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CREATE Ministry Part of the Harlem Renaissance Story

NEW YORK – Lay Franciscan Affiliate Ralph Perez, executive director of A Chance to Re-Evolve a Total Environment (CREATE), recently described how the Province’s ministry is participating in the Harlem renaissance, the widely known resurgence of a once impoverished section of Manhattan.

Nearly 50 people from government and social services agencies attended the Jan. 24 breakfast meeting at CREATE headquarters in Upper Manhattan (Harlem) to hear from Perez and staff psychologist Dr. Barbara Wallace describe the  agency’s work.  Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, represented the Province at the gathering.

Diverse Programs
Established in 1970 by Benedict Taylor, OFM, with a mission to “promote the physical, psychological, social and spiritual well-being of the people we serve through the provision of sensitive, caring services that empower the community,” today, CREATE is proud of its role in the Harlem revitalization. Benedict still acts as a consultant to the organization, and marked 40 years of service to the people of New York last year.

“The agency is a gem in Harlem’s community,” Wallace said. “We are concerned with the whole person. We focus on preserving human dignity.”

CREATE comprises six main divisions:

  • Project CREATE Residences provide chemical dependence treatment with intensive residential rehabilitation and vocational services for men
  • CREATE Medically-Supervised Outpatient Treatment Center provides chemical dependence treatment, including vocational and lifestyle direction  to 300 men and women
  • CREATE Young Adult Center, a transitional home for males, aged 18- 25, which teaches skills for employment and independence.
  • Westminster House, offers permanent affordable housing and supportive services for women who, as single mothers, are establishing independent family lives.
  • CREATE-St. Anthony House, which helps the hungry through a food pantry
  • CREATE Senior Citizens Center offers weekday programs, including hot meals and activities for the elderly

At the breakfast presentation, Perez and Wallace, described CREATE’s values and its background. “We invite people to create themselves anew,” Wallace added.  “Everyone possesses competencies; we say, ‘let us enhance those competencies.’ Nothing is more gratifying than seeing a miraculous transformation.”

Franciscan Roots
Wallace, who has been with CREATE 10 years, described founder Benedict as a “humble spiritual servant.”

He came to work armed with only his intellect, vision, selfless attitude, indomitable spirit, and most importantly, the gift of listening and observing life as others truly live it, according to CREATE’s informational literature. As Benedict walked the streets in the 1960s, he gained acceptance for the addicted, those in recovery, and common folk, who desired advice from someone who could assist them to identify concrete solutions to their difficulties.

“Ben Taylor set the stage and standard of excellence for service delivery, embodied in a commitment to persons in need — whatever their situation,” said Perez.
Since then, according to Perez, individually tailored services and strategic treatment initiatives have allowed the organization to improve the lives of more than 50,000 persons. With a multi-ethnic staff and a budget of more than five million dollars, CREATE has grown into a multi-service agency with funding from various government and provide sources.

The Franciscans of Holy Name Province supplied funds for CREATE buildings and programs.
CREATE is enjoying very strong partnerships, Wallace said, emphasizing the importance of referrals from groups represented at the breakfast.

“We want to be part of the renewal of this community,” she said,” and we cannot do it without a steady stream of referrals. We welcome your ideas.”

Through the years, other friars have been involved with  the agency, including:

  • Hugh Hines, OFM, chair of CREATE’s board of directors
  • The late Mychal Judge, OFM
  • Christopher Keenan, OFM, who helps through the mentoring program for CREATE’s homeless young adults at All Saints Church on East 129th St. in Manhattan, where he is guardian.
  • Neil O’Connell, OFM   

Members of Holy Name’s postulant program have also served at CREATE.

   –Jocelyn Thomas is Director of Communications for Holy Name Province.