Centered in San Diego County, California, the Training Center is a faith-based residential
drug and alcohol treatment program which includes men who are coming out of prison,
and those suffering from substance abuse issues. Partnered with Serving USA who assists
in the funding of their TUMI (The Urban Ministry Institute) reentry home, Training Center’s
daily and weekly workshops offer relapse prevention, employment readiness and training.
They also provide life development, life skills, anger management, medication
management, marriage and family therapy, and support for family and community reentry.
In addition to being Christ-centered,
What makes the Training Center unique is their unlikely ‘overseer in chief, ’ Dennis Martinez . Martinez, whose wild youth should have eliminated him from the face of the earth eons ago.
Somehow (he) still looks at least a decade younger than his age. Also, considering his
resume, it is astounding he was able to launch a rehabilitation facility in 2005.
Founding a Christ-centered rehab
It probably helps that Dennis has been completely clean and sober since 1996 and is among the most determined people you’ll likely ever meet. He traveled from crime to faith and became extremely trustworthy in the process. Against all odds and with no formal education, he founded and co-ran the Training Center, a 25-room live-in rehab. From there, he traveled the world to spread his message of sobriety. A documentary, D.O.P.E. (Death or Prison Eventually) was made about his life and the lives of his peers, skateboarding legends Jay Adams, Bruce Logan, and Christian Hosoi. The original Training Center thrived until 2019 when it became a victim of Coronavirus (COVID-19) limitations and was eventually shut down. Never one to quit, Dennis pivoted and opened the similar, smaller Training Center’s current facility nearby. He spends a considerable amount of time working in outreach ministry to include current prison inmates, and organizes athletic exhibition concert prison events, such as the upcoming Cobian Footwear: Salt & Light Event at Centinela Prison on February 25th => learn about the event: https://youtube.com/shorts/4y46mGtLhq0?feature=share In addition, Martinez operates Flying Aces Skateboard Company. Crafting his own line of skateboards, he also mentors and develops amateur skateboarders, preparing them to become professional competitors.
As he says, “At 63 years old, I am still a pro skateboarder.”
Dennis learned about skateboards in his youth, on the streets of San Diego. Skateboarding was his first love, and endless practice led him to become one of the world’s top pro riders in the late ‘70s to mid-’80s. His career culminated with his victory at the 1977 World Skateboarding Championships (and, more recently in 2020, a well-deserved spot in the Skateboarding Hall of Fame). “By the age of 16,” he recalls, “I was making a bit of money. It was the first time I was able to pay cash for a new car and rent my own apartment.” He soon discovered his then drug of choice, methamphetamine, which he snorted, smoked, and eventually mainlined for 14 years. Part of what makes Dennis good at his job is that he understands the motivation of those he’s trying to help. He understands bad intentions, as well as being under the influence. Most of Martinez’s life had been spent in pursuit of some sort of ecstatic rush. But his years spent as a self-confessed “adrenaline junkie” gave way to years of being just a regular junkie, injecting speed so often that he no longer has a vein anywhere in his body capable of being pierced by a syringe. Over the course of his addiction, he sought to replace the thrill and cash he once received from skateboarding by mainlining and selling meth.
“By my early twenties, I was already spun out on dope, snorting coke and smoking meth."
"Then, when I wasn’t getting high enough, my neighbor turned me on to the needle, even though I had a fear of needles going back to my childhood. Still, when he described to me the type of high it was, I had to try it. And I can tell you this, from the first time he drew the needle back and I saw the blood and he injected it into me, I was hooked.”
Once Dennis crossed over to the dark side, he began taking risks that led to more than the scraped knees or bone fractures of skateboarding. He started flirting with death itself. “Every time you do meth, you taste death, and if that doesn’t kill you, dealing it just might. I would be holding thousands of dollars in a money belt for a drug dealer, along with a snub nose .38. I didn’t even make a good drug dealer, though, because whatever drugs I got, I would do up. It got so crazy that sometimes we would play Russian roulette. You know, you have one bullet and six chambers, so… you do the math. I was out doing a drug deal when a kid I knew ended up spinning the chamber, pointing the gun at himself, pulling the trigger twice, and shooting himself. I heard that after he did it, he stood up and took a few steps forward before he died. He was 19 years old when it took his life. Man, people just don’t know what drugs do.” For his part, Martinez observes that “violent crime and drug use go hand in hand. In fact, most of the homicides committed would have been avoided if drugs or alcohol weren’t present. At Training Center, we spend much of our time helping get people clean and sober.” Through his efforts to also clean up his community, over the past decade thousands of guns have been removed from the streets of San Diego.
“We've seen our TUMI men serve people through outreach, food distribution, churches and partnering with San Diego Sheriff Department for our trading "Skateboards for Guns" program. Working with Serving USA has been one of the best experiences I've ever had, they're like family. They understand the dynamics of the people we serve and together, along with the Lord’s direction and favor, we have helped many people. Witnessing their families restored, doors opened for the men we serve is priceless.”
This blog article was featured in the February 2023 ServingUSA Newsletter.