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Joan Walsh, director of the Turning Point Club in Bennington, addresses a legislative breakfast Thursday. (Peter Crabtree)
Joan Walsh, director of the Turning Point Club in Bennington, addresses a legislative breakfast Thursday. (Peter Crabtree)
Joan Walsh, director of the Turning Point Club in Bennington, addresses a legislative breakfast Thursday. (Peter Crabtree)

KEITH WHITCOMB JR., Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A group that sees more than 600 addicts a month says it will work to build trust and a reputation with surrounding towns before asking them for funds again.

Joan Walsh, director of the Turning Point Center, said Thursday at a legislative breakfast the center hosted that last year was the first time in the group's 10-year history that it requested money via ballot articles on Town Meeting Day. About six towns were asked to give $2,500. None did.

The Turning Point Center of Bennington County is one of 11 groups in the Vermont Recovery Network. It serves as a place alcohol and drug addicts can go to get an immediate response from a peer to maintain their recovery and get information on other resources they might need.

Mark Aims, coordinator at the Vermont Recovery Network, said the Turning Point Centers are not treatment centers. He likened addiction to diabetes. Some can manage the condition through behavior modification, others need medication, and some both, but in all cases the condition is chronic and must be managed over a lifetime, otherwise the money and time spent in rehab and treatment is for naught.

"We are a county-wide center, and what we're doing right now, we're reaching out to the Select Boards so that we can find out how we can help more than just the immediate Bennington area," said Walsh.

Attending the breakfast, among others, was Senator Dick Sears, D-Bennington, Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington 2-2, Rep. Brian Campion, D-Bennington 2-1, Rep. Timothy Corcoran II, D-Bennington 2-1, Rep. Alice Miller, D-Shaftsbury, and Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal/Woodford.

Walsh has been at the Turning Point Center in Bennington for two and a half years, starting as a volunteer.

"My first night here was, for me, a real eye-opener," she said. "It was exactly what the rumors said it was. It was dirty in here, there were meetings in here where people were coming and going and weren't sitting in the meetings, there were drugs being sold out back, there was all kinds of just the opposite of recovery things going on here."

Walsh said the former director, Sue Juliano, was new at the time and they formed a good relationship and decided to change things. "We both believe in the value of recovery," she said. With the help of more volunteers, the center was cleaned up.

"We will soon be having a program for medicated recovery," she said. "We will be hiring some one to be here to work with that particular group of people, because that's a big issue."

She said Turning Point is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, but that group and other 12-step fellowships use the space for their meetings. She said Turning Point also hopes to develop a relationship with the United Counseling Service.

The center's budget is $64,000 per year. She said what the center, and others like it, needs most is staff and funding to keep those people. She said many good directors have moved on for financial reasons. The second thing the center needs is space. She said about 625 people visit the center each month.

Sears said the state is currently holding more prisoners than it budgeted for, mainly people being held for between three and five days because they were arrested over the weekend. Vermont's jails can hold roughly 1,600. Any excess are sent out of state, which costs nearly $28,000 per person per year.

Sears said given the Turning Point Center's budget, it would not have to keep many out of jail to be worthwhile in terms of costs.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.