways Isaiah contributes to the wellness of the community makes Charles want to follow in his footsteps. He tells me that all the energy he used to spend feeding his addiction, he now spends trying to do the right thing and helping those around him. Being able to support others at Place of Promise and around the city has given him great joy and another reason to stay on the path that he’s on.
Sober now for more than three years, Charles is full of gratitude. He now has a job and is thrilled to own a car for the first time in 40 years. I congratulate him on his achievements, and Charles reminds me that he has a long way to go and that recovery takes constant work. Luckily, Place of Promise has given him the resources he needs to achieve his goals and see the world from a new perspective. “All I knew was the streets, but I’m learning that there’s so much more to life. I’m getting a little bit of it at a time, but I’m enjoying every bit of it.” What he’s most excited about it is that he can finally just be himself. “I can be honest today and I couldn’t be for a long time. For years I walked around with a mask on my face telling lies just to get what I needed. And I didn’t need it, but at that point in time I thought I did.”
Words of Advice
When I ask Charles if he has any advice or words of wisdom, he told me three things that really stuck with me.
1. “I don’t care what the problem is. Don’t give up. It’s gonna be alright. Life shows up. Just because you’re situation is there, doesn’t mean it’s as bad as it looks. You have to stay grounded. Stay focused and God will lift it up for you. I don’t care what the problem is. Just stay focused, do the right thing and it will get better. Don’t give up.”
2. “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you” he says. “You have to change if you want to recover. You can go from here to Georgia, but if you go down there and you’re thinking patterns aren’t right, you’re in trouble. You’re taking that mindset with you.” Charles was able to get clean in a town that he’s lived in for over 40 years, and he attributes his success to his commitment to change.
3. Surround yourself with positive people. Staying sober isn’t easy, but he tells me that having the right people around you is key. Place of Promise and his other programs have introduced Charles to some very positive people, many of them been sober for 20, 30 years or more. Listening to their stories and spending time with them has filled Charles with optimism. “It’s like anything else in life” Charles tells me. "You hang around a positive person long enough, some of that is going to rub off on you.”
Home, Sweet Home
Charles has many reasons to smile nowadays, but what he’s most excited about is having a place to call his own. “Just to have somewhere I can go, shower and lay down. It’s the little things in life that I’m so grateful for” says Charles. “Years back, I’d have to go to an abandoned house. Pray lord please don’t let nobody come in here, rob me, kill me, set the house on fire. A lot of things go through your mind. To go to my home and not have to worry about anything – that’s beautiful. I thank god for every minute and every day of my life now. I’m not where I want be yet, but thank god I’m not where I was.”
As Charles tells me more about his apartment, his new car and all of the things that he never thought he’d do, I can’t help but think of how far he’s come. With the support of others, Charles has truly turned his life around. No longer afraid of what’s beyond the fog, he’s rediscovering life and it’s amazing to see.
Place of Promise Gets A New Home
We are thrilled to announce that Place of Promise, CUMAC’s supportive housing program, will soon have a new home! We are changing locations in an effort to give our residents the best living experience possible. Our team stopped by the new location earlier this month to check out the residence and we were blown away. The new home is located minutes away from our current location, but it will offer our residents much more space and amenities.
As we prepare for move in day, there are several items that will be needed by some of our residents, including new and gently used refrigerators, kitchen table sets, chairs, box springs and bed frames (twin and full size). If you’re interested in making a donation please contact email@example.com or call 973-742-5518. Place of Promise can only accommodate certain size items so please call to confirm before donating.
We are looking forward to this exciting new chapter for Place of Promise. Stay tuned for more details about the house!
Eat Your Vegetables
By Rose Peligri
I can still hear my mom’s voice “Eat your fruits and vegetables, they are good for you!” And as an adult, I echoed those same sentiments to my boys. Lucky for me and my family, fresh fruits and veggies have been part and parcel of daily life. Now, thanks to CUMAC's partnership with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables will become a staple among pantry clients in the Passaic County community.
During the past several months, CUMAC has become a distribution hub in Passaic County for fresh produce. The Food Bank has arranged for produce distributors to deliver several pallets of produce to CUMAC’s warehouse twice a month. In turn, CUMAC shares that produce with its clients, pantry partners and food coalition members to enable individuals and families throughout the County to receive fresh produce. “Last week the fruit we received was in terrific condition. It was ripe, delicious and our clients were so pleased,” commented Joanne from a local pantry.
In a County where large segments of the population are food insecure and cannot afford fresh, healthy food, this program has generated excitement and positive energy. Providing wide scale access to nutritious foods will enable CUMAC to help individuals and families, living with hunger and poverty, make improvements to their meals and quality of life. The produce program has been very well received and now moms in Passaic County can say more regularly “Eat your fruits and vegetables. They’re good for you!”
Holidays are a wonderful time, but they can also be financially stressful on families struggling to make ends meet. In an effort to support these families and spread some joy around our community, CUMAC collects and distributes Easter baskets every spring. With the help of our generous supporters, CUMAC was able to provide Easter baskets to children at the La Vida Child Care Center in Paterson, Renaissance House in Newark, and within our pantry and programs. Together, we gave out over 700 baskets! Thanks to everyone who helped make Easter extra special for so many kids and families around our community this year.
Partners In Our Work
By Akeera Weathers
“Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew
Many of us struggle to find the balance between our professional life, our social life and our philanthropic life. We have the intentions to engage in volunteering, but don’t necessarily have the time. Fortunately, with the help of corporate volunteer programs, getting involved is now becoming simpler than ever for many. At companies across the country individuals are being given the opportunity to take time from their regular work day to provide hands on service throughout their communities. The benefits have been enormous.
