Guitar-playing trio and group shot from a Recovery WOW campfire outing at Northgate Free Methodist Church earlier this month. Photos courtesy of Thomas Claffey.
News that Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse has made the commitment to offer a recovery recreation center in Batavia is music to the ears of local residents who believe the much-needed support is a key to their sobriety.
“This needs to happen, and the sooner the better,” said Batavian Thomas Claffey, an adult digital art/photography student at Genesee Community College. “It’s always good to be around people and to have a good support system … people that can relate to what you’re going through and not judge you.”
Claffey, 33, has struggled with alcohol and drug use for many years. He has been sober for the past nine months – “I have found my ground recently and am doing well,” he said – but is acutely aware of the possibility of relapse.
“I’m really glad to be in Batavia, away from where I encounter triggers that lead to substance use,” he said. “Addiction is a sickness and a disease that affects you mentally. It changes the chemical makeup of the brain, and makes you constantly scared of that withdrawal, but yet you’ve got to feed that demon.”
He said it is essential for him to keep his schedule filled and that’s why he got involved with Recovery WOW, a program of GCASA, and is looking forward to taking part in the various activities to be offered by the recovery recreation center that will be housed at the former Bohn’s Restaurant on Clinton Street Road.
GCASA, under the guidance of Executive Director John Bennett, is in the process of purchasing the building and plans to convert it to a gathering place for those in recovery – a destination where those dealing with drug and alcohol addiction can interact through sober living activities.
Planned activities include community clean-up and community garden projects; fitness activities (yoga, hikes, runs, biking, basketball, martial arts); art classes; peer support; cooking and nutrition classes; mutual aid and self-help meetings; games and live music, and special events during holidays.
‘Peers’ Lend a Helping Hand
Bennett said that GCASA has trained 18 peers — Certified Recovery Peer Advocates – through the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to assist those in recovery.
And statistics show the need for such a program as Genesee County has one of the highest opioid overdose rates in New York.
While there is no exact statistics regarding the number of people in recovery, it is estimated that 7 percent of the population suffers from some kind of substance use disorder and that only one in seven get treatment for it, Bennett said.
Amy Kabel of Batavia is one of the peers who will be working at the recovery center.
“I’ve visited other recovery centers and realize that this is something that Batavia really needs,” said Kabel, who has a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and formerly was employed at Hope Haven, an in-patient program in Batavia.
“Our job isn’t to tell those in recovery that you can’t do this or that, or that you have to stop using (right away),” she said, “but to be there for them, no matter what their choices are.”
GCASA has set up an advisory committee, steered by Sue Gagne, the agency’s recovery center coordinator for Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
Kathy Miller of Byron, a committee member, said that her goal is to help erase the stigma placed upon those who have been involved in substance use.
“A lot of people have been diagnosed with substance or alcohol disorder and there is no place for them to hang out and not feel the stigma of addiction,” she said. “I would like to see this program expand to offer a wide variety of places for people to go and events to attend. We need to stress that it is okay to not drink or do drugs – to make that more the norm.”
Ricco Oquendo, 58, another advisory committee member, is in recovery and has been sober for 10 months. He said he is prepared to educate the public about the disease of alcohol and substance use.
“This is the best I have felt in a long time,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, and, with the help of my savior, Jesus Christ, am determined to make something out of my life.”
Gagne has put together a full activities calendar – events such as campfires, hiking, tie-dye, yoga, karaoke and cooking classes – and sees the recovery recreation center as the next logical piece of the puzzle. (For more information, like us on Facebook – Recovery WOW).
“The recovery center will only increase the awareness and opportunities,” said Gagne, who previously worked for Wyoming County Mental Health. “It’s a confusing world out there, and hopefully this will be a place where people and their families can come and get support without being judged.”
The outside of ROCovery Fitness in Rochester, a former fire station, and the facility’s co-founder Yana Khaspher, left, and Lindsay Chambers, director of development. Photos by Mike Pettinella.
ROCovery Fitness: A Model for Success
The Batavia facility is being patterned after the ROCovery Outreach Center on Dewey Avenue in Rochester, a converted fire station that promotes physical fitness as a vital step on a road to recovery.
ROCovery Fitness was founded five years ago by Yana Khashper and Sean Smith, both of whom are in recovery.
They opened the outreach center two years ago after it was gifted to them by an anonymous donor. Since then, the program has been used by an estimated 3,000 people in the Rochester area.
“Greater Rochester has been very supportive,” Khashper said. “They believe in our mission, which is to meet the needs of the community.”
When asked to speak of the program’s success, she said the success is “this place.”
The outreach center features a large community room and a gymnasium (with exercise machines and free weights) on the first floor and another community room, yoga room, men’s and women’s locker rooms and offices on the second floor.
Structured activities include hula-hooping, kettlebells, weightlifting, boxing and group meetings. It is open every day except for Sunday.
Currently, the staff there is gearing up for its major fundraiser – a ROCovery 5K and X-Challenge on Sept. 15 at Mendon Ponds Park.
Jay Dockum and Adam Welch, both in recovery, said they have found a renewed sense of purpose while participating in ROCovery Outreach Center programs and are focused on living a healthy and sober existence.
“Isolation was the worst place for me,” Dockum said. “I go to meetings here, use the gym and am meeting like-minded people. I just got sick and tired of the way I was living and had to make a change.”
Welch said he has volunteered at ROCovery for about seven months after being in and out of rehab for several years.
A former software engineer, he said drugs took a toll on his career and marriage.
“Sobriety is my main job now,” he said. “I go to AA meetings and hopefully will be able to see my two boys (ages 5 and 8) soon.”
Story by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist