Homeless men battling addiction find strength in giving to others


Minor miracles happen when people fighting addictions get a rare chance to help others.

Counselors say substance abusers suddenly find new strength to help themselves.

So it was this week, when recovering residents at Mariners Inn in Detroit became Santas for a dozen needy families in the center’s Adopt-A-Family program. Mariners Inn is one of the city’s oldest programs for homeless men addicted to alcohol and drugs.

“I am blessed today,” a smiling Rob Schingeck said Friday, as he wheeled a cartload of gifts into the agency’s dining room, where children and parents waited.

“Doing this helps us remember what a family is all about. A lot of us lost that in our addictions,” said Schingeck, 42, a resident of Mariners Inn since Sept. 19. His last address was a trailer park north of Ann Arbor, where “the crack dealer was across the street, and the marijuana guy was just down the road and my best friend died of an overdose the week before I came here,” Schingeck said.

Some men donned red-and-white stocking caps to play gift givers.

“Just to see the kids smile and the mothers cry — it means so much to us,” said Braxton Bowden, 41. A Mariners Inn resident for the last month, Bowden said giving gifts was the next best thing to a reunion with his wife and stepson in Eastpointe.

The nonprofit agency, founded in 1925 by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan as a refuge for poor people, houses 144 men in various stages of recovery, CEO David Sampson said.

“These men may be homeless, but they’re not helpless,” Sampson said. “Every year, we get a new population of men who buy into helping these families in need.”

Since starting Adopt-A-Family six years ago, therapists have seen recovering addicts clamor to be involved, Sampson said.

The idea was based on the theory that substance addiction is a sign of underlying psychological problems, Mariners Inn residential program director Kori Loewe said.

“Recovery isn’t just putting down the drugs and alcohol. It’s about finding a new way of life,” Loewe said. That means recovering substance abusers must break addiction’s cycle of “take-take-take” and instead learn the rewards of giving, she said.

What therapists call “service work” isn’t just an adjunct to treatment, said Steve Diogo, editorial director of Chicago-based Renew magazine, which is aimed at anyone dealing with addiction ( www.reneweveryday.com ).

“It’s a fundamental tenet of recovery, and it’s one of the first things you should focus on,” said Diogo, himself a recovering addict.

The program begins when supervisors qualify the needy families and log their wish lists — mainly practical items, such as towels and children’s clothing, officials said. Donations then roll in as the agency promotes the annual program on its website and by word of mouth to former donors.

As of Friday, the Adopt-A-Family program had been fully funded at $20,000, although donations are welcome to the year-round budget and the agency’s constant needs for men’s toiletries and clothing, Loewe said.

Early this week, residents in the program volunteered to ride in vans to stores and make the purchases. And on Wednesday, shifts of six to eight at a time manned the wrapping room, some folding colored paper around items they had purchased.

“I bought comforters. I bought vacuums. I bought plates, spoons, forks and towels — anything the family said they needed,” said Mariners Inn resident Artie Cook, 49, who wore a shiny “M” from the Mariners Inn logo around his neck.

“We’ve found that these guys are very savvy shoppers,” said the agency’s spokeswoman, Shauna Vercher-Morrow . “When you’re homeless, you really learn how to stretch a dollar, so they come back with a lot of stuff.”

There is a budget of $500 for each family, “and that sounds like a lot, until you consider that these people really need a lot of necessities — these aren’t just the usual gifts,” she said.

The program relies on donations from individuals as well as corporate sponsors — including an advertising agency that held a Christmas party at MotorCity Casino Hotel, told employees about the Adopt-A-Family program, then asked to be anonymous after sending the agency two pallets of children’s toys, Vercher-Morrow said.

“We look at this as a pay-it-forward program for our guys. We think they get as much benefit as the families they’re helping,” Vercher-Morrow said. Article Link…

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