Edwin

Edwin

Edwin was referred to ACE through his rehabilitation facility. He says, “I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was afraid of the unknown. I had been at other programs and failed. Being at ACE was different. I found a home with ACE and a family… I want to thank ACE for believing in me when no-one else did, not even myself.”

Determined to improve his reading and writing skills, Edwin benefited greatly from ACE’s education program, through which he received one-on-one literacy tutoring, and attended math classes and job readiness workshops. His favorite class soon became the one-on-one reading sessions, because of the personalized attention his tutor gave him. “I was getting so much help, I was elevated to a skill level that I never thought I would. I was shown that with time and hard work there’s nothing I can’t do.

Today, Edwin is employed full-time as a maintenance worker at a school in Brooklyn. Grateful to be back in the workforce and to have purpose and direction in life again, Edwin is excited about the future. “I have achieved what I wanted, but I still have more goals to accomplish.” He was recently selected to participate in ACE’s housing program, Project Home, and is now working toward obtaining his GED.

Ralph

Ralph

Born in the rough parts of Brooklyn and raised in run-down shacks and projects all over the city, it is safe to say that Ralph has seen the worst that each borough has to offer. His mother battled alcoholism throughout his childhood

As a kid, Ralph struggled in school and began using drugs and alcohol in his early teens. What started off as experimentation quickly evolved into full-blown addiction. His chemical-dependency habits, along with a rapidly developing rap sheet, would dominate much of his adult life. “I was drinking a lot, spending my time in prison or on the streets, eating out of the garbage,” he recalls. “I was lost for a long, long time.”

Ralph became clean and sober in the early 90’s, but still struggled to get his life on track in the wake of several arrests and prolonged bouts of unemployment. He found ACE in 2011 through Samaritan Village, a treatment center that refers recovering men and women to Project Comeback. When he joined the ACE street-sweeping crew, he says, “I felt at home. I loved working, cleaning, feeling good about doing things again.”

Ralph soon became a visible and vocal presence at ACE, earning high marks on progress reports and spreading his infectious positive attitude to staff and program participants alike. “I cam here to improve myself,” Ralph explains.

In addition to completing employment training on the crew and our series of job-readiness workshops, Ralph opted into ACE’s continuing education curriculum. Having battled dyslexia since childhood, he worked steadily with the ACE staff to improve his reading and writing skills. “That stuff has always been tough for me, “ he says. “Now, I want to continue to go to school and I’m fighting to get my GED.” The hard work shows – at ACE’s fall 2011 Graduation, Ralph proudly read an inspiring letter about his journey, which he penned during his tenure at Project Comeback.

These days, Project Comeback graduate Ralph is working full-time on the maintenance staff at the H.O.M.E.E. Clinic in the Bronx and has transitioned to ACE’s aftercare program, Project Stay. He hopes to pursue his goal of becoming a motivational speaker, so he can share his story with others and inspire people who have been through similar struggles. “It all depends on your point of view,” he explains. “It’s about control, challenge, and the willingness to understand your right to change and accept responsibility. It’s about learning and identifying our wrong mistakes. I will continue to take personal inventory in my life when I was wrong. And don’t forget the fight’s not over. Hold your head up.”

Jacqueline

JacquelineWalking along Prince Street near the corner of Mott last summer, you may have noticed a vibrant and engaging woman speaking to passersby about Use Your Head, ACE’s new resale boutique. That woman, Jacqueline, is one of our most recent Project Comeback graduates and we could not be prouder of her success.

Jacqueline was born in Harlem to a good family. She and her twin sister were the babies of the family, but after their father passed away, it was Jacqueline’s sister who helped to support their family. In Jacqueline’s words, “My twin sister was the good one. I was the bad one.” When her sister passed away in 1989, Jacqueline was shattered.

After losing her sister, Jacqueline turned to drugs. She spent the next seventeen years in and out of various detox programs. Although Jacqueline says, “I put my mother through a lot,” her mother never lost hope. She continued to bring Jacqueline to drug rehabilitation programs despite the fact that Jacqueline would inevitably leave after a day or two, only to return to her destructive lifestyle. In Jacqueline’s words, “I was never ‘homeless’ because I always had a home with my mother. I just didn’t want to go back to my mother’s house and have her see me the way that I was.”

