Hope for the future

Men's Center goal is to help alcoholics get, and stay, sober

By CINDY GABRIEL

In the early '70s, Pete Hope found himself under a bridge in San Antonio and at the end of his rope.

"I drank my last bottle of wine and I looked up and said, `God, what do I do now?' " Hope said.

Hope landed in Houston after hitch-hiking from Georgia to Texas with $35 in his pocket, winding up on Washington Avenue at an old fire station that is vacant today.

"I walked in and told a fireman there to call the police and have me arrested. He took me back to the back of the station and gave me cup after cup of coffee. Three hours later, I thought, what kind of town is this that takes three hours to get the police?" said Hope.

But when the fireman asked Pete if he wanted to get better, Pete said yes and spent his first night at The Men's Center, 3809 Main St., the turning point in his life.

"They didn't ask me what I'd done. They didn't preach. I did what they wanted me to do. They gave me a plan to follow. I went to work at Weingartens (as a meat cutter) and paid rent to the center. I went to work every morning and checked in with the center every afternoon," Hope said.

Hope's habits impressed his employers who promoted him rapidly during his 18 years with Weingartens Grocery Store. Still, Hope's focus remained with The Men's Center.

"I learned how to get meat real cheap (for the center). I got to know everybody in the business and bought food real cheap from my friends. People used to say I had a license to steal," Hope said.

Hope has spent the last 33 years thanking The Men's Center for saving his life.

"My dream is that there is a room for every man who wants to get sober.  This is my way of giving back to people who have helped me," Hope said.

To this day, the 150 residents of The Men's Center are required to get a job, pay rent, attend three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a day and one house meeting a week.

Hope, who estimates the center has helped 25,000 men through recovery in its 45-year existence, has operated with little outside help.

"I don't want any money from the government because they'll tell you what to do with it," he said.

No lavish Houston-style, private fund-raising events have supported the center.

Still, over the years, Hope has managed to acquire virtually every piece of property in the 3800 blocks of Main and Fannin growing from four buildings in 1976 to eight today.

Hope said he has run into a lot of talent on the streets of Houston, including his latest protégé, and brand new director of development, Jeff, not his real name due to the anonymous aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous.

"I was a Foley's doorman," said Jeff, referring to his spot on the street.

"I had to get up every morning and move for them to wash down the sidewalks," he said.

The tumble to Foley's doorman was from such jobs as music director of a Chicago radio station to marketing researcher with firms from New York to Dallas, including clients such as Pepsi and ironically, Seagram's liquor.

On his road to recovery, Hope offered Jeff a job as a cook in his restaurant, The Original New Orleans Po Boys, 3902 Main St., across from the center. From there Jeff moved to cooking at the center, and now director of development.

Jeff plans to play a key roll in Hope's next dream to turn some property behind the George R. Brown Convention Center into the center's new home. The center has purchased a 45,000-square-foot facility at 2720 Leland. Hope estimates that $4 million is needed to renovate the facility for future residents. Jeff wishes to follow in Hope's footsteps by redeeming some of the years lost to alcohol by raising money for the new facility.

"My dad is just floored that I'm sober. The rest of my family's still skeptical. I've done a lot of damage. They say for every alcoholic there are 20 people hurt. But I'm starting to hopefully reverse some of that now by touching others positively," Jeff said.

Jeff said it's amazing how talent and effectiveness can emerge from recovering alcoholics.

"Give me five sober alcoholics, and I'm rockin'," Jeff said.

Source: The Houston Chronicle©, July 2, 2003


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