This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 11/26/01
Page A4, Local News; Copyright 2001 by Beth David

Center's manager goes from needy to needed
Editor's note: Today marks the debut of a series that will appear from time to time, featuring uncelebrated people who are quietly making a difference in the world around them.
By BETH DAVID, Standard-Time correspondent

It puzzles Nancy Inacio that someone would write a newspaper column about her.

Although unsure, she agreed to be interviewed because a column will draw attention to the Agnes S. Braz-Hope S. Bean Memorial Community Center, which she manages.

Nancy moves quickly from one task to the next. Between interruptions, her big, dark eyes fill up easily at talk of the people who walk through these doors looking for food, clothes or a compassionate ear.

The center needs food, she explains. If not for a Boston food bank and a free truck from a local business, the shelves would be bare.

Why on Earth would we want to write about her instead of that?

A 40-ish woman and single mother of three girls, Nancy has seen her share of difficult times.

"What I went through when my mother was dying was nothing good," she says.

That is when her personal downward spiral began: depression followed by alcohol abuse, followed by depression.

Realizing that her mother's death triggered her destructive behavior, Nancy suddenly understood that her girls could suffer the same fate.

So she wandered into PAACA one day -- Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction. And that is when the hard work really began.

"You have to work at it," she says. "You have to learn how to change your life."

A sensitive woman quick to laugh and quicker to cry, Nancy's whole personality spills from her as she speaks. You have to wonder how she handles it, seeing needy people day after day, people who make her cry.

Like the 17-year-old mother looking for food and clothes for herself and her baby. The face on the girl's ID stared back through a black eye, and Nancy started crying. She cries about it still.

"I saw this young beautiful teenager, struggling, and I saw the tears in her eyes. ... It reminds me every day of where I came from."

And where is she now?

"I'm just getting to know myself," she answers, and then tells you that she recently received a regional philanthropy award from Partners for a Healthier Community and the Greater New Bedford Health and Human Services Coalition.

"As I got that award, I realized that I had become this independent woman, the single mother of three girls."

She marvels at the changes in her life and credits it all to supportive people, the love of her girls, faith in God and the willingness to let go of old taboos.

"My mother had depression and never got medical help for that," she says.

People didn't talk about those things then. Now, people talk more. And if Nancy had her way, they would never stop talking. She is sure the world's problems can be solved by more support groups, more family nights, more conversation.

She is a long way from that first step into the center. Now she has opinions on needle exchange, prison rehabilitation programs, the housing crisis, the HIV epidemic, drug education and what DSS does wrong. But mostly, she just gives food and clothes to people who need them.

She quickly credits state Rep. and City Councilor George Rogers (whose aunt was the late Agnes Braz) with always coming through when she asks him.

But she is much too humble.

With an annual operating budget of $11,000 for a place that serves 1,200 people each month, the program truly is "the biggest bang for your buck you can get in government," to quote Mr. Rogers.

Maybe he is right. But it is not exactly a shining example of society's commitment to eradicating the problems of homelessness and chemical addiction (then again, maybe it is). It is more like a monument to the status quo, where people like Nancy struggle to make a difference against the odds.

Not that Nancy is complaining. She takes the crumbs sent her way and makes crumb cake.

That is what independent women do

The center accepts clothes and nonperishable food.