Eventually, Jacqueline was arrested and ordered to complete a drug rehabilitation program with Day Top. On March 15, 2006, she entered the program and, in her words, Day Top “rescued” her. “It saved my life,” she says and certainly she thrived while in the program. She was appointed to be a record keeper, a position of responsibility that earned her significant trust from her supervisors. Jacqueline completed the ten month rehabilitation program and has remained drug-free ever since.

Jacqueline then went on to an eight month training program, where she obtained a certificate in custodial maintenance, but still she struggled to find a job. In January 2009, Jacqueline came to Project Comeback on a recommendation from her vocational counselor. According to Jacqueline, “I grew so much” in Project Comeback.

Jacqueline took great pride in her sweeping work and quickly distinguished herself on the crew. She was honored with a Senior Crew Award both for her impressive work ethic and her inspiring attitude. “You could eat off of my streets!” she would say, but Jacqueline was also known for her exuberance and the positive effect she had on everyone around her.

Before her graduation, we offered Jacqueline temporary employment at Use Your Head and she became a truly valuable member of the team, assisting with our marketing campaign by distributing flyers on the streets of Nolita and spreading the word about the store. Jacqueline says she worked so hard for Use Your Head because, by getting people through the door, she knew she was doing her part to help ACE and the people we serve.

According to Jacqueline, her time in Project Comeback helped her not only to become more responsible, but also to be more giving, particularly when she sees a homeless person on the street or in the subway.

Jacqueline officially graduated from our program on September 18th, 2009, and is now thriving at her job at Nathan’s Restaurant in Penn Station. She is still in outpatient treatment and is a member of a wonderful women’s group. She is happy to have so many positive people in her life, including her mother, who is thankfully alive and well to witness all that her daughter has accomplished. In the future, Jacqueline hopes to work as a supervisor, possibly in a homeless shelter helping people to find housing and get back on their feet.

Kelvin

Kelvin

Like many of our Project Comeback graduates, Kelvin’s journey to us was a long one. He came to our program with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and a pattern of institutionalization for possession, selling and petty theft. Given the circumstances of his childhood, Kelvin got caught up early in a destructive cycle he could not see his way out of and, while he says it was “one hell of a ride,” he also admits, “I just could not see the depth of hell I was lowering myself to.”

On February 23rd, 2007, Kelvin was arrested for selling crack to an undercover officer. With four priors, he was considered a persistent offender and faced “a pretty stiff sentence.” But during his subsequent incarceration, Kelvin made a decision. “God stepped in and put breaks on all my grandiose schemes. He put me in a place where I worshipped him most,” he says, “—in prison.” Although Kelvin had been unsuccessful in previous treatment programs, he finally realized, “this is it for me. I need help,” and he decided to get clean.

He was admitted to Daytop Services in Far Rockaway on January 4, 2008, finally ready to make a commitment to sobriety. His new counselor told him, “Let down your resistance,” and, slowly but surely, Kelvin did just that. He began to share himself, to come out of his shell, and pretty soon “doors started to open.” He began to see himself in a different light. “I wasn’t just a tough guy, wasn’t just the father who had abandoned his child and his family.” “My problem,” he says, “once I admitted I had a problem, was the crack cocaine.” Kelvin has been clean ever since.

When a friend told him about ACE and Project Comeback, Kelvin was reluctant. The idea of cleaning the streets didn’t match his image, but then he stopped and weighed his options: “image vs. getting my life back… And, lo and behold, I put my image on the shelf.” It only took an hour to convince Kelvin he had chosen the right road. He remembers his intake interview with ACE case manager John Ellert as the first day of the rest of his life. With John’s help, Kelvin was able to truly open up and commit to reclaiming his life. In Project Comeback, Kelvin worked and worked hard, taking the program day by day. He began to realize, “If I don’t count the time and make the time count, things are getting better.” Now, Kelvin says, “I make the clock work for me.”

