By Kait Privitera and Eric Pellini

Kensington: On The Road To Recovery

Kensington: On The Road To Recovery
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On Kensington Avenue, housed between East Hagert and East Letterly streets, lies a small clubhouse with a big purpose.

The clubhouse is a safe haven for alcohol and drug addicts from all walks of life.

Last Stop Clubhouse serves as a recovery house for addicts from all walks of life. Walking through Last Stop’s doors you will find people of all ages and races joined together for one common goal: to get clean.

It is a place where addicts can get help regardless of lack of money, a home and identification. Dinner is served free of charge most nights a week and meals range from spaghetti to hot dogs to pizza. Recovery meetings and discussions are held four or five times a day–the hours reflect the amount of drug activity that can be found in the surrounding neighborhood. On Fridays, the first meeting is held at 7 a.m. and the last at 11:59 p.m. Former addicts now dedicate their time to helping others run these meetings.

Although it is not a religious organization, Last Stop focuses on the importance of having some aspect of spirituality involved with the recovery process.

If it weren’t for a certain reformed individual, Kensington would be lacking a strong recovery program. Ed Zampitella, or “Eddie” (as most Last Stop clubhouse members refer to him), is a lively, charming Italian-American. Zampitella’s booming voice can be heard a block away and upon his arrival, as “how you doin’s” resonate throughout the clubhouse’s walls. A reformed addict himself, he runs two recovery programs: one in Kensington and one in Camden, N. J. He purchased the building in Kensington for $18,000 on Sept. 11, 2001.  Struggling with a divorce and his own recovery, he chose to buy the club to help the community. “I help others to help myself,” he says.

Zampitella chooses to serve in these particular areas because he feels that these are the people that need the most help. Coincidentally, these are also the people who don’t have the money to pay for rent or any proper treatment. Zampitella, who is shy on camera but outgoing on the streets, will approach just about anyone on the corner to ask if he or she would  like to come in for a meal. He even owns a separate property down the block that provides a home for some of the men in the program. “The welfare people don’t want them. The police station drops them off here and their families don’t want them. They have no I.D. to get into other help programs. They send them here and we take them” he says. The men in the program who have completed less than 90 days live in the crowded bunk corridors. After 90 days, they have the opportunity to move into single rooms.

Mike Raskazoy, originally from Moscow, Russia, is a recovering addict and sponsor at Last Stop. He has dedicated the past five years of his life to helping others overcome their drug and alcohol addictions.

The house where these men sleep has a bare bones feeling, but to the men, it’s more comfortable than the streets.  There are currently about 15 men sleeping in one room on bunk beds made out of plywood. Unable to afford proper mattresses, the men use sheets and quilts piled directly on top of the wood. A bathroom just off the main room is kept remarkably clean for being used by 15 men and it includes a shower, a toilet closed off with a curtain and a urinal. Through the bathroom are steps to the basement, which when the program gets full, sleeps several more men.

Zampitella does his best to work with as many struggling men as he can. He guides them through a 12-step program, which first begins with accepting that you have a problem and cannot control it. Describing the program, he says, “I tell the men ‘whatever you did before, do something different.’”  The last step of the program is to help others who suffer from similar addictions.

Volunteer John Swenson prepares most of the meals. He holds the viewpoint that cooking for 20 or 30 men is far easier than cooking just for one.

Once a member has gone through the program he has the decision of whether or not he wants to stick around and help others in the Last Stop. This is highly recommended since Zampitella believes the best way to stay clean is to help others stay clean. This person is then referred to as a sponsor and newcomers can choose which sponsor they’d like to help guide them.

One of the senior sponsors at Last Stop is Frank Aikens, a 50-year-old man who has maintained sobriety for nearly two decades. Once a neighborhood that supported his addiction is now a neighborhood that supports his recovery. Aikens has been helping with the program since its start and explains that his reason for staying is that it’s easier to remain clean.  He describes his sobriety as a never-ending battle. “It is a disease. Am I cured from it? No.”

Aikens is a sponsor to six members and is in his second year at University of Phoenix. He lives outside of the clubhouse, but some sponsors have the privilege to stay in private studios within the housing unit. Mike Raskazov, a patron and sponsor of the program who is originally from Moscow, Russia, is one of these sponsors. He spends his time playing piano, renovating his studio and helping new members.

Walt helps to run the coffee bar at the clubhouse. The given responsibility keeps his mind proactive and off of the idea of using again.

