In its new McKay Street space, Living In Recovery hopes to bring ‘bright, vibrant’ spot downtown for addiction support




PITTSFIELD – Before its closing in January, the Flat Burger Society’s stage hosted musicians and comedy acts in its lively downtown venue.

By mid-September, Julie MacDonald, program director of Living In Recovery, hopes to fill that stage again with a new group of artists. The peer recovery support center, which aims to provide a “community of hope” for people managing addiction, intends to make the most of its new space with weekly open mic nights.

MacDonald said that the program, which began in 2018, provides support meetings, leadership opportunities for its members, and notably, a safe space for people to come and simply be in community. Through open mic nights, karaoke and even musical bingo, the center uses music and poetry to achieve that goal.

The chance for people to express themselves – especially in a space where there’s no alcohol – is critical, she said.

“People in recovery are often very talented people,” MacDonald said. “Whether they’re artists, whether they’re musicians, you know, whatever it is, because we’re crafty. We’ve learned how to survive some of the worst of the worst times. And a lot of times, people who are very intelligent or very talented are also very tortured. We like to give people the opportunity to tap back into that.”

MacDonald said the new space, on McKay Street in Pittsfield, will be more atmospheric for live performances than the organization’s previous location at the George B. Crane Memorial Center on Linden Street. The move into the now-closed eatery was finalized over the summer, with the lease beginning on July 1. While they wait for the finishing touches to be put on, Living In Recovery is situated at 141 North St., Suite 105.

Those finishing touches are relatively minor: new flooring in the main area and kitchen, and some cosmetic additions, such as new potted plants and blinds on the windows. The space will look different than it did as a restaurant, as the kitchen wall has been knocked down and the bar has been removed.

But the space will have a number of other additions: a pool table that flips over into a ping-pong table, a space to play chess, and a six-burner stove with a flat top grill among them. The stove will be used to cook community meals, and the recreation items will foster a relaxed space for people to hang out.

The center also hosts community concerts and events to boost visibility. Among them, next Thursday, it will hold an International Overdose Awareness Day candlelight vigil and memorial service recognizing the 48 people who died of overdose last year in Berkshire County. The event will be held at The Common, 100 First St., starting at 6:30 p.m.

Additional activities and programming will be up to the people who come there. The center is “peer-led and peer-driven,” MacDonald explained, and factors community input in its decisions.

MacDonald said that the center’s goal was to provide an alternative path to recovery from the typical 12-step program, but noted that it often works in tandem with those models. The idea is to give people as many options as possible.

“It’s great, because we might have someone that goes to AA, goes to NA, goes to Recovery Dharma,” MacDonald said. “And they’ve got all these different, wonderful ideas or tools that they use and that person can walk away with a plethora of tools and not just one small set of them.”

The move is intended to make the peer recovery support center more accessible. It relocated when the space downtown became available, in order to honor its contract with the state which stipulates it should be centrally located. Living In Recovery is funded by the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, and supported by ServiceNet.

MacDonald said the ultimate goal is to provide a “bright, vibrant spot” downtown where people can simply come together, especially if they need help. The center hopes to be open by the end of September, in time to coincide with National Recovery Month.

“We’re building community here,” MacDonald said. “We’re building a place where people can come and feel like they’re at home. Where they can come in after a bad day, or before a bad day, and find someone else that they can talk to and just sit back and have a cup of coffee … a place where people just feel comfortable just dropping in.”

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