Kelvin graduated from ACE on October 8, 2009 and has been gainfully employed at a homeless shelter in Fort Washington Homeless ever since. He works the night shift from midnight to 8 AM as a program assistant, monitoring the clients and facility. He plans to apply for the Buhl Scholarship to Metropolitan College as soon as he reaches the six-month employment benchmark. “I’m SoHo for life!” he says, and we believe in him.

Kelvin plans to pursue a career in substance abuse counseling. “I really want to be in the field where I’m giving back,” he says. Kelvin’s son is now twenty-three and has two kids of his own, so Kelvin wants to be “the best grandfather ever,” to do everything in his power to make sure the cycle stops with him. He realizes his responsibility to himself, saying, “Now I don’t make promises. I just show up and do. I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anybody else.”

I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anybody else.

When you ask Kelvin about his life at present, he answers, “I’m having a ball.” He speaks of his commitment to his sobriety and his gratitude to ACE for the second chance. “It all goes back to my higher power, who I choose to call God—that’s where my gratefulness comes from. Some people say, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ I just say, ‘God works.’”

Ha’Saan

Ha'saanOriginally I’m from Newburgh. It was a wild little town. It still is.

I grew up in an alcoholic home. Most children, when you raise them, you try to raise them with happiness. My growing up was always filled with darkness, because I was witnessing negativity every day—the alcohol. I used to be traumatized seeing my mother get beat up by my father. I grew up thinking that negativity and darkness and pain and suffering were all going to be a part of my life. It was instilled in me at that age; the feelings you’re feeling now, you’ll feel for the rest of your life. And so I started living that feeling. I identified with pain more than I identified with pleasure. It made me to want to isolate myself from the world.

So eventually, I ended up exploring the drugs that led me to prison. At the age of 15, I went to prison and I did 26-27 years in different prison bids, going back and forth, in and out of prison, until the age of 47. Prison became a cycle that I didn’t know how to stop. After adapting to a childhood life of pain and misery, I adapted to an adult life of pain and misery. That was my comfort zone.

I was one of those people who was comfortable in prison; I was able to handle it. I didn’t fear prison, I didn’t care about going to prison. I was trying to use drugs to replace pain and suffering. And I never replaced it; it always just sent me to a different level of pain and suffering. And, again, you adapt to things after a while. I did not enjoy what I was feeling, but I became accustomed to it. I became accustomed to not believing in myself, to those cell doors slamming behind me, to police chasing me, to looking in a mirror and not seeing that light behind my eyes.

I ran into a point in my life—they call it a bottom—I ran into a spiritual bottom about eleven months ago. I was spiritually bankrupt; my self-esteem was shot. I didn’t want to feel how I was feeling spiritually. I didn’t like the person in the mirror any more. I didn’t like the person of the past or the present. When I prayed, tears came out. I didn’t want to die an addict. I didn’t want to die with no one to say, “Hey, he was a good guy.”

That’s what brought me into everything I’m doing now. At my transitional housing program, they told me about Project Comeback. I was told they’d train me and place me, and because of my criminal history, I figured this would be an easy way to find a job.

When I first came here, I came here just for one thing: give me employment. I didn’t come here for any of that other stuff, I didn’t come here to interact with people. But I came here willing to change, and so something happened on the way—I began to find myself. This program helped me to find myself—or at least point me in the direction to look for myself.

My first month or so, picking up garbage cans, lifting a garbage can, I couldn’t stand it. I still don’t like it. But that’s how this program helps. I learned humility. Because even though I don’t like doing this, I get a check. And I’m doing something besides sitting up there in the Esperanza house.

You come here and learn more than you think you’re going to learn. You don’t have to like something, but you deal with it until things get better. I learned to communicate with people. I learned humbleness, responsibility, to respect others. I learned to believe in myself a little bit again.

Drawing is the love of my life, that’s where I’m at peace, when I take a piece of paper and create something. I also write poems. I really want to pursue that so I can find true happiness. When I used to go back and forth to jail, drawing was my piece of mind, it was my escape; it was my way of thinking that I wasn’t in prison.

I like greeting cards because they bring together both drawing and poetry. I have a greeting card company called Passionate Greetings. My name is copyrighted and my work is patented. I sent thirty-two greeting cards to Albany and Washington DC, and they authenticated everything, and gave me my license, sent me my title. And now I’m trying to raise $200 to get the copies.

