When stopping at a food truck for dinner after work, I met a man working hard on a beautiful sunny fall day. This man explained that he was installing aluminum flooring and shelving in his daughter’s food truck. As a big fan of Pork and Pickles I knew this food cart belonged to his daughter, Becky Clark. I asked him if Becky had learned to cook from him. He laughed, and told me that he was lucky to have married a cook and to have a chef for a daughter. Becky is a chef. Pork and Pickles serves, as you can guess, delicious pork, pickles, sausage, bacon, cake, and vegan food with a presentation matched only by the winners of The Great British Baking Show. You can find this food truck open at The Devil’s Kettle Wednesday through Saturday and on Sunday for brunch.
As many ACEnet clients, Pork and Pickles, began using the kitchen because ACEnet as Becky explained, “provides a reasonable rate to start a business without and immense amount of overhead.” At ACEnet she is able to prepare much of her food that she sells to the community. At the ODA certified Nelsonville Food and Farm Enterprise Center, she is able to process pork into sausages and bacon, and at the ACEnet Food Ventures kitchen she is preps and produces her food and eclectic pickled products. Like many past clients, she intends to use ACEnet as a stepping stone to bigger things – but her passion will remain for Athens County.
Like her food, Becky is a product of Athens County, she graduated from both AHS and OU. And it is here that she has created partnerships with local farmers to provide the best meat and vegetables to the community. She has also developed an amazing staff that match her enthusiasm: last week I saw them excitedly agree that a chocolate cake with toasted pepitas crust would pair well with lemon zest and sugar, and they rushed off to prototype a new piece of cake. I wish I could do justice to the deliciousness of her food. The first time I ate it, I realized I had a lot to learn as a cook for I wasn’t aware that anything could taste so good. Fortunately I can go straight to the source, Becky spends her free time offering cooking classes or working at the Athens Farmers Market, where you can find her or her staff selling pickles and pork every Saturday.
Places like Pork and Pickles are a shining example of the power of local entrepreneurs to create positive change, jobs, and culture to Athens County. ACEnet is fortunate to have the privilege working with many small business that do the same. Yet they all don’t do it in the same way, ACEnet partners with several different organizations that serve to create positive change in Athens County: one of opportunity for people in recovery.
Before I came to ACEnet, I worked for an organization in Athens called Health Recovery Services; I worked in one of their inpatient facilities, the Bassett House. Located just South of Athens on Bassett Road, they serve children ages 13 through 17 with substances abuse disorders involving anything from Marijuana to Methamphetamines.
As anyone who has worked with teenagers knows, it’s a job that requires infinite patience and sometimes comes within infinite rewards. My background was not in social services, so I had to learn everything from the qualified staff that work there, in some instances for over 20 years. I twice had the opportunity to work on Christmas day. On the first instance, I wondered: how would these children respond to being in an inpatient facility on a day marked for both giving and family? On the second instance, I wondered if they would enjoy the time in the same way they did the year before. Bassett House provided stockings and gifts to the children, including books, shoes, snacks, and socks. The cooks spent extra hours providing a dinner worthy of any holiday table. The staff provided holiday activities, including a Harry Potter themed party, where 20 children were split into the various houses and had to compete for the house prize by making wands, completing trivia, and completing various other tasks. The prize, which everyone received, was candy. If anyone has ever imagined eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, they are as disgusting as you imagined, and many of the children exclaimed just this as they consumed grass, dirt, and earwax flavored candy.
At that moment it was hard to envision the kids as anything but kids. This is the problem with addiction; there is no ‘addict’ that we transforms into when we begin abusing drugs. There is no one type of person that is more or less susceptible to addiction. They are people that live in our communities, go to or work in our schools, churches, businesses or homes. They are brothers, step-fathers, grandmothers, sons, daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, or fathers. They are us and we are human.
As humans we have an incredible capacity for compassion. One person that embodies this passion is a local by the name of Nancy Baur. I first met her when I worked for ReUse Industries. She is always involved with crafts and had volunteered with ReUse, helping them to begin to think about the possibility of an upcycled fabric workshop. Nancy explained that she loved crafting and worked at a local non-profit providing care for children. Now the Clinical Coordinator, she helped bring Trauma Informed Care to their clients. While this is a complex and nuanced form of care, we can understand it as a system of care that assumes that periods or instances of trauma inform our lives and how we behave. Looking back on my experience at the Basset House, I am certain that a majority of these children were informed by some form of trauma in their lives.
