Challenge Alert

Lock in $15,000 with your donation by 6:30 p.m.

Donate now

Caring for others in recovery helps Kensington man stay sober

Rob mans the coffee counter at The Last Stop in Kensington on February 17, 2019. Patrons are able to pay whatever they wish for a cup of fresh coffee, with donations going entirely to the upkeep of the DIY recovery center. According to Rob, coffee sales give the Stop just enough to pay the utility bills each month.

Rob mans the coffee counter at The Last Stop in Kensington on February 17, 2019. Patrons are able to pay whatever they wish for a cup of fresh coffee, with donations going entirely to the upkeep of the grassroots recovery center. According to Rob, coffee sales give the Stop just enough to pay the utility bills each month. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

When Rob stumbled into The Last Stop recovery center in Kensington three years ago, he had no intention of getting clean or turning his life around.

Rob, who preferred not to give his last name, had been drinking “almost two gallons of booze a day,” he said. The way he saw it, “I didn’t think I had a problem, I just wanted to die.”

Nathanial McCray (center) leads the morning mediation at The Last Stop recovery center on February 19, 2019. Meditation meetings encourage the center clients to remain mindful and present. McCray was picked to lead the meeting due to the positive example that he’s set in his sobriety. A different client is picked to lead the meeting each morning, as long as they are in good standing. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

Center owner Eddie Zampitella convinced Rob to sweep the “clubhouse” floor, and Rob slowly began taking on more tasks around the center, and spending more time there. As he puts it, “I started sweeping the floor; now I run the place.”

Rob shares his goal for the day at the “Morning Meditation” meeting at The Last Stop on February 19, 2019. Held each morning at 9 am, the meetings are a chance for the Stop’s clients and volunteers to practice mindfulness in preparation for the day. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

Three months after their first meeting, Zampitella gave Rob the keys to the center’s van. At six months, Rob took over the kitchen.

Rob prepares a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at The Last Stop recovery center in Kensington on the evening of February 17, 2019. Clients and volunteers at the center are offered free meals each day, for which they can offer a donation if they wish. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

Rob had managed three different restaurants while battling alcoholism and before that, had served six years in the army and taught several GED programs while serving time in jail.

Rob answers the phone at The Last Stop on February 21, 2019. As “second in command” at the facility, Rob’s unofficial duties often include picking up phone calls, making breakfast and dinner for Last Stop clients, and manning the donation-based coffee counter. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

His leadership skills are undeniable and, just as he took on the kitchen, he also took on a father-figure role to many of the center’s clients. He even rescued a dog, Gizmo, off the streets, nursing him back to health and working with him to overcome both physical and mental traumas.

Rob pets Gizmo, a dog he rescued 18 months ago, on the morning of February 19, 2019. When he first found "Gizzy," the dog's legs were broken, he was malnourished, and was severely traumatized from abuse. Rob nursed him back to health and has slowly helped Gizmo to trust humans again.
Rob pets Gizmo, a dog he rescued 18 months ago, on the morning of February 19, 2019. When he first found “Gizzy,” the dog’s legs were broken, he was malnourished, and was severely traumatized from abuse. Rob nursed him back to health and has slowly helped Gizmo to trust humans again. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

As an old-fashioned, tough-love, cold-turkey center, the Last Stop provides treatment with a heavy dose of religion, and a hot meal and bed, if needed. Rob is happy to provide that meal, working up dishes like spaghetti and meatballs from scratch each day.

Rob prepares a plate of spaghetti and meatballs on the evening of February 17, 2019. Rob ran three restaurants before coming to The Last Stop, and was therefore a natural choice to run the facility’s kitchen. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

Now, the center faces a $1.7 million lawsuit due to violations of Philadelphia’s zoning codes. If forced to shut down, Rob and many others would be losing a “safe space.”

The Last Stop owner Eddie Zampitella pauses for a moment in the center’s hallway on February 17, 2019. Zampitella currently faces a $1.7 million lawsuit for violating zoning restrictions. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

To Rob, “The Last Stop is not just a building.” People that come to the center have “two choices for their life: do something, or die.”

The Last Stop client Zachariah Donnelley stands on the outskirts of a rosary service at the recovery center on February 17, 2019. Donnelley considers the center his home, and the people that come to it family. He has been a client of the center since January 2018. (Rachel Wisniewski for WHYY)

For Rob, it’s simple: “If they were to close this place down, a lot more people would die.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.