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Before June grand opening, South County Recovery Center gears up to provide peer-based options for Berkshire residents seeking support

Stephanie Holcomb and Gary Pratt stand in front of the South County Recovery Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Josh Landes
Stephanie Holcomb and Gary Pratt stand in front of the South County Recovery Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

The new South County Recovery Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts will offer peer-based support for Berkshire residents grappling with substance use issues.

The South County Recovery Center is in an unassuming office space off Route 7 near the heart of downtown Great Barrington. While it remains mostly empty for now – walls bare and furniture still in boxes – the team behind it is buzzing with excitement for what it will offer the Southern Berkshire community.

“We’re building a space where people can feel welcomed, and feel like they belong, and to start working on their recovery or be supported in any way shape, or form if they're affected by substance use disorder," said Project Manager Gary Pratt. “So, this isn't a center that's specifically built for people in recovery, or people who are using drugs. It is built for anybody who is affected by substance use in any way, shape, or form. So that can be a person who's using, a person that's in a recovery, or a family member who's just looking for support. So we're building this community, this recovery community, so people can feel connected, and they can start to really have a place to be where they can find support from each other, and share it with each other.”

Backed by a three-year, million dollar grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration as well as a shared line item in the state budget, the center will bridge major service gaps for people with substance use issues in the area.

“Specifically South County, we don't have a detox, we don't have a CSS, which is a Clinical Stabilization Services Unit," said Pratt. "We don't have a transitional services. There's no halfway house down here. Countywide, there's only a couple of halfway houses. There's one in North Adams, there's one in Pittsfield. Very few beds. So there's very few treatment options for people. There hasn't been a large embracing of multiple pathways to recovery. It's been traditionally in Berkshire County, if you were going to address your substance use, it's going to be go to detox, and then go to community based 12 step meetings. And that's basically been the entirety of the spectrum. We know today that there are multiple pathways to recovery, and there's no wrong way to do it. And that's kind of where we're coming in.”

Pratt, who also started a group called Smash The Stigma in 2017, is in long-term recovery himself.

“The entirety of my using was in in South Berkshire County, and for a very long time, there's been a different kind of stigma in South County," he told WAMC. "Like, it's not very apparent that there's a drug problem here. There's no open air drug market. You know, same with the homeless population. You don't see people sleeping on the streets in Great Barrington. That's been one of the issues. It's a different form of stigma. For the longest time it's been, if we don't talk about that here, there is no problem. And if you don't talk about the problem, you don't have to do anything about the problem.”

With a staff of four and close relationships with other county entities like the Railroad Street Youth Project, the South County Opioid Working Group, the Brien Center, and the Berkshire County Sheriff's Department, the center’s goal is to keep community at the core of its mission.

“There was many times I entered clinical places where I turned right around and walked out because of the way I was treated," said Stephanie Holcomb, one of the center’s two recovery coaches. “If somebody needs support, that's what we're here for. Recovery coaching is peer support through lived recovery. And I think that helping somebody realize what strengths they have is very important, and helping them reach out to other resources if they need them, and helping them build their own recovery capital and to see what their recovery journey can look like for them.”

Holcomb is also in long-term recovery.

“I actually entered recovery back in 2011," she told WAMC. "And I started my recovery with the methadone clinic. And I played that out for a little while. I utilized the programming through there and my counselor through there and did groups through there, and it was a long journey. But here I am, almost 12 years later, and I'm off my methadone and I'm doing wonderfully. All of my using was here in South County also. And I couldn't get help here in South County 12 years ago when I made that decision. So to have something like this is crucial around here.”

While the grand opening isn’t until June 11th, the center already hosts a regular nondenominational recovery meeting, Naloxone trainings, and more. Pratt wants to be creative with the programming it offers, from film screenings to group hikes.

“A bunch of people who are affected by substance use disorder can get together, use this as a muster point, and then hike up to East Rock and just be together for three or four hours," he said. "You don't necessarily have to talk about recovery. But you know, that's three or four hours where you're really building that community.”

Pratt credits Democratic Berkshire state Representatives Smitty Pignatelli and Paul Mark for helping secure funding for the center and understanding what it can bring to the community.

“Just three years ago, a recovery center in Great Barrington was a pipe dream, to say the least," Pratt told WAMC. "And then a lot of people stepped up. A lot of people acknowledged the problem. A lot of people put in a lot of hard work in order to get this thing off the ground. And it's going to take a lot of people to keep it sustained and going for the years to come.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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