This trauma can manifest or occur at any time in a person’s life; trauma often informs or contributes to various negative behaviors; however, these behaviors do not end with the individual; they can and are passed down through generations. This is most often portrayed in the media as the children of refugees or soldiers inheriting the trauma of their parents. It is this cycle that can lead to multi-generational and seemingly systemic problems within families and thereby communities.
This is a problem and luckily Athens County is working towards a solution. Just down the road from the Bassett House is another HRS institution called the Rural Women’s Recovery Program or RWRP. Here, women from all over the state can receive treatment. It is run by Cathy Chelek, a director with a fierce commitment to helping Ohio women. She said the agency is lucky to have staff who have been with them for many years. In fact, most of the staff has worked there for over ten years, which is something unheard of in many social service programs. RWRP generally houses up to 16 women at any time. The women stay in the treatment center from 60 to 90 days. During their stay, Cathy explained, the women take part in a variety of activities from individual and group counseling to arts and expressive activities. While, intuitively arts and expressive activities do not appear to help the recovery process, Cathy explained that many of the clients find confidence and a voice through the act of creating art. It allows them to express themselves in ways that are not informed by trauma. Cathy explained that RWRP brought crochet and knitting to the house many years ago for this purpose (and it had been done there before the Bassett House, perhaps recalling some intra-HRS rivalry)
When I began working at the Bassett House I was mystified by seeing angry, sullen, teenage boys covered in tattoos become confident, relaxed, and helpful teachers to their peers. It was through the process of crocheting that they became this way, at least for a time. Nancy had introduced the program to the house to help them meditate and create as they worked their way through the long hours of counseling and group therapy. This activity was loved and sought after and it was rare that a boy or girl rejected the learning process for more than a week. And indeed many of the clients who returned to the house after some time on the outs, claimed that they continued crocheting at home for a time. It became an effective and active coping mechanism for many men and women. In thinking back about this experience, I am amazed that more arguments did not begin and end when learning crochet. When I was learning, I found myself mystified at YouTube and muttering, “You’re doing things that are just not possible!” And to this day I have not reached the expertise owned by many young men and women.
Besides the inpatient facilities, there are several recovery houses in Athens County that work to solve these problems. Recovery houses differ from programs like RWRP because many of the people living in these houses have been sober for a few months but are not ready to work and live on their own. They need peer support. And that is what you can find in Athens County. Athens County is home to at least four recovery houses. The first, like RWRP, services women. It is called Serenity Grove, and it is supported by a person connected to the Bassett House, Dr. Cate Matisi. Cate explained that she has a few women housed here now; they go through an interview process to make sure they’re right for the house and must be at least 30 days clean before staying. The purpose of the house is to provide an environment where people can help care for one another as they transition back to independence. This goal is exemplified through their current efforts to create gardens to help feed the residents, although this year the deer ate nearly everything, so they are looking for a way to fund deer fencing to protect their efforts for the next growing season.
Men also have a similar place afforded to them in Athens County through the efforts of the Clem House. The director of the house, Ron Luce, explained some of the challenges for men entering recovery houses: like those in the reentry population, they have neither homes, money, nor clothing. The Clem House can help with these things. People are encouraged to stay a minimum of six months, although this sometimes means shorter and longer stays. The age range is generally 28-35 although he has people ages 18 and 19 through their late 60s. The house operates on $17.86 per client per day. Most clients want to work and pay this, although many cannot because they are disabled or have some other problems. For the later, they are asked to volunteer. When volunteering, he explained, we cannot hide from the world.
Ron’s goal is to individualize the treatment by accomplishing the goals of the client. He knows that many people have experienced trauma in their lives, so he tries to figure out the means of constructing ones view of that trauma and how it informs our decisions on a daily basis. For this reason he employs REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) and CBT to help people recognize what they are feeling. For example, instead of asking “What made me angry,” he asks “How did I make myself angry” thereby highlighting the cognitive control we have over our emotions and the lack of control we have over others actions. He is especially interested in discovering how we use language to inform consciousness. So he often asks his clients why the statement, “I don’t love me” is true. Here he asks people to figure out what they mean by ‘I’ and ‘love’ and how that precisely intersects with their daily lives.
