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Home » 'I was reborn': Eva’s Village in Paterson marks 40 years of giving hope to the hopeless –

'I was reborn': Eva’s Village in Paterson marks 40 years of giving hope to the hopeless –

PATERSON — The man who set up the sound system for Sunday’s 40th-anniversary celebration at Eva’s Village had once been a homeless crack addict who twice went to jail for six months.
Wearing a colorful plaid shirt as he tested the soundboard and microphones, 51-year-old Luis Garcia seemed the embodiment of what the Paterson-based social service organization has tried to accomplish for the past four decades.
“I slept in abandoned houses, in hallways or under overpasses during the winter, and on benches during the summer,” Garcia recalled. “I got all my drugs in Paterson and was never employed for that entire time.”  
Garcia said he stopped using drugs in February 2000 and found a new life in recovery with help from Eva’s Village.
“I never had a father growing up,” said Garcia, who now works as a disc jockey. “When I came here, staff members were like fathers to me, and female staff members were like mothers. They let me know that I wasn’t alone, that there were other people like me.”
Garcia said the family-like atmosphere at Eva’s helped him reunite and “build bridges” to reconcile with his own family members, including his two daughters.
“Eva’s helped my family understand the difficulties of recovering from addiction,” he added.
Speakers at Sunday’s event recalled how the organization started as a soup kitchen that fed 30 people in 1982. It has grown into a multimillion-dollar organization whose services include shelters, halfway houses, substance abuse programs, child care and job training.
The current chief executive officer, Howard Haughton, talked of the legacy of Eva’s founder, Monsignor Vincent Puma.
“Monsignor Puma had it right,” Haughton declared. “He said, ‘You have to feed people first. When there is food on the table, we can sit down together and engage.’ ”  
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According to the group’s website, the operation began as Eva’s Kitchen and was named for Sister Eva Hernandez, the kitchen’s first director and a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She had experience organizing food and housing assistance for migrant workers in her native Texas.
More than 200 people attended Sunday’s party, including volunteers who have donated their time to Eva’s over the years. Among them was Monique Dolecki of Mahwah, who volunteers for about four hours at Eva’s once a week. She said she sets up tables at lunches, serves meals and then helps clean up afterwards.
Dolecki said serving in person is “so much better than just giving a check.”
“I have two daughters,” she said. “I also want them to learn the importance of helping those in need.  I have been able to get to know many of the folks here on a first-name basis and build good rapport.”
While Dolecki and another volunteer from Mahwah, Michelle Fiorito, spoke to a reporter, 58-year-old Ron Moultre sat down to chat.
“I graduated from Eva’s program in 2014,” Moultre said. “I then enrolled at Passaic County Community College and got an associate’s degree in human services. I am now employed here and oversee the dining room and love working here. 
“I let the clients know that I am just like them and love them,” Moultre said. “I tell them, ‘Without hope, I could become an addict again any day.’ ”
Also sitting at the table was Rosie Djordejevic, whose son received substance abuse treatment at Eva’s six years ago. “Eva’s really helped him,” Djordejevic said. “He’s now doing well and has a full-time job in construction.”  
Another recent client, Kenneth Hutchins, was among the speakers at Sunday’s event.
“I came to Eva’s Village six months ago,” he said. “Thirty-three years of my 62 years of life have been spent being incarcerated.  I have also been in many halfway houses and rehabs, but I’ve never experienced anything like Eva’s.”
Hutchins said he was impressed with the program upon his very first intake interview. “The fellow that spoke with me really showed empathy,” Hutchins recalled. “I was carrying an extremely heavy bag. Not only did the fellow offer to carry it for me, he gave me a tour of the facilities. Everywhere I went, I saw a smiling face.”
“Eva’s staff let me know that there was nobody there who would hurt me,” Hutchins added. “They let me know that this was a safe place where I could let them know that I was suffering. I love this place. I was reborn here.”


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