Every life is important. That’s more than Bonnie Billups, Jr.’s philosophy. He strives every day to put that truth into action. Billups, 52, the executive director of the Peace Neighborhood Center in Ann Arbor was at work one day when he met a man who had been living in the woods for 16 years. “People would see him on the street and see him as a bum and not understand the emotional things he had to overcome,” Billups said.
The man’s miserable decline into alcohol and loneliness began when he discovered his wife’s betrayal of him with his best friend. It ended when he came to the Center. “He found hope here,” said Billups. “He found people who believed in him.”
The Center provides free educational, enrichment and crisis intervention services for adults, families and children. Youthful visitors enjoy after school activities, summer day camp and arts
programs. Adults benefit from substance abuse counseling, supportive housing, help with basic needs and more.
Billups started working for the Center when he was a child, hunting down supplies for trips organized for youngsters living in economically struggling families. It was more than just a job for him. “It gave me a sense of integrity and trust and that idea that someone believed in me,” he said.
The youths who visit the Center aren’t the only ones who have benefited from Billups’ compassion. He, his wife and four stepchildren have helped foster eight youngsters. Billups recently walked one of his wards, a successful college student, down the aisle at her wedding.
Faith is another big part of Billups’ life. He is a Baha’i, a belief that emphasizes the spiritual unity and harmony of mankind. “I believe we are all here to assist each other and be of service to humanity.” Uniting the community was one of the goals of the Center at its founding in 1971, during a time of racial turbulence in Ann Arbor. Today, the organization has morphed into a community center helping families overcome financial, social or any other obstacles they may face.
The 2,000 people who visit the Center each year can find practical advice to improve their lives. Workshops help moms and dads learn how to build structure into their families, deal with stress or talk to their kids about drugs or sex.
Children can discover how to grow their own gardens, enjoy a hot nutritious meal or get some help with their math homework from a tutor.
What happened to the man who walked out of the woods into the Center? After he dealt with the demons plaguing him, he contacted his parents who thought he had died a decade ago. “When he got up the courage to call his mother and father, the whole staff were standing around him. His mother cried,” said Billups. “I learned a belief in miracles and impossibilities.”
For more information about the Peace Neighborhood Center, contact them at 734-662-3564 or www.peaceneighborhoodcenter.org.