CREATE Opens New Facility with Ribbon-Cutting

Stephen Mangione In the Headlines

Friars Christopher Keenan, Lawrence Ford, and Benedict Taylor, with Ralph Perez at the ribbon-cutting event (photo courtesy of Benedict Taylor)

NEW YORK – A social services initiative, whose humble storefront origins on West 112th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue date back nearly half a century when a friar brought his vision and ministry to the northern Manhattan neighborhood, has expanded its reach with a permanent supportive housing program for a vulnerable population – young homeless adults, most recovering from chemical abuse, assimilating back into society after spending time in correctional facilities for non-violent crimes.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held earlier this month officially opened the doors to the CREATE New Hope House at 71 Lenox Avenue. The residence is the latest addition to a number of facilities operated in the Harlem community by CREATE, Inc., the not-for-profit organization established in 1970 by Benedict Taylor, OFM, who had arrived in Harlem with four other friars in 1968.

Now 85 years old, Benedict continues to serve as a consultant for the organization’s vast network of social services and programs. Benedict, along with other friars and supporters, participated in the Oct. 3 event.

The CREATE New Hope House is a 12-unit residential complex designed to provide a seamless transition for young homeless adults who are reentering the community after release from correctional institutions. The building includes a half-dozen single occupancy rooms and six apartments for young families.

New Hope House is the second CREATE program that provides supportive housing for men coming out of prison with a history of substance abuse.  The other long-term program is CREATE House, which is transitional housing for 50 similarly-challenged men. The wrap-around services offered by CREATE, which include job training, readiness and placement, are available to all residents, said Christopher Keenan, OFM, who has worked with CREATE through the years.

“They also are served by the medically supervised substance misuse program which this past year has expanded its community based outpatient substance misuse services to include an outpatient detox program for alcohol and drugs,” he said. “These are two rare programs that exist in the city for this population of men and their families. This is a forgotten population of young men in the city that has been responded to not only by these programs but by CREATE’s Young Adult Center.”

Although non-sectarian, CREATE is steeped in Franciscan tradition, as seed funding provided by Holy Name Province helped launch the initiative in 1970 when it was established by Benedict as “A Chance to Re-Evolve a Total Environment.”

Throughout the past nearly five decades, several friars have served as chairman of CREATE’s board of directors, including Hugh Hines, OFM, Neil O’Connell, OFM, and current board chair Lawrence Ford, OFM, who delivered welcoming remarks at the ribbon-cutting.

Two rooms in CREATE’s new facility for young adult men. (Photos courtesy of Ralph Perez)

A Fresh Start
“The notion of ‘re-creating something new’ is the very foundation of New Hope House. It offers a fresh start and, appropriately, invites young people to create themselves anew – and there is nothing more gratifying than seeing a miraculous transformation,” said Lawrence, who also serves as pastor of Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great Parish on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“New Hope House offers dignity to its residents and the incentive for them to do well. Like all CREATE programs, the services provided at this residence focus on the human aspect – which is the Franciscan style of doing things,” said Lawrence, adding, “Benedict started this decades ago when he was inspired to address the needs of the Harlem community. He set the stage, as well as a standard of excellence and services that are embodied in a commitment to persons in need, no matter what their circumstances or situation.”

A 501(c)(3) organization, CREATE has become a comprehensive multi-service organization that serves more than 1,200 people annually, and is supported through government grants and private contributions.

CREATE’s progressive, integrated community outreach includes facilities and programs that provide outpatient and inpatient treatment and recovery services for alcohol and chemically dependent men and women, transitional living for homeless adults, permanent supportive housing, comprehensive support services, food distribution for the hungry, vocational preparation.

CREATE has always been about providing more than a roof over the heads of those in need.

“Ben created a program that gives people the time, space, resources and integrated services to recover at their own pace,” Chris said. “Since coming to Harlem, Ben has tried to respond to the varied needs of the community – homelessness and drug addiction, as well as the young people no longer eligible for the  foster care system.”

This philosophy has not only guided the organization, it has also helped thousands of individuals transition to meaningful and productive lives, according to Ralph Perez, an affiliate of the Province and CREATE’s long-time executive director who, as a high school student, volunteered at the outreach program during its infancy and assisted Benedict in developing and expanding services throughout the years.

“Residents of New Hope House are offered CREATE’s entire network of integrated services. We provide job-skills training, health workshops and other programs to help them reset their lives,” explained Perez, who served as master of ceremonies at the Oct. 3 opening.

The risk of relapse into drug use among New York’s incarcerated immediately following release is alarmingly high, according to Perez, because there is a lack of coordination between the discharge process and connection to care on the outside.

Diverse Services
There is also high incidence of chronic health conditions (asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes), as well as communicable diseases (Hepatitis B and C, Tuberculosis and HIV) in men and women released from incarceration. The lack of transition to health care after release exacerbates these health issues, severely impairing the ability of these individuals to become productive citizens – but that’s where CREATE steps in.

Perez says that the CREATE New Hope House not only closes the disconnect, but it helps keep residents on track by providing stability in housing, health care, and substance abuse recovery and treatment.

“Engaging residents in education and employment opportunities, as well as addressing their health and wellness, are key components of the CREATE experience,” added Perez, whose friendship and affiliation with Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province began when a high school counselor helped him land an after-school job at St. Francis of Assisi Parish on West 31st Street.

Perez noted that when Benedict established CREATE – advancing his vision of promoting the physical, psychological, social and spiritual well being of those in need – times in Harlem were turbulent and poverty was rampant.  CREATE ultimately played a significant role in the historic resurgence of this northern Manhattan neighborhood.

A common theme that seemed to surface at the ribbon-cutting was the Franciscan virtues that continue to be a driving force in CREATE’s philosophy and the way it delivers services – clearly evident in its latest venture of New Hope House.

“As its name suggests, this residence is built on the Franciscan virtues of gratitude, creation and hope,” Perez said during his remarks at the event.

“Like all of our programs, this is a person-centered approach, with emphasis placed on the rehabilitation of potentially independent, valuable and productive persons. All of our treatment, education and vocational efforts revolve around self-esteem as the effective influence towards rehabilitation,” the CREATE executive director said.

Lawrence noted that the timing of the Oct. 3 ceremony coincided with the beginning of the Franciscan celebration of Transitus – which marks the passing of founder and patron St. Francis of Assisi from this life to life with God.

“What a wonderful way to begin the celebration – by opening the doors to a residence that provides a clean slate and new start to those re-entering society. It was apropos,” said Lawrence, “because after all, Transitus means new life.”

– Stephen Mangione is a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y.

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