The babies smile at him. The kids know him by name. Even Cedric the husky gets excited when he sees Daniel Adams because he knows it’s time to play. Wherever he goes, Mr. Adams brings joy to his community. And now that community is Gilliam Place, an APAH property on South Lincoln Street and Columbia Pike.
“Everything has changed for me because of living here,” Mr. Adams explained. Although he has a full-time job, he volunteers to help other residents whenever he is needed, including driving residents to the grocery store and medical appointments. “Being able to help and being of service to others—that’s what being here has done for me. My family is extremely proud of me,” Mr. Adams reflected. “And my friends are completely impressed by me,” he laughed.
Mr. Adams was drawn to Gilliam Place in part because of his connection to Arlington Presbyterian Church, the congregation that worked with APAH to create the building and that still meets in dedicated space on the first floor. “Long before this place was built, I had come to the church for AA meetings back in the 80s. When the Presbyterian church partnered with APAH to create this building I just knew it was where I was supposed to be.” He plans to take guitar lessons from the church’s Minister of Music and hopefully play in future church services. “Even though my lease is not up until December, I’m already committed to staying here. This place brings joy and hope and peace and love to the community.”
On one recent Sunday he noticed the fruit and vegetables left over after free produce distribution at Gilliam Place. “I thought since there was a lot left over, I might as well load up my car and take them to people who would use them.” Now every week Mr. Adams picks up 10 boxes of produce and delivers them to both friends and strangers around Northern Virginia who could use an infusion of fresh produce. “I pass them out to people who need vegetables and want to eat healthy,” he said. Mr. Adams doesn’t have an official volunteer role at Gilliam Place, but he seems to appear when help is needed. “My attitude is I get in where I fit in,” he said. “I do it because I have an affinity for people.”
A native Arlingtonian and the youngest of 12 children, Mr. Adams was raised in what was then called the Butler Holmes neighborhood, now part of Penrose. His mother grew up in the same neighborhood and was friends with pioneering doctor and scientist Dr. Charles Drew (after whom the elementary school is named). Mr. Adams’ grandmother lived next door.
While he lives just over a mile west of his childhood home, Mr. Adams has seen a lot in his 60 years. As a certified peer recovery specialist for the Chris Atwood Foundation for more than a year, Mr. Adams drives a van around Northern Virginia to offer harm reduction and other services to people living with addiction or in recovery. He also serves as a member of two Arlington County committees that deal with addiction and recovery services.
“A peer recovery specialist who is a person who has lived experience who can help others with substance use and mental health issues and can meet them where they are,” Mr. Adams explained. “I’m not putting a treatment plan together. I meet people where they’re at, and ask them, ‘What do you want to do and how do you want to do it?’ and figure out how I can best help that person. The choice is still theirs.”
“I give hope to a lot of people who don’t have hope. I show love to a lot of people who feel no love within themselves,” Mr. Adams said. As someone who used and abused substances for 34 years and has been clean and sober now for 14, Mr. Adams aspires to be a catalyst of change for others, but never judgmental or stigmatizing. “A lady came to the van yesterday and grabbed my hand to say thank you for what we’re doing. People are hurting and they’re holding on by a thread. We’re helping them to keep some sort of hope alive. I refer to our van as the happy van. People do leave happy. People feel respected. A lot of times in this society people disrespect those with a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder. When people come to the van, they know how supportive I am and that my heart is in it.”
Before moving to Gilliam Place, Mr. Adams was staying with his sister at her house nearby. Prior to that, he was incarcerated for 30 years. “I always wanted to be there for other people. That’s what I ended up doing,” he said. Even while he was in prison, he found himself in positions where he could help others. “Things became different as I started to get clean and sober. I love being a person in recovery. As long as I keep growing and going. At 60 I’m learning that my latter years are better than my former.”