Wendy Penner: Newly named BRCC opens its doors to the community

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The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (nbCC) has been convening members of our community to address prevention, treatment, and recovery from addiction. Being a predominantly rural region can add to the challenges of recovery, but we are fortunate to have many supports in place: Residents have local access to counseling, medication assisted treatment, and harm reduction services, and we also have first responders who carry naloxone, and a small network of recovery meetings. nbCC has engaged in wide-ranging outreach, including two locally commissioned films to educate the community about addiction. We seek to reduce the stigma for our community members whose lives have been impacted as a consequence of this disease.

Through the work of nbCC's Rx Heroin workgroup, our community has become aware of the need to make recovery more visible, revealing to those who are struggling that there is hope and healing attainable in our community. Residents have shared stories of the challenges they faced in seeking recovery in our region, which in some cases presented them with few options other than relocating to find a community with the resources and supports for their recovery. A group of local people in recovery, and their allies, have been meeting since early May to talk about establishing a peer-led Recovery Community Center (RCC) in Northern Berkshire County.

A RCC is a sanctuary anchored in the heart of the community that serves as a physical location offering community and support for people in recovery as well as resources for those who want to learn more about what help might be available. A RCC is not a treatment agency, it's not a 12-step meeting club or a drop-in center, though elements of these are present at the RCC.

What happens in a peer recovery center? Peer recovery centers are community centers developed by people in recovery and their allies to provide and receive support from others with lived experience. At the center, members may access recovery meetings, educational programming, socializing and networking, and receive information about services available to support recovery. Members play a large role in deciding what happens in the center, serving on a peer advisory board and volunteering at the center.

This peer led group now has a name, a mission, and a code of ethics. The mission statement reads: "The Beacon Recovery Community Center (BRCC) is a safe and welcoming community of people in recovery and their families and friends. Together we nurture and support people at all stages and on all paths of recovery through peer-led, holistic approaches by sharing our life experiences, skills, and social connections. We are a beacon of hope to one another and to our community. The center's guiding values are safety, connection, and kindness."

IN ANOTHER'S SHOES

John, a resident of Adams, is one of the BRCC peers. He explains the need for a peer recovery center: "I've done a lot of work in the middle of the night and do it without any questions or judgment. A recovery center provides a space so people do not feel alone. People need to hear from someone in recovery and who has been in their shoes before." North Adams resident Aubrey, another peer who has completed training toward becoming a recovery coach and works in community organizing, says, "I think we need to have a safe space. I've been open about my lived experience and I've been approached for assistance. People know about me so they are not afraid to be judged. I think going to a recovery center would provide space where people can know they are going to be supported."

The group has brainstormed the attributes of the ideal space — it is welcoming, safe, comfortable, has a kitchen and well located to be accessible and visible. The group is thrilled to have found such a space in The Green, a community meeting space at 85 Main Street in North Adams. They anticipate beginning open hours at The Green in late October, on Wednesdays from 10AM to 2PM.

With support from a one-year Health Resources and Services Administration planning grant awarded to Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition will be receiving funds to help support the planning process for BRCC including hiring a part-time staff to support the process. The dream is for BRCC to have a dedicated community space, staff, and sustained funding, to be able to provide support and encouragement for those seeking recovery for years to come.

For more information about the Beacon Recovery Community Center, contact Wendy Penner at wpenner@nbccoalition.org.

Wendy Penner is the director of prevention and wellness at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition


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