The ARC in Paterson
To Grow, Learn, and Find God
In years past, a 3–story high–rise building in Paterson, N.J., housed massive electrical generators that harnessed the rushing waters of the Passaic River’s Great Falls. It was the source of power for the entire city and beyond. Today, that same building now houses the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC). In its basement, a working generator remains in operation and requires maintenance by the city every year.
As a rehabilitation center, the ARC sources a higher power. Up to 76 men seek alcohol and drug addiction recovery, a basic education, and God’s guidance. The staff’s love, dedication, and drive to help the men who come through their doors equal the power of 10 Great Falls.
‘Everyone deserves a chance’
Captains Amy A. and Brian L. Merchant, director of program & residential services and ARC administrator, respectively, arrived four years ago after having worked in ARCs in Manhattan, Cleveland, and Connecticut. Immediately, they sensed the attitudes of the beneficiaries and the employees.
“There was an air of uneasiness in everyone’s demeanor, maybe even a drop of hostility, which is understandable,” says Captain Amy Merchant. As the previous officers received new appointments, having only been at the ARC a year, many beneficiaries were resistant to embrace yet another couple as their leaders. These men were familiar with disappointment, having come from all corners and walks of life in Paterson, a place burdened with a reputation for being one of New Jersey’s most dangerous cities.
“My husband and I have an open–door policy when it comes to running the ARC,” says Merchant. “We make ourselves available, and remind them that everyone deserves another chance. Recovery is hard to do on your first try. We don’t turn away someone on their 4th or 5th time, because those times might be his time.”
The men are free to use the ARC’s many facilities. These include lounges with TVs, movies and video games, a library room with an illuminated fish tank, and even a 1–chair barber corner where free haircuts are offered. The dining hall has chairs and tables donated from a luxurious cruise ship.
Everyone is required to follow a schedule that involves 40 hours of work therapy a week. In partnership with local churches, the men feed homeless people, cook for children who attend the Salvation Army’s local corps (church’s) summer camp, and hold concerts in the park located across the street from the ARC. The park is named after Lou Costello of the comedy duo Abbott and Costello. Costello was from Paterson.
The ARC’s good will and charity encourage more beneficiaries to help. “The guys are our best recruiters,” says Merchant. “They foster our relationship with the city, with the churches, and with the local residents.”
The Learning Center
Retired teacher Joe Singer is the driving force behind the ARC’s Learning Center. Participating in the program gives the men a sense of routine, discipline, and accomplishment—crucial elements on the path to recovery. During class, Singer’s students intently study math problems on computers and hold each other accountable.
The computer software Singer found for his class is from an El Paso, Texas–based Christian company. The Innovative Learning System computer program was originally created to teach homeless people how to read, and its lesson plans are applicable for the center’s curriculum.
“The software we use teaches reading, math, typing, and computer literacy,” says Singer. “It can gather information based on the user’s skill level and make it challenging, but never overwhelming. It works for someone who can’t read just as well as it does for someone trying to get his GED. Other beneficiaries are even taking vocabulary courses at college level because that’s what challenges them.
“Also, the program is mission–based. It teaches through Scripture. One of my favorite things to see is a man using the reading comprehension program, and he’s reading the book of John while doing so. That’s powerful.”
But before the Learning Center was blessed with computers and software, Joe used the Word of God.
“When a gentleman came in who couldn’t read at all, I sat down with him and started with the Bible. The first four words of the Bible are ‘In the beginning, God.’ We began there.”
Students have learned to read, have taken pre–GED courses, and have received their GEDs. Next for Singer is teaching the men to use job search engines, and obtaining more computers to accommodate the growing classes.
“I have three filing cabinets with applications from men who have come and taken the program,” Singer says, proudly.
“Any location can set up computers and buy software,” says Merchant. “The challenge is to find someone like Joe, who shows up for every lesson, writes the schedules, sits with students, and helps them. It’s a huge responsibility. And he does it all as a volunteer. The Learning Center is his ministry.”
‘He led them to us’
The men are also encouraged to find a church. Early on Sundays, the ARC holds services in a chapel at the building. The close proximity allows the men time to worship at the ARC, and then attend services at a church of their choosing. The corps is only a short drive away and offers transportation for anyone needing it.
“Sometimes, we get a person who may not want anything to do with God,” says Merchant. “He feels God has left him, or worse, was never there at all. He thinks, He can’t possibly love me, because He put this life on me. We tell such a person that God has been with him through every difficulty. And the proof is that He led him to us.”
“It’s such a joy to see our beneficiaries give back to the community, or to hear a grown man reading for the first time,“ says Merchant. “We make our men feel comfortable. We believe that they can all grow, learn, and find God. No one who walks out of an ARC should ever feel less of a person than they did walking in.”
by Hugo Bravo