This is the love of my life, if I can somehow get back into it.

Fall 2012 Quarterly Newsletter

Dear Friend,
ACE Programs for the Homeless is excited to share some of our most recent accomplishments with the supporters who have made them all possible.  So far this year, we have had 124 individuals enroll in Project Comeback and have had 79 individuals find full-time employment.  Here’s to 2012 ending on a successful note!
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Project Comeback Graduation

On August 16th, ACE honored 37 Project Comback graduates, the most in a single graduation in the program’s history, at the New York Law School.  The ceremony room was filled to capacity and those in attendance learned about the accomplishments of an amazing group of formerly homeless men and women who’ve found full-time employment and are on the road to self-sufficiency.

These graduates worked hard every day sweeping the streets of New York keeping our great city clean and beautiful, while completing Project Comebacks job training and education courses.  We appreciate their work ethic and praise their commitment to a better life.
Congratulations to our 37 graduates!

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Shawnee’s Story

Shawnee is a mother to two, a grandmother to one and is a recovering addict who has been clean the last six moths. She heard about ACE at the American Red Criss and after looking into Project Comeback she joined the program.

Three months later Shawnee is happy to be at ACE. “ACE provides recovering addicts and those previously homeless with stability and teaches them to cope with society without the use of drugs. If gives us an opportunity to catch up on certain skills like taking the GED,” she says, “I love how family oriented and supportive everyone at ACE is. The staff is always there to help and you can talk to them about anything; both personal and private.” Shawnee has been attending job training workshops and is also learning how to use a computer. “The teachers are so helpful and take their time to make sure we learn properly.”

Shawnee’s favorite part about Project Comeback is the cleaning. “I love meeting and being around different people and cultures. They really appreciate what we are doing on the streets and many thank us for the cleaning we do.”

Shawnee hopes to take her love of people further and is looking forward to graduating from Project Comeback and going back to school to get her nursing license. She still plans to stay in touch with ACE via Project Stay.

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Junior Committee Fall Soiree

On September 20, 140 young professionals gathered at the Crosby Street Hotel for ACE’s Junior Committee Fall Soiree. The Junior Committee is a group of young professionals who support ACE and its mission to provide job training, work experience and a lifetime support network to the formerly homeless men and women of New York City. The Soiree was hosted by Barbara Duerrer, Tim Morehouse, Adriana De Moura and LuAnn de Lesseps.

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Meet Leslie Marcarello, ACE’s Newest Education Coordinator

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you heard about ACE?

“I was working at the Education Department at the New York Public Library where I did a little bit of everything; intakes, organized ESL classes and assisted the Centers for Reading and Writing. I was ready to move on and found out about ACE online.”

So what exactly does the Education Coordinator do?

“I work on the literacy side of Project Comeback so I do intakes and orientations, facilitate English and computer classes and assist with job training activities. I also work one-on-one with some of our clients who read at or below a 6th grade reading level.”

What stood out to you about the Education Coordinator position and what has been your favorite part so far?

“It seemed like the right move to make given my background. My life inspiration is to have a job that has meaning and isn’t just a paycheck. Through this position I’m not only able to help people but since the program is evolving I have the opportunity to come up with new ideas and really make something my own. I enjoy my one-on-one tutoring sessions the most as I have now become personally invested in our clients and want to help them reach their goals.”

What do you like doing in your spare time?
“I spend most of my time with my husband and dog at dog parks or exploring restaurants in my neighbor of Astoria.”
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Download the newly released NYC Around Town App
Have you downloaded the NYC Around Town App for your iPhone or Android?  This must-have app, a mobile version of our popular printed guide includes local deals and special discounts, recommendations on shops, restaurants, hotels and spas and the ability to connect with Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter.  Download the NYC Around Town App and be sure to spread the word to your friends and family.
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Support ACE while doing your holiday shopping
ACE is now a part of the Amazon Associates program, which means YOU can now support ACE while doing your holiday shopping at Amazon.com.  Use this special link to go to Amazon and then shop as you normally would. When you complete your purchase, ACE receives as cash back gift from Amazon every month.  It’s a convenient and simple way to support our programs.