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Recovery center fits with mission of community behavioral health organization

June 23, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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R.I.’s first center has attracted 21,000 visitors since December

Rhode Island’s first recovery community center has become noteworthy as a one-stop shop for recovery support and as an effort in revitalizing a downtown community. Equally of note with the project is the involvement of an agency that many state residents would identify more with community mental health services but that clearly considers addiction recovery central to its mission.

The Providence Center was able to open the Anchor Recovery Community Center in downtown Pawtucket in December, with support from a private donor and a 2010 federal grant for building recovery-oriented systems of care. The community behavioral health organization’s charismatic recovery services manager, Jim Gillen, is receiving national acclaim for his efforts at the recovery center and beyond. This week, he and two other activists from around the country were honored with national awards as part of Faces & Voices of Recovery’s annual America Honors Recovery event.

The corner office at the front of the Anchor Recovery Community Center’s storefront space indicates that Gillen directs the operation, but while his non-stop dedication to the effort is clear, there appears to be an organic growth in how the center has progressed and what it can still become. That is largely driven by the wants of a recovery community that Gillen says has long awaited a location where it can build meaningful connections. “If the members own it, they have more of a chance to be successful,” Gillen says.

The center occupies ground-floor space along a row of downtown buildings where vacancies are still prevalent but signs of life are emerging. Some initial trepidation among neighbors has given way to a more welcoming stance; Gillen says a restaurant down the street recently conducted a fundraiser for the center and also has hired one of its members.

Activity at the center starts by 8:30 every morning and usually continues right up until the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time. The center hosts numerous 12-Step meetings, and several addiction-focused organizations also hold their board meetings there. Members of the recovery community drop in throughout the day to use computers, access library resources, meet with an employment and education coordinator, and build friendships.

“We connect people,” says Gillen. “It’s not a ‘You better get a sponsor’ kind of approach. We welcome all paths [to recovery].”

Other activities include getting people registered to vote and conducting telephone recovery support contacts in order to check in with members. The Anchor center has established immediate name recognition among community and government organizations; some members have been mandated by the justice system to access support services there.

The center opens on one Sunday a month and even is accessible on holidays, which of course present special challenges for individuals in recovery. During last winter’s Super Bowl, on a day when most downtown blocks would be deserted, the center hosted more than 250 people to watch the game in a safe environment. “We had so many single Dads who brought their kids,” Gillen says.

The Providence Center sees this effort as sustainable, and emphasizes that the current support through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant is allowing it to collect data that will document the project’s impact in the community.