In 1997, Vineyard House opened its doors for the first time. Last week the organization added more doors, closing on the purchase of a third house.
Like its first two homes, the Oak Bluffs house will serve as a place where Islanders can recover from drug and alcohol addictions and begin rebuilding their lives on the Vineyard.
But unlike the other homes, this house will be just for women. It's also the first home for which the organization took out a mortgage; the others were purchased with large donations.
"It's really such an adorable house, and it's going to be a wonderful place for women to live. You know that where you live has so much to do with self-esteem," said Carol McManus, a board member and chairman of the women's committee. "I think that living in a really nice place will help them feel good about themselves."
Having a house for women is not an entirely new undertaking for Vineyard House. One of their original two houses had been dedicated to women; however, they eventually switched it over to coed use.
"We just had a few people in it and got down to where we only had one woman in it, and we had a long waiting list for men," said Sandra Demel, the executive director of Vineyard House and also a member of the women's committee. "For some reason women didn't know about it or didn't come forward, or maybe there wasn't the need at that time."
Although they continued to serve women along with men in the coed house, many people felt that a home devoted entirely to women was needed. "It's worked having a coed house, but I don't feel, and other people don't feel, like we're able to serve either the men or women in that house as well as we could," Ms. Demel said. Once the women's house opens, the coed house will become an all male home.
After all, Vineyard House officials note that women and men often face different issues when entering recovery programs. "One of the things that we've discovered is that it's more difficult for a woman to make a commitment to move into a sober living residence because of her responsibility of taking care of young children or perhaps older family members, or not having the financial independence. And then, also, I think it's not as easy for women to share a living space as it is for men," said Sandy Broyard, a board member and past president of Vineyard House.
"Women have complicated issues. Often abuse of various kinds goes along with addiction, and they need a place where there is safety and also privacy," Ms. Broyard said.
There are women's recovery houses nearby on the Cape, but often leaving the Island isn't the best answer. "It really makes a difference for people to begin their lives anew in their own communities. I think it helps to build their self-esteem, regain their self-worth," Ms. Broyard said.
So over the past year a committee met monthly, researching the need for a women's home on the Island, visiting existing models off-Island and discussing program ideas.
Their research assured them of what they'd already suspected - the need was there. "Men are much more open about what they do, but because of the shame factor, women are more secretive about their drinking and drugging," Ms. McManus said. "Lots of times when you have a house like this, you find out that the need is even greater than you thought." They're hoping to better understand this need after results from a needs assessment study on the Island are collected; the study is scheduled to be completed in May.
For now, the women's home will operate under basically the same rules that apply to the two other houses. During their first 90 days of residence, people have to attend daily meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. They're subjected to random alcohol or drug tests, are assigned weekly chores and pay rent. Most stay anywhere from six to 18 months.
But officials emphasize that they will have to be flexible when approaching the women's house, since methods that work for men might not be as effective for women.
They also hope to develop some non-residential treatment options, which might include small groups to help support the sobriety of women.
Along with fleshing out their new program, in the next few months the organization will begin paying off the mortgage. Unlike the other two homes, which were purchased thanks to hefty donations, this is the first home Vineyard House has taken on the burden of a mortgage. They did this with the help of the Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank, and they hope to pay off the $240,000 within six months.
This will take a combination of grants, donations and fundraising. Two weeks ago, a dinner served at Zephrus brought in $7,500; later this month, Livingston Taylor is holding a concert in the Old Whaling Church, proceeds from which will benefit the women's house.
Indeed, much of the success of Vineyard House comes from community support. "First of all, when there's a turnaround in a persons's life, when they make that 180-degree turn and become sober, it's really like they're going from death back to life. I think in this day and age, everybody knows someone whose life was falling apart who has totally rebuilt their life," Ms. Broyard said.
"I think the Vineyard as a whole is a community that always steps up to the plate for its own, regardless of what the issue is. It's one of the strengths of the community, of the Island," she added.
But in the meantime, they're hoping to move women in as quickly as possible. "The good thing about this house is it needs no major repairs like the other two houses - there has just been a tremendous amount of maintenance going into them. One thing we were looking for in another house is to have it a bit easier in the maintenance area," Ms. Demel said.
This weekend, volunteers will be concentrating on the nitty-gritty, cleaning and stocking the home with furniture in the hopes that the new residents will move in during the next few weeks.
Because the sooner they move in, the sooner Vineyard House will be able to continue its healing work, the success of which has been so obvious during its first few years.
"Many of the graduates have turned around and become active participants in giving back," said board member Hazel Teagan, noting that people who have been through the program are now board members and committee members. "They've been the driving force to help other people get well."
"It's wonderful when you see people getting better. It's a miracle," Ms. Demel said. "It's totally amazing to see people come in and they start becoming the people they're meant to be. And to see people graduate from the house and become part of the community again."
Anyone interested in donating furniture for the new home or making a financial contribution can call the Vineyard House business office at 693-8580.