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A longtime Hope Center employee has died, leaving behind a group of people in Lexington he helped cope with addiction.

Matt Layton, 56, died Monday after 27 years spent working at the Hope Center. Layton was the first director of the center’s Recovery Program for Men when it launched in 1996, said Cecil Dunn, executive director of the Hope Center.

“Matt was known and respected throughout the recovery community in Lexington and beyond,” Dunn said. “He provided a lifeline to hundreds of individuals addicted to drugs and alcohol. He helped them come to know themselves, to understand their disease, and to learn how to live clean and sober lives one day at a time. There are not many individuals who have done more good for more people.”

Layton was a recovering addict himself, having abused drugs and alcohol when he was a student at Transylvania University. He was a member of the university’s soccer team and graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in education.

“We really love each other and our clients,” Layton once said, according to the Hope Center’s website. “I have a lot of gratitude for my position, because when I leave here after work, I feel happy and motivated. I feel like I’ve made a difference.”

Two women Layton had a profound effect on were Carol Stutts and Iris Doty, whom he met while they were nontraditional college students completing internships at the center.

Doty’s internship was part of her education at the University of Kentucky. One of the first people she met was Layton.

“He put me at ease. I’ve never been in a men’s homeless center in my life,” Stutts said. “He told me these men are just human and they would give them the shirts off their backs. I learned it wasn’t just the men who would do that; Matt would too.”

Doty followed her internship with a volunteer position at the center. When Layton was appointed the director of the men’s recovery program in 1996, Doty became its first social worker.

His desire and love of others is what made him so good at his job, Doty said.

Stutts met Layton in 2006 when she was looking for a place to do a practicum and internship as part of her education at Liberty University.

The two remained friends after the internship and she often called on him for advice as part of her job as a counselor.

“I found him to be very welcoming and highly professional and highly skilled,” Stutts said. “I liked him so much and the way he cared about others and how committed he was. He was an inspiring type of person and genuine.”

It’s impossible to put a number on how many men Layton has helped, but Doty said that the center’s men’s program started with 12 beds, and by the time she retired from the center in 2014, it had grown to more than 200.

Carrie Thayer is the director of development at the Hope Center, and her office was near Layton’s.

“Matt was a positive force in the recovery community,” Thayer said. “He had the passion, knowledge, experience and humor to help our clients to learn and even to smile in their darkest moments. We will all miss him.”

A celebration of Layton’s life will be held at the Kentucky Theater from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 16, said his girlfriend, Suzie Wheeler. Layton’s family asks that instead of flowers, donations be made to the Hope Center.

Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso

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