PAWTUCKET — As program director Jim Gillen knows firsthand, it can be very difficult for someone trying to recover from drug or alcohol abuse to find new ways to live, work and socialize. The new Anchor Recovery Community Center in downtown Pawtucket aims to provide some much-needed ballast to those who feel like they are struggling with sobriety.
On December 2, The Providence Center opened Rhode Island's first recovery center that is designed to provide people who have already received treatment or overcome substance abuse problems with daily access to a supportive environment, people and activities. Open six days a week,
The Anchor will serve as a resource by providing such office-based activities as peer-to-peer coaching, 12-step group meetings, training, vocational services, and a variety of health and wellness activities.
There is also a lending library, and upcoming plans for musical programs and other special events.
“The Anchor was created in response to a need in Rhode Island,” said Dale K. Klatzker, president and CEO of The Providence Center. “Rhode Island has the highest rate of illicit drug use in the nation at 13.34 percent of the population. The Anchor is a resource for the entire recovery community.”
The Anchor is partially funded through a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and a private donor. Klatzker added that The Providence Center is partnering with fellow recovery support service agencies in this endeavor, including the Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts (RICARES) and Stanley Street Treatment and Resources (SSTAR).
“People who get help for substance abuse problems often take the courageous step of accessing treatment, but once they leave treatment, they go right back to an environment where drug use is the norm and often lose the gains they've made,” said Jim Gillen, who is also Director of Recovery Services at The Providence Center. “The Anchor provides the long-term support they need.”
In a 4,000-square-foot, newly refurbished storefront at 249 Main Street, The Anchor has a large meeting room with seating for speaking programs and presentations, office space, a cozy coffee and dining area with cafe-style tables, a resource area with computer workstations, and a smaller community room for various functions. There is also a comfortable reading room with couches, an electric fireplace and a large lending library.
“The tables (in the cafe area) were donated by Dunkin Donuts, Gillen noted. An avid reader himself, he also said that the reading room is one of his favorite place to sit. “You can just come and relax on one of our imitation leather sofas by our imitation fireplace—but the books are all real,” he said with a smile.
Centers of this type have proven to be successful in other cities and towns across the U.S., and The Providence Center has been trying for the past two years to open one in Rhode Island. According to Ian Lang, chief strategy officer for The Providence Center, officials had looked at some 40 potential locations in communities throughout Rhode Island before finding the space in downtown Pawtucket.
“There was a lot of 'not in my backyard' that we encountered, but Pawtucket was very welcoming,” Lang said. He added that the Main Street site was also suitable for many other reasons, such as its easy accessibility by car or bus, the free parking garage across the street, and the general openness and acceptance to the center's purpose as demonstrated by most of the surrounding downtown business tenants.
Gillen, a former addict himself, will be overseeing The Anchor, which also has a couple of full-time staffers and some part-time help from other social service agencies. Although he has personally been clean for many years, Gillen says he knows the many pitfalls and difficulties that those recovering from years of drug or alcohol abuse can face, and particularly around the holidays. Having a place to socialize and mingle with others battling the same demons can be key to helping a recovering addict stay strong.
Gillen emphasized, however, that The Anchor is not meant to be a hangout or a place to flop. Rather, it is designed as a purposeful place where people can come and get information about counseling or other resources, attend a 12-step program or other group meeting, work on their resume and search for jobs, or get access to other social or cultural programs and events that are going on in the community. “If you're here, you're here to do something positive,” stressed Gillen.
The Anchor is also not a treatment center. Gillen said that just days after The Anchor opened, an inebriated man wandered in. Gillen said he referred the man to places that could offer help, but noted that this active type of intervention is not what The Anchor is about. Its focus is on the addict who is recovering and who needs to find a new social network that is not centered on alcohol or drugs, plus education about other lifestyle issues.
The Anchor, Gillen said, “is not a prescribed need—it can meet a whole range of needs.” He added, “You have to create what I like to call a 'healing forest.' A healthy environment and a place where you can come and not be judged.” The center, he said, is this kind of place, and he hopes to see others like it open up in the state.
A recovering addict also needs to feel a part of the community again, Gillen stated. He added that The Anchor's proximity to places like the Pawtucket Library, the Pawtucket YMCA, the Blackstone Valley Community Health Center, and other downtown businesses and local churches and organizations have enhanced the opportunities for public involvement for the recovery center's clientele. “People in recovery need to re-learn that you're not this isolated population just because you've used drugs or alcohol. You are a part of the community,” he said.
“Pawtucket has been awesome. I've met with most of the neighbors and many have reached out to help,” Gillen said. For example, he said that a representative of Shri Studio came by to offer to develop a yoga class geared to those who have been involved with 12-step programs.
As to upcoming plans, Gillen said he is working with various organizations to be able to offer some type of 12-step program every morning. Also in the works are things like poetry readings, kareoke and “open mic” nights, and other social events.
Noting that the upcoming Super Bowl is another tough day for recovering addicts because of the emphasis on drinking, he is also planning a Superbowl Party at The Anchor. People can gather around a large screen TV and watch the game in an alcohol-free environment. Along the same lines, he is also hoping to host a family day during the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.
As part of ensuring that The Anchor is successfully meeting the needs of those being served, Gillen said that there will be an advisory board and weekly group meetings where individuals can give input about how the center operates. “Our community members will have a strong say in what we do here. We all have to own it,” he said.