One of the newest dedicated members is Walt Curran. An Air Force veteran, Curran has been with the program for the past 53 days and stays in the bunk corridors down the street. He is a former alcoholic who is now taking the steps toward recovery. Feeling inspired, he chose Aikens to be his sponsor within the first few days. Curran had a tough childhood dealing with the arguments between his mother and his alcoholic father. He recalls the embarrassment that he experienced as a young teen chaperoning his father at local bars. He first grasped the idea of recovery when he realized he was much worse than his father ever had been. Less than two months into the program, he is now running the small coffee bar up front. Zampitella, the owner, has also given Curran responsibilities such as choosing and displaying holiday decorations.

Relapse is the house cat at Last Stop. Many men in the program believe that caring for this small, gentle animal helps them in the recovery process.

The reason that Last Stop Clubhouse remains successful is that Zampitella and all the sponsors there treat each person who walks through the doors as an individual. Aikens believes that Last Stop is a step above the rest. “You got a lot of recovery houses in Philly and there are a lot of recovery houses all over the place but the bottom line is that it’s a business. If you don’t have the money for the program or to pay rent, they’ll throw you out in the streets…here, recovery comes first.”

35 Responses to Kensington: On The Road To Recovery

  1. Lisa Wilk October 6, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Great story! Love Kait’s photos, especially the portraits. My favorite is the one of Walt. The video was edited very well too.

  2. Sam Leary October 25, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Mr. Zampitella is a sickman who accomodates the homeless by havingnthem sleep on a piece of plywood in a moldy basement, while he has them conduct high-paying jobs, such as roofing remedies valued in the thousands and pays these men $0.00-$60.00.

    Furthermore, he is vwerbally and often physically abusive. The n”Last Stop” meets all of the qualifications ofa traditional cult where its members strive to be like their leader, even by dress code. He himself speaks of children in a sexual amnner on occasion and scares myslef and quite a few others. He must be stopped and I am sorry to rain on your proverbial parade.

  3. Certainly Not Sam January 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Betty Ford does not work for everyone. If it had, many of us would have gotten well long ago.

    When the Last Stop opened, many folks delighted in repeating that “nobody” got sober there. 8 years later, that is clearly not the case. Dozens, after dozens have grasped the opportunity to straighten their lives out.

    Just today, at a place far from Kensington Avenue, I heard one gentleman express gratitude his friend had been given harbor in the very basement Sam rails against.

    If a person wants to witness verbal & physical abuse, all it takes is 15 minutes of attention at Somerset’s corner. Mind you, that goes on 24x7x365.25, and has for decades.

    We are a much richer community because Ed Z. chooses to spend (most importantly) his time, and at one point, all the money he had in order to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

    Were each of us to do the same, the world would be a much better place.

  4. Renaldo N September 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I just meet EDDIE today after briefly seeing him ten years ago in a
    meeting He’s a asset to the community a blessing to the sick and suffering and a great role model for individuals looking to give back how dare someone talk about how he gives it back and his shortcoming we all have them he had it hard and he gives it back hard as far as the so called cheap labor active addiction kills and reduces life to zero and we work harder than the slaves of Egypt how about the skill someone can
    learn or the benefit of positive structure etc. but you have to want to get clean and change cause nothing changes if nothing changes further more WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR SOMEONE LATELY I’m a FIFTHY THREE YEAR OLD
    RECOVERY ADDICT who spent decades in the concrete jungle of North PHILLY and I’m feeling EDDIE’s mission

  5. Brian October 18, 2011 at 6:21 am

    Sad to see people railing Eddie Z., a man who goes above and beyond to help ANYONE AND EVERYONE who walks in. Does he ever get angry? Sure. When I was there, I would see him get upset at guys coming back through his doors for the 25th time trying to get this thing, and you know what? After he was through being upset, he let that guy in for the 26th time! I spent many months there back in 2008 and will never ever forget Eddie Z or the friends I made there. I NEEDED to sleep on that piece of plywood in that moldy basement because that is where my life took me. I grew up in the affluent suburbs outside of Philly and despite that and 2 Bachelors Degrees and a Medical License, I still ended up there and am clean today for it. As for him having people work..Let me tell you this…Not ONCE did he ever force you to go to work, and even while you were there, it was far from hard labor. The MAIN reason that man would pull people to work was to get you out of your miserable head for a while, that head that was telling you to get out of the Last Stop to go on yet another run. If the worst that man does is get people out of their heads for 8hrs a day to stop feeling sorry for themselves, then so be it. As for the money? I donated it right back to the Last Stop because at that time I did not trust myself with 2 bucks. Obviously Sam you have some resentments left and were more likely than not one of those dudes I saw that came in and did not want to give up their awesome lifestyle, and because Eddie is no joke and in your face to save your life, you probably ran and now blame your misery on Eddie Z, a man who wakes up at the crack of dawn and does not sleep until past midnight just to help the suffering addict that he once was. If all you can find in your heart is to rail him for his supposed character defects, then you obviously did not get a damn thing out of your short time there. God bless Eddie Z, and I wish God would put more men like that out there!

