The Mariners Inn residential treatment and housing program in downtown Detroit experienced a transforming moment at Christmas two years ago. When program staff asked the men they serve what they would like for their planned holiday celebration, the residents asked instead what the community around them needed.
“A few of the men said, 'You guys have been so wonderful to us, helping us regain our dignity, we want you to tell us what we can do to help the community,” recalls David Sampson, chief operating officer at Mariners Inn, which operates residential addiction treatment and permanent and transitional housing programs. “To have that adrenaline rush of hearing that they wanted to help others—you just had to be there.”
Two men from each of the agency’s programs were selected to serve on a committee to identify a project, and they came up with the idea of raising money to adopt a needy family for Christmas. Most of the families that have been assisted in this effort, now in its third year, have been identified from a list maintained by the Baptist community center located directly across from Mariners Inn.
“Our first year, one of our men contacted the pastor, and he said, 'God must have sent you to me, because I was just thinking about what I was possibly going to do with this stack of names of families,’” Sampson says.
Each year, the men at Mariners have been able to raise more than $1,000 in cash and a higher amount in in-kind donations, in what is now called the Adopt-a-Family campaign. Some of the donations have been raised as a result of local media attention, and some by locating donation cans in high-traffic areas. The men expect to be able to help four area families this year.
Sampson says Mariners staff members are proud that the idea originated with the residents and is executed mainly through their efforts, as opposed to being staff-driven. In fact, some past participants who have left the program have visited the center just to help out with the holiday drive again.
Sampson sees the recovery-affirming benefits that this activity affords clients, at a time of year that often can be difficult for a person in recovery. And he jokes that if such activity were to start at other treatment centers, Mariners Inn soon could boast of launching a “best practice” for the field.
He adds, “There is one line that sticks with me all the time, from one of our men. He said, 'We may be homeless, but we’re not helpless.’”