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