PITTSFIELD — Each month, more than 700 people find their way to a building in the city’s Westside neighborhood. They come through a side door and take seats in a large room at the back — ready, one day at a time, to confront addiction.

Though 12-step programs have long defined what takes place inside the George B. Crane Memorial Center, its leaders have for years wanted to do more.

Starting next week, the building becomes the home of Living in Recovery, an effort to help people fighting addiction by creating a sense of community. The goal is to open a new front in the war against substance abuse by addressing life pressures, such as custody or housing problems, that stand as barriers to progress — and can lead a person to begin using again.

The approach is gaining ground nationally, leading Massachusetts to back creation of five new “recovery centers” across the state this coming year. The budget calls for expansion of such centers to confront the opioid epidemic.

The new Pittsfield effort, overseen by ServiceNET, hopes to win funding as one of those centers, but can operate for up to two years on its own thanks to a major private donation.

“It’s creating a total community that’s in recovery,” said Jay Sacchetti, senior vice president with the nonprofit human-services agency. “They come together on their own own terms, so there’s a better understanding. It’s a safe place to talk about what you need, with people with life experiences.”

The center, the first of its kind run by ServiceNET in the Berkshires, will celebrate its debut by opening its doors at 81 Linden St. to the public Friday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. City officials and ServiceNET representatives will attend. People can also visit during those same hours this week.

Family’s gift

The Pittsfield center is dedicated to Joseph R. Botz, a Pittsfield man who died in 2017 after years struggling to control his drinking. Botz’s mother and stepfather donated $150,000 to allow ServiceNET to create the center and to underwrite renovations to the Crane building’s second floor.

Joe Buyse, the new program’s director, said members of the Botz family searched for a way, after his death in the spring of 2017, to help others. Botz’s obituary noted that he died at age 45 “while fighting a courageous battle against alcoholism.”

“They wanted people in recovery in Berkshire County to have more options and more choices than Joe did,” Buyse said of the man’s parents, Donna and Dave Darcy.

It wasn’t the first time Botz’s family sought to turn their loss into someone else’s gain. In lieu of flowers, people were asked, in Botz’ obituary, to support The Brien Center in Pittsfield.

For Doug Malins, the Crane building’s founder, the new Living in Recovery center ups the ante.

“I never dreamed this whole thing was possible. It’s just beyond what I dreamed,” Malins said. When he opened the property in 2010, transforming a former pizza restaurant in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, his goal was to stabilize access to 12-step meetings. As of now, 18 separate groups make use of the space.

“I had a vision of having a home for people in recovery, a main meeting space that all groups could call their home,” Malins said.

The Darcy family donation allowed ServiceNET to hire Buyse and for the Crane center to complete two upstairs bathrooms, finish a hallway and create working and social spaces, including a computer room and a lounge.

The gift came through where earlier funding efforts failed. In 2014, ServiceNET applied for but did not win a grant to create a recovery center in the Berkshires.

On its own, Malins tried to expand the Crane building’s substance abuse programming two years later, and nearly did. But in December 2016, midyear budget cuts ordered by Gov. Charlie Baker removed state money that was going to allow the Crane center to hire a staff member, as it aspired to do more for people seeking recovery.

Two years later, that ambition is back in gear.

Program goals

In the months ahead, Buyse will work to build a program that serves not just people seeking to recover from addiction, but their families, friends and allies as well.

Buyse plans to host events that appeal to families, such as movies, games and children’s programs, so people in recovery can attempt to rebuild ties that can fray in the face of addiction.

“Where people are able to come down here with their family and enjoy an evening of music, or a movie night,” Buyse said. “Addiction is a family disease. Everyone is affected. If the family doesn’t heal and change with the addict, chances are you are going to fall back into old patterns of behavior. Everybody needs to grow and learn through the experience.”

“Everybody starts where they are,” Buyse said of people pursuing recovery. That includes whether their family ties are intact. “Healing of those relationships sometimes happens slowly, sometimes quickly,” he said.

Buyse said he hopes the new Living in Recovery project helps tip the odds in the favor of people who want to change. “They need a place to go and build a new life for themselves,” he said.

“It’s not a program, it’s a community that’s peer-driven and peer-led,” Buyse said. “It offers a lot more choices for people coming into recovery.”

Erin Forbush, ServiceNET’s director of operations, said the recovery center bolts a new approach onto existing 12-step programs. Philosophically, the center will accept “all pathways” that help people end substance abuse.

Forbush called the center “a place for individuals of like minds to come together.”

Sacchetti said that to remain in recovery, people often need help overcoming problems that might seem to have little connection to substance abuse, but are trapdoors. One is child custody disputes, an emotionally fraught issue that can trip people up. The center may bring in an attorney or child welfare worker to help advise participants.

“It’s done in a safe setting where they will not be judged,” Sacchetti said. “For some people it could push them back into using. Most people aren’t in a position to afford a good attorney.”

Buyse said that while 12-step programs have typically attracted people in their 40s and 50s, the recovery field now needs to accommodate younger people, in part due to stepped-up professional and family intervention.

“Now there are so many more young people. People are getting into recovery early,” he said.

ServiceNET will be a tenant in the building, which Malins administers.

In another recent project, Buyse has been running programs to train recovery coaches. The renovations will help provide quarters for future classes.

For more information on the recovery program, contact Buyse at 413-320-3546 or [email protected].

Larry Parnass can be reached at [email protected], at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.

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