  6. Jurgen Rehnig May 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    A friend of mine is at your place right now (George R.), I hope. Is he allowed to have a visitor. I am also a recovering AA member.

    Let me know>

    Jurgen

  7. Bill June 17, 2012 at 6:20 am

    Jurgen,

    the Stop os a clubhouse that is open to the public. There are 12 Step meetings at 10am, Noon, 6pm, and 8pm daily. If your friend is there, it is likely they will be around some time between 5 and 9:30pm & it is fine to “visit”.

    Hope that helps.

  8. russian mike July 7, 2012 at 3:01 am

    i see myself and i proud ,i spent almost 6 y.with eddy z.god bless you and long,long life time.i love you all,thanks.russian mike.

  9. dianamatos July 31, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I personally havn’t known Eddie Z. for long but,one thing i did take to heart and i will say this to the world, is that Eddie is a man who loves with action not just with words.

  10. Joey December 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Ed Z. is a God Sent, he had done alot for me when I was in my addiction and no that I’m back home from being incarceratted and he is still there to lend a hand to me and do something for me,,, God Bless you Eddie..joe rizzo

  11. Liberty mike December 18, 2012 at 6:12 am

    Thank you eddy z….i have been sober 18 years and travelled the world to say i have never been so humbled by the purity and goodness of anything like i have the last stop,as a matter of fact recently i had one of your graduates to dinner with his reunited wife son and daughter….the lives you have touched who have touched other lives is immeasureable…………….plywood is as good for the ego as it is for the back………..stop crying…..its unmanly…lol

  12. Dark Marc July 16, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    WOW !!!!! First allow me to say thanks!!!! April 9th. 2009 beat broken down i walked into the last stop. I made it to the final resting place for addicts like me, Teddy danny Lisps, Big Brian led the way. Russian Mike who im still in contact with today help me save my life (GOD)Thomas and many more countless more . I worked for sodas and cigarettes building Russian Mike place and fixing that place up for the next man/men.I stayed busy and didnt get high, went through the 12 steps and found true freedom, Got the respect of my daughter back and some of my family , life is not that bad anymore . THANK YOU LAST STOP !!!!!!!!!!!! Thomas Gallagher Johnny O Stosh,

  13. Dark Marc July 16, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    mmm

  14. Jared R August 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    @Sam Leary, are you just throwing bombs, or are you willing to defend some of this your accusations?

  15. brian b December 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

    @Sam Leary. Not sure where you are coming from. It bothers me to heaar you say what you say. I too would like to know if you can support your accusations. I would think plywood in a moldy basement is preferable to a cold doorway, no? Eddie Z, like myself, is a sick man. We are not bad people trying to get good but sick people trying to get well. I am sick too like Eddie Z but through the grace of my higher power will celebrate my 7th holidays with my family, sober not drunk. Hope you can get sell Sam because you sound a little sick yourself.

  16. becky February 27, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    How do you know if a loved one is there??

  17. R.Torres March 1, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    The last stop on kensington ave, claim’s that addicts can get help..saying that they dedicate their time helping people..however, there is a person, only 25 yes
    ars old, who goes to all the meetings, and has accepted that fact that he has a problem, and is crying out loud for help, cannot get any help from the last stop. Because the person who helps run the place whos name is chris, does not like this person on a personal level..this man called chris ignoring a loud cry for help.

  18. Kyle June 9, 2015 at 9:21 am

    I would like to seek recovery at last stop. What do I need to do

  19. Brian g. (Gus) Ross June 18, 2015 at 10:11 am

    I Live in Cape Coral FL Now,but I lived on those streets and was fed by the saint Francis inn, on arecent trip home I went to meeting at the last stop. What a wonderful happening place, I knew Eddie Zampatella from the streets years ago and I am Proud of nwhat he and the guys there have accomplished.. I will go to meetings there when I am up in Philly, BRAVO YOU GUYS, GO EDDIE…GOD BLESS

  20. Debbie October 8, 2015 at 8:57 am

    How can you find out if a family member is there, i heard my son was there.