Ron explained that they have expanded also offer a second recovery house in The Plains called Briggs House. This house differs from the first because it’s a Level 1 recovery house, which means that it is run by the clients instead of having a house manager on the premises. Other organizations interested in recovery have various houses around town too. Integrated Services for Behavioral Health offers community housing at Charles Place and Graham Drive Family Housing. These are not strictly recovery houses, but they are places where people can receive support while having a safe space to return.
Integrated Services does a lot of programming in the community in the form of outpatient clinics. There they do support mental illness and addiction needs; but they have no inpatient clinics. They have worked with The Gathering Place and are trying to open a place in Nelsonville called the Sheltering Place where people can stay at reduced rates. They have also taken the old Nelsonville Doctor’s Hospital over and they are starting a children’s inpatient clinic that will help bring the children back into the community when they are suffering from trauma as a result of bad domestic situations. They also are doing outreach in the form of a homelessness rapid response team by partnering with Sojourners of Vinton County, a non-profit who has been helping youth and adults in Vinton County for years.
Many times people with mental illness are assumed to have problems with addiction; this stereotype isn’t unfounded in fact: those with a mental illness are twice as likely to have problems with addiction (dualdiagnosis.org). This often results, as one could guess, from a lack of strong support services. Luckily, Athens County is home to many places that provide just those service, like The Gathering Place. If you haven’t heard of The Gathering Place, it is worth learning about. Run by Mary Kneier, The Gathering Place’s mission is to provide a safe space for anyone suffering from a mental illness and currently receiving treatment. They cook three nutritious meals a week for their members; the food comes from the work of Community Food Initiatives, the Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry program, and others. FHFH is an awesome program in Ohio and across the nation, for they provide venison free of charge to many non-profits that work to feed the hungry; as one of the recipients, the Gathering Place is able to offer healthy, lean meat and fresh vegetables to people in need.
They also offer programming, like a General Arts Room where students from the OU music therapy program come to the house to teach the members how to play music; after the first meeting, I was told, they started a band called ‘The Gatherers.’ It’s efforts like this that have made The Gathering Place so successful; in fact, they have recently opened a level 2 recovery house next door, where a live-in peer support specialist provides guidance and advice to residents in need.
With all these disparate organizations provides services to people in need, one would think that it would be difficult to coordinate efforts across the county to serve people in need. Fortunately there exists few organizations in Athens County that help to keep it all clear. The 317 Board “provides a network of care for mental health and addiction services to resident of Athens, Hocking and Vinton Counties … The board primarily pays for services not reimbursable by Medicaid or health insurance and/or services received by persons without health insurance coverage.” While they have several committees that meet regularly, I have met them through ACEnet’s work with the Athens County Opiate Task Force. This task force exists to share resources and information surrounding the Opioid Crisis in Ohio. At the last two meetings, I met representatives from the following organizations. Together, they work to inform, educate, and discuss how the needs of the community and people in recovery can be best served through their efforts. Similarly, although separate, is the Athens Halting Opioid Abuse through Prevention and Education organization or Athens HOPE. The board meets monthly to “Collaborate and optimize skills, resources and knowledge to assist the community during a time of need while educating students and the community about the opioid epidemic.”
One problem that exists for many of these houses, if not all of them, is what happens after a person leaves the safety of a recovery house? Or, if they are staying in a recovery house that operates without the support of organizations like the 317 board, how do they pay for it? For the vast majority of people in recovery the biggest problem is lack of access to capital or jobs that provide a living wage. Unfortunately, this problem is too big for ACEnet.
ACEnet’s efforts in all of this come in the form of network building and direct support. While my crocheting skills won’t be winning me any awards, that is not true of many people in recovery. Recovery through the arts is beneficial, and many of the skills learned through that process of individualization can be marketed and turned into a business. It is here that ACEnet can connect people with resources and network connections to develop a skill into a business be it photography, knitting, jewelry making, crocheting, quilting, cooking, building, or creating. In part this process has started through learning about and taking part in the various organizations mentioned in this blog. In so doing, we have started several exciting projects in the community, and when they come to fruition, I hope to share them with you in another post.
317 Board: Athens Opiate Task Force
Athens HOPE members:
Campus Involvement Center
Community Update by ACEnet Microenterprise Program Trainer, Kyle Verge