For most Vineyarders, driving off the ferry back onto the Island is a moment filled with excitement or a sigh of relief. But for those returning from detoxification units for alcoholism and addiction it is a time of temptation and anxiety.
“People barely made it home, sometimes not even off the boat, before they relapsed,” said Beth Toomey, vice president of the board of Vineyard House. “For many people, to get over that hump to getting home and changing lanes, they really need this.”
Since 1997 Vineyard House has provided Islanders with a much needed home for those in recovery. Residents are required to go through a thorough interview process before entering the program. Once admitted, they must have a full-time job, attend 12-step meetings, participate in the recovery program New Paths at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, have a sobriety sponsor, help maintain the houses, be drug tested and pay rent.
“To be able to do that in a safe environment and wait out that time with other people is so much easier than going home and over-analyzing it and thinking yourself into a hole,” Ms. Toomey said.
Vineyard House has operated out of three houses since it was founded. But now, with the groundbreaking of a new facility on Short Hill Road, off Holmes Hole Road in Vineyard Haven, the sober living facility will be able to create a campus-style complex.
Board president Mark Jenkins said the new facility is “a game changer.”
“We responded 17 years ago to a need in the community,” he said. “Now we’ve found ourselves with an enormous need. We’ve seen amazing miracles in our houses, but we recognized that we were not able to do the best job possible in the facilities we had. It was a real struggle.”
The $3 million LEED-certified complex will include two houses for men, one house for women, an office, a common building with additional rooms and a meeting room for support groups. The new buildings will house 24 residents, about eight more than the organization’s current capacity. Residents are expected to move in by the end of the year.
Access for women is especially important, Ms. Toomey said.
“To go off to treatment they have to be away from their kids and often will not choose treatment or getting help,” she said. “Being able to be on the Island, be close to their family and have access to them is making the difference between people languishing or getting some help.”
Construction of the new facility has been funded from the sale of the three current houses, about $2 million in private fundraising and a $75,000 grant from the Center for Community Recovery Innovations, which funds the creation of sober living residences. Two of the three houses are in purchase and sales agreements to be sold to first time homeowners, Mr. Jenkins said. A third sale is still pending. Residents will be placed in transitional housing while the new buildings are under construction.
In recent years, trends have moved away from alcoholism towards opiate addiction, managing director Dawn Bellante Holand said. And the residents are getting younger.
“There used to be discussion of vanilla alcoholics, which were older men with gin blossom noses, and you tell almost by looking at someone that they may be in need of help for alcoholism,” she said. “That has changed dramatically over the years.”
About 25 per cent of the residents are under the age of 30, she said.
“The trends we’re seeing nationwide are trends we’re seeing at Vineyard House,” Mr. Jenkins added.
But no matter the age, a sense of camaraderie and support exists between the residents.
“As each incident comes up or life event and they watch someone else handle it, or not handle it, they’re learning these pieces,” Ms. Toomey said. “When they’re starting to help someone else that’s when they’ve really turned a corner.”
That’s exactly the experience former executive director Brian Mackey had. In 2002 he “crashed and burned,” spending two months at the Gosnold treatment facility before he moved into Vineyard House. What started out as a six-month stay turned into a year.
“It took that long,” Mr. Mackey said. “It took six months just to be able to get back into a routine.”
But it was the connection with other residents that kept him going on the right track, he said. After leaving the Vineyard House as a resident, Mr. Mackey continued to volunteer and eventually became the executive director and treasurer of the organization.
Mr. Mackey said he’s still connected to the people who helped him through his recovery.
“The support of the residents stays with you,” he said. “Everybody is looking out for you.”
The Vineyard House groundbreaking ceremony on Short Hill Road in Vineyard Haven is on Monday, May 5, at 10 a.m. For more information on Vineyard House visit vineyardhouse.org.