Amber Besaw, director of NBCC, welcomes the gathering to the recovery center's open house on Tuesday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Beacon Recovery Center opened only eight short weeks ago but already has a cadre of nearly a dozen people who show up every Wednesday.
That strong start was celebrated on Tuesday evening with an open house to get the word out that a safe space for sharing was available to those affected by addiction.
"We don't subscribe to one form of therapy or recovery," said peer counselor David Risch. "We do it by ourselves. We share our experiences, strength and hope in recovery. And if we want to break the stigma of recovery, we have to put a face on it."
The peer-to-peer recovery program grew out of conversations through the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition as part of its efforts to address needs identified by the community and the regional opioid working group. Once set in motion, the idea was spearheaded by Wendy Penner, NBCC's director of prevention and wellness, and grew with guidance and grant support into the program now situated at the Green at 85 Main St.
"This is shockingly just over a year from conception of an idea to you're standing in this space where it exists," Amber Besaw, executive director of NBCC, said. "And that doesn't happen very often. But when it does, it means it's super special. And that is exactly how we see this effort is so special and so meaningful in our community."
"I don't think it's lost to any of us the impact of addiction on our community, personally, professionally," she said. "I think in some way that hits all of us. And so to have a space and a place where people can be safe and find support and be connected is everything that the coalition stands for."
Richard Alcombright, the city's former mayor who has continued to be a champion on recovery for substance abuse, called the center a "huge step for this region."
"It's just very, very important in this community that we are starting to really build a resources for folks that start making those strides to recovery," he said afterward. "You know, one of the most important things is when people come out of detox, they go to clinical stabilization, they go maybe to a long-term program, and then they come home and there's nothing ...
"For someone trying to recover there's nothing better than talking to someone else in recovery who has been successful."
Risch has been volunteering with the working group for several years and was immediately on board with the concept of peer recovery.
"It was because the right people came together at the right time to do the right thing and say the right things and people stepped up," he said. The center's goals are laid in in its mission statement, he read, to create a safe and welcoming community for people in recover and their family and friends. "We are a beacon of hope to one another and to our community."
Barb Reeves, another peer counselor, came to the effort later after learning what it entailed.
"A year ago, I had no idea what a recovery center was. I needed it. So far, it's almost 10 years now without a drink," she said as the crowd applauded. "And those 10 years ... amazing things have happened since I stopped drinking."
Reeves and Risch recognized Besaw, Penner and her recent wellness associate Susan Cross, and particularly Linda Sarage, former director of the peer recovery center in Greenfield and now a consultant and recovery coach with the state's Bureau of Substance Addiction. Sarage was instrumental in helping the local group bring the Beacon Recovery Center to fruition.
"My appreciation for what Wendy and Amber and the NBCC have done in getting this brought to the community is deep," Reeves said. "I'm absolutely astounded about how well it's come together and how much effort they all put into it."
And to Sarage, "I wanted to thank you personally, for so much that you have offered to the group. And to me as well."
Mayor Thomas Bernard and state Sen. Adam Hinds also congratulated the NBCC and the volunteers for their efforts in getting the program up and running.
Bernard pointed to the planning and the many organizations and individuals that came together to make it happen.
"That's what makes this community, makes us strong," he said. "And that's what makes a program like the Beacon Recovery Center successful."
Hinds, former director of the NBCC, said the center was a good example of why the exists: It's members ask every day not only what they can do to improve the community but how should they go about it.
"If someone isn't waking up every single day, asking those questions, that's when it takes a little bit longer," the senator said. "We kind of shrug our shoulders when we talk about the problem in the following year."
Barely two months in, the peer counselors are already considering how to expanded on the current few hours they're open each Wednesday in the shared Green space. Risch would like to add on evening hours for people who work and Reeves envisions more programs like art.
We're here for people who want to talk, people who want to participate and some of the people, what I've noticed is they're looking forward to coming in on Wednesday," Reeves said. "It's a part of their recovery, stay and be a participant in in the recovery meeting ... It's like a family."
Besaw said the what they heard over the past few years is that the recovery community was pessimistic that a center of this type could happen here. And that getting into recovery felt hard and negative. The Beacon offers a choice for people to seek recovery close to home and be safe and happy and healthy in their future, she said.
"For us having the Beacon is really about showing people they can recover here, that there is a support network," Besaw said. "There are people who are living full and happy lives in recovery."
Alcombright said it also was not specifically focused on the recovering addict but the family and friends who also needed emotional support. "It's a family disease that affects everyone," he said.
The center does not offer medical aid or mental health services, or detoxification programs. Peer counselors can direct those seeking that type of help to the appropriate resources. Instead, the center is focused on helping people remain in recovery.
"We can't fix you but we sure can listen," said Reeves.
The Beacon Recovery Center has open hours on Wednesdays from 10 to 2 at the Green, 85 Main St. and is free and open to all.
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