  21. Betty January 7, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    I first want to start out by saying I have went they the last stop 2 years ago and I have stayed clean ever since!! I am so very grateful for Eddie Z. The Scumbag that Eddie has running the place is ruining something great and beautiful to the ground. There is so many senior members that will not return there as long Chris Marshall is still there!! He is the biggest piece of shit!! He steals money from the club house!! He lives off of the goverment for him and his family and calls that providing for his family!! He steals the pills and drugs that come in with the new comers!! He belongs to a pain management clinic!! PLEASE PEOPLE IF EVERYONE WOULD JUST STAND UP FOR THE LAST STOP!! WE NEED TO KEEP THE DOORS OPEN FOR THE NEWCOMERS!!

  22. Danielle S. January 8, 2016 at 9:50 am

    The Last Stop now has a house for women. I lived there for 3 weeks in November 2012, it’s rough but if your willing and ready you’ll do anything to get sobriety. They Foster an environment of recovery which is the most important thing.

  23. Cee January 8, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    The Last Stop is a great place. It serves as a safe haven, a place where people can get help, and find hope. In Kensington, there are not many places where that is available. Drugs, Prostitution, and crime run rampant in that area. The Last Stop, Is right in the middle of all that. Yet, it doesn’t happen there. People have transformed their lives in that place. As for Eddie Z, he may be very eccentric, strange, and sometimes outright crazy. Yet he will help anyone who needs it. Let’s remember, the people who find themselves there, are eccentric, strange, and outright crazy. We are addicts, go on to the bitter end, or choose the latter. It’s called The Last Stop for a reason. Keep up the good work. There is a way out. Don’t judge, someday you might need help, and it might just be The Last Stop for you. God Bless.

  24. reeni February 18, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I have a teenage son who finds himself in a really bad way. Using, lying and has torn apart his family. Can I bring him to a meeting. I know this is for adults but everything else offered to young adults is a bad cycle. I am desperately reaching here because I know my loving smart son is in there somewhere.

  25. rob h March 12, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    Yes, the last stop is a rough stop. And i have seen people turned away. If you have insurance, a job, a place to live, money, or want room service and counselors to cry to then this definately isn’t the place for you. And candy asses need not apply. Yes, we work . But it’s a voluntary clubhouse,you are free to go back to your misery any time you want. So the accomodations are a little rough, go sleep under a few million dollar bridges and in rat infested holding cells. We will be here when you come back.

  26. Dawn May 4, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    My ex fiancee started there last week. Hes been an addict most of his life. Obe year ago I took him out if a halfway house…because I had faith….I believed in him….only to be robbed blind my him…my car…all my jewelry and $. I hope this place works for him…I pray every day.
    I would like to speak at a meeting from the other end….who gets hurt…not asking for it. Let them realize how deep…how it changes your life….forever.
    So sad.

  27. KEVNHEATHER June 11, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    I WAS AT A MEETING IN THE FRENCH CREEK STATE PARK, WHICH WAS A BONFIRE MEETING AND WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, AFTER THE MEETING THE PEOPLE AND STAFF WELCOMED EVERYONE AT THE MEETING TO COME TO THERE CAMPSITE FOR MORE MEETINGS, AND A BONFIRE SO ME AND MY FAMILY WENT AND HUNG AT FOR A LITTLE WHILE AND IT WAS A VERY NEAT TIME, WISH WE COULD HAVE STAYED LONGER BUT BEING A PARENT COMES WITH OTHER RESPONSIBILITY’S SO WE HAD TO LEAVE BUT, THANK YOU RICH FOR SPENDING TIME WITH ME AND CECILIA,TOO MY WIFE AND I ENJOYED OUR TIME TOGETHER VERY MUCH AND WE WILL BE IN TOUCH!

  28. Joel nettle June 27, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Eddie. Z.. Is real good people.. This is joel nettle i was in his program about 20 some years ago.. And me and my brother john really respect his program.. It really saved our lives 4 real…. Im just keeping it 100 you feel me..

  29. MARY MCAFEE November 30, 2016 at 3:03 am

    HOW DO I GO ABOUT FINDING OUT IF MY LOVE ONE IS AT THE LAST STOP SHE HAS NOT BEEN SEEN BY ANY FAMILY FOR OVER A MONTH HER NAME IS ANNTONETTE MCAFEE FEMALE 24 YRS. OLD SHE GOES BY NICKNAME : NETTIE IAM HER AUNT

  30. Jeff December 28, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Looking forward to checking it out in coming months….