Through corporate volunteering, individuals have the chance to not only help organizations improve, but they also help themselves and their company improve. Here are two key reasons why you should get your workplace to volunteer: it grows your company’s visibility and it encourages professional development (leadership and team building).
For corporations such as Columbia Bank and NEC Financial Services, excess time is not something they necessarily have; it’s how they approach it. In recent months, both companies have been putting their best foot forward to make time to give back to their community.
Along with their financial support, Columbia Bank has organized a new program which challenges employees to routinely volunteer. Employees are on site at CUMAC every two weeks for a full day to assist with various projects. New staff members are also encouraged to volunteer with the team, both as a team building experience and as a way to introduce them to Columbia's philanthropic priorities. The groups may vary in size, but their efforts to complete projects are immeasurable. They approach each project with enthusiasm and strategically to assure that each person is a part of the process.
NEC Financial Services has been an asset through different areas at CUMAC. After volunteering, the company has regularly held food drives and collections. On various occasions, NEC has consulted with CUMAC regarding building projects that would be beneficial to our daily operations, along with providing further assistance through grant funding from its affiliate, NEC Foundation of America. Just minutes away from the NEC office, CUMAC has become sort of a home away from home for their team, giving staff an opportunity to provide volunteer support directly to their community on a regular basis.
These companies are going above and beyond to create a culture of giving and we’re honored to call them partners in our work. Although only two corporate groups were mentioned, CUMAC would like to thank all our corporate volunteers for taking the time to help CUMAC fight hunger.
Does your company have a corporate service program? If you’re not sure, ask around your office. CUMAC is always looking to create new partnerships. If you would like to learn more about CUMAC or if you would like for your company to become more involved in fighting against hunger visit our companies page.
Together, We're Making A Difference
For over 30 years, CUMAC has been feeding people & changing lives. Your support has continued to make it possible. As we prepare for a busy summer, we ask you to please take action against hunger by making a donation to CUMAC this month. Every donation, large or small, helps ensure that we can serve all who come our way.
Want to fight hunger year-round? Become a monthly supporter.
The Event Of The Year: Pat's Big Celebration
By Jennifer Miller
In April of 2016 I sat at a conference table with a mix of CUMAC Trustees and staff and we began to discuss the party we would hold to honor our retiring Executive Director, Rev. Pat Bruger. I was only on staff around a month at that time so I didn’t know Pat very well. I listened to everyone’s ideas. The creativity and energy of this group of people painted a picture of how loved Pat is and how great the event would be. We became the event committee. From invitations to centerpieces, venues to vendors, every detail had to be perfect to honor Pat and a beautiful 26 year career. After the save the dates were created and mailed out, our work began. Months of planning and preparation followed.
When April 27th finally came, we couldn’t have asked for a better evening. Pat arrived to a room full of friends, old and new, some coming from as far as California to share in the special evening. The food was in abundance and just delicious. As we entered the main party room the love and happiness in the air did not go unnoticed. Smiling faces filled tables and as the music began so did the dancing.
We as attendees were honored to hear a success story from a man who called CUMAC his support system as a child, as a teen, and now as a college graduate and successful musician. With a big smile and tears of joy he said that Pat forever changed his life. We then got to hear stories of Pat’s persistence in helping the community of Paterson, the admiration and respect from the staff and the Bruger family, and a passage from Pastor Dave Pierson of the faith that has always guided Pat.
At the end of the night Pat spoke with the audience about the power of partnerships and how they have made and will continue to make CUMAC’s work possible. She shared the appreciation she has for the CUMAC Trustees and staff and the joy she feels knowing she will now have more time to spend with her family. Her words were inspiring and truly the perfect ending to the event of the year.
Thanks to all who attended Pat's retirement celebration! To see highlights from the celebration, visit our event page.
Around the Community
We would like to send a big thank you to our friends at Ferring Pharmaceuticals and Jersey Cares! This wonderful team spent a full day with us last month, working in our community garden and getting us ready for another season of growing. Thanks to their hard work, the garden is looking better than ever. We’ll be growing everything from carrots and onions to lettuce and kale this spring and we couldn’t be more excited. We can’t wait to share our fresh produce!
Thank you, Robert Ames! Rob’s birthday was in May and he decided that since he has everything he wants and needs, he’d asked that his guests bring a donation to CUMAC in lieu of gifts. The outpouring of generosity from his friends and family was amazing and Rob’s birthday raised $2,800! Rob says he had so much fun, especially counting the dollars as they rolled in and knowing they’d support a cause he loves. He also says he liked it so much, he’s going to do it again every year from now on. Thank you, Rob, for being a friend, advocate and birthday-donor!
Last month we had the pleasure of honoring two dedicated volunteers, Ayla Gentiletti and Stu Crepea, at the Paterson Alliance's 9th Annual Extra Mile Awards. Ayla and Stu have become an essential part of our team over the last year. Every week you can find these two, helping out around our building. Their leadership and willingness to jump in wherever needed has allowed us to reach new heights as a team. Thank you Stu and Ayla! To read more about these two all-star volunteers check out our blog.
Thank you for helping us feed people & change lives!
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From Our Blog
In honor of National Volunteer Week, we asked some of our volunteers what they love about volunteering with CUMAC. We hope their words inspire you the way they inspire us! See what they said on our blog.