  31. ralph raymond February 21, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    THERE IS DEFINITLY A CURE FOR COMPULSIVE ‘SPIRITED’ PEOPLE [I DISCOVERED] ITS JESUS AND SCRIPTURE READING DAILY,BAD SPIRITS HATE THAT AND ABSOLUTLY WILL LEAVE YOU, THESE COMPULSIVE MANIFESTATIONS OF EVIL CHARACTERS ARE CAUGHT THRU SEX AND THEY USE PEOPLE TO CARRY ON THEIR VICES.ASK JESUS INTO YOUR LIFE,HE IS THE PURE CURE 🙂 I MET EDDIE IN REHAB 1975, SUCH A HARD WORKER [COMPULSIVE] HE INSPIRED ME, I DONT BELIEVE HE WOULD USE ANYONE FOR FREE LABOR-AS IF IT MIGHT HURT SOMEONE TO WORK FOR FREE ! EDDIE WOULD DO ALL THE WORK HIMSELF IF HE COULD, GETTING OLDER NOW 4 SURE SO HELP THIS GUY AND PRAY FOR HIM TO ‘GET SAVED’.

  32. ralph raymond February 22, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    FIRST TIME I NOTICE E.Z. AT THE REHAB IN 1975 HE WAS MOWING A FIELD OF WEEDS WITH FRED LEWIS USING A MANUAL OLD-TIME MOWER ON 3FT HIGH GRASS [FOR FUN] HE INSPIRED ME TO BE LESS LAZY, BY THE WAY ,GETTING SOME FREE LABOR OUT OF THESE MEN WOULD ACTUALLY HELP THEM-NOT EDDIE, HE WOULD DO IT ALL HIMSELF, GETTING SOBER AND GETTING MONEY WITH NO BILLS TO PAY IS A BIG TEMPTATION TO HAVE ‘FUN’. PS. SALVATION IS THE REAL CURE, ASK JESUS INTO YOUR LIFE AND READ SCRIPTURE DAILY, ANY LINGERING BAD SPIRITS WILL RUN FROM YOU INSTEAD OF CONTROLLING YOU,TO STAY PURE-NO SEX-YOU CAN CATCH A BAD SPIRIT FROM BAD PEOPLE-IS NO JOKE !

  33. Kim fu ho July 23, 2017 at 7:05 am

    First of all this was not the same facility in 1975. Nor was it called the last stop, LOWER KENSINGTON DRUG AND REHABILITATION you were not free to come and go at will it was locked down also the whole building was occupied upstairs was the dorms and group rooms. Downstairs kitchen staff office and was the so called living room the basement was called the pit, where we did the laundry if that was what you were assigned to that week .The front entrance was a room office size with switchboard then another door into house, both doors locked.. Free time was earned you worked attended group ate slept thats it…cleaning consisted of scrubbing the floor on knees bucket and brush rolled up towels to dry and straw from a broom to clean the cracks then inspection hand run across floor without any type of particle remaining or you redid.This same regime consisted through the whole house everyday, razor wire covered the surrounding kitchen as there was a opening off of it we called the alley where we dumped buckets etc. This was no cake walk ii know I spent 11 months here, there was included lots of punishment hand outs for everything, such as staff might feel you have a bad attitude on any given moment that could unfortunately put you on the chair 24hours or scrub the pit after everyone goes to bed, you did not use the bathroom without permission, if by accident you walked away from your assigned drinking cup it was taken you drank nothing for 24 hrs this place was tightly run.For most of us it was here or jail or juvenile detention center until presented certificate of completion, no assigned time only when completed and if you really fucked up you would be started over and treated like day 1 because according to their books it was your 1st day. This program took me 11Months to complete and was no better for it, I was only 15 going in and 16 coming out, Also you might not know that this structure was at one time a fire house station.

  34. Donna August 19, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Eddie Z. I

  35. Dee K. August 19, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Eddie Z. is a sick person who should not be running any recovery program. He has been using and abusing a friend of mine tempting her with drugs and taking her to cop drugs in exchange for sex. It has to stop before she gets hooked on drugs again and dies. He recently took drugs off a newcomer to his program and drove to my friends house, gave her the dope and took her to a hotel so she would get high and have sex with him. This is all true shit that he is doing. I reported him to the Inquirer but I haven’t gotten a response yet. He needs to get help with his sex addiction and mental illness. He is one sick demented person. Don’t trust him please.

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