New Vineyard House breaks ground

Construction on a new campus for Martha’s Vineyard’s only sober living program has officially begun.

From left: Representative Tim Madden, Brian Mackey, John Colucci, Bill Potter, Mark Jenkins, John Early, and Mary Nada officially begin the new Vineyard House construction. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

A festive crowd gathered on Monday morning at Short Hill Road in Vineyard Haven to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Vineyard House campus. Many heartfelt hugs were exchanged among the guests, which numbered over 100 people, and included Vineyard House alumni, current Vineyard house residents, law enforcement, and the counselors, medical professionals, and volunteers who battle in the trenches against one of the Island’s most critical health problems. Underscoring the importance of the event, state representative Tim Madden and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe were also in attendance.

“To actually embrace a facility like this, it doesn’t happen in other towns,” Mr. Madden said. “The people of this Island said ‘we have to take care of our ourselves’ and you did that, with very little help from the state. I can’t wait to come back for the ribbon cutting.”

“Addiction is not a new problem,” Cape and Islands district attorney Michael O’ Keefe said. “But if all we do is revive addicts we’re not dealing with the problem. It’s refreshing to see people who have done something about this growing scourge. I’ll be writing a check as soon as I get home.”

It started with a phone call

“I was in Florida on vacation in December of 1996,” recalled Hazel Teagan, substance abuse counselor and co-founder of Vineyard House along with Dr. Charles Silberstein and Clarence “Trip” Barnes. “Charlie called and said, ‘Do we need a halfway house?’ and I shouted ‘Yes!’ so loudly I think they probably heard me on the Vineyard.”

Since 1997, Vineyard House has been the only long-term sober living facility for Islanders who are coming back to the Island after detox or rehab.  To date, more than 400 Islanders in recovery have made Vineyard House their temporary home.

Ms. Teagan recalled the earliest days of Vineyard House, when she and a cadre of volunteers worked to restore and repair the original Vineyard house, which is over 150 years old. “We did everything, we scrubbed floors, painted walls, we even pulled poison ivy.” she said with a laugh.  Over time, Vineyard House expanded to three converted houses, two for men, one for women, that house 23 people in total. But the buildings were showing their age. “It got to the point where we outgrew the houses, and they were becoming very expensive to maintain,” said Mark Jenkins, president of the board of directors. After years of fundraising that began with an anonymous $500,000 donation in 1997 and was temporarily derailed by a nationwide financial crisis, the Vineyard House reached the $3 million goal this past January.

Support from far and wide

“This is a miracle,” Ms. Teagan said, looking at the recently cleared 4.4-acre acre lot, where heavy construction equipment sat at the ready. “So many people helped make this happen with their donations of their money and their time. This is a great day for the Island.”

Ms. Teagan was particularly effusive about the efforts of Mary Nada, chairman of the Vineyard House capital campaign committee. “Mary is the main reason we’re standing here today,” she said.

“I’ve been raising funds since I was a Brownie,” Ms. Nada said modestly. “I’m not shy about asking for money.”

A seasonal resident from Boston and retired therapist from the Boston public school system, Ms. Nada said she has a personal stake in Vineyard House. “My family has its share of alcoholics. Many of them are sober today, I’m happy to say. But I’ve seen firsthand how addiction affects the entire family.”

Ms. Nada said she has raised funds for many different organizations, but Vineyard House was her biggest challenge. “Vineyard House was by far the hardest,” she said. “There are a still a lot of people that don’t understand the disease of addiction.”

Ms. Nada gave kudos to her husband, Sherif Nada, for putting up with her relentless efforts. “Every time we were at a social event and someone said they went to the Vineyard, I got their name and number right away. He said, ‘When are you going to stop?’ I said, ‘Never.’”

Ms. Nada said that three of the biggest donors, one of whom donated $500,000, are summer residents who asked to remain anonymous. She added that the 6-figure challenge grant by Joel Greenberg and Marcy Gringlas was also a big boost to the coffers. In the end, well over half of the capital campaign funds were contributed by seasonal residents. Many Islanders have stepped up to the plate in a variety of ways.

Part and parcel

In 2006, a big piece of the puzzle came into place when Jerry Goodale of Vineyard Haven offered the large tract of land off Holmes Hole Road to Vineyard House for $270,000, far below market price.

By January of this year, the money raised by capital campaign combined with the projected sale of the three houses owned by Vineyard House, along with a $75,000 Community Recovery Innovations (CCRI) grant — the only government funding in the project — got the new Vineyard House over the $3 million finish line.

The new Vineyard House will house 24 people — two houses will accommodate 17 men, and one house will accommodate seven women. Additionally, there will be an office building and a common building with a meeting room for 12-step support groups. As with the old Vineyard House, residents will be required to pay rent, to attend support group meetings, to participate in house meetings and to submit to random drug tests that come with a “one strike and you’re out” policy.

Squash Meadow Construction will build the facility. “Bill Potter [owner and president of Squash Meadow construction] is incredibly passionate about this project,” said Dawn Bellante Holand, managing director of Vineyard House. “He’s been getting 5 to 10 percent discounts on materials from many of the suppliers. He’s already taken it far beyond what we could do.”

Mashek MacLean Architects, designers of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and the Oak Bluffs Library, are the design architects for the new campus.

Ms. Holand said the new campus should be finished by year’s end. “We want to be home for the holidays,” she said.

It was fitting that the ceremony took place on a sun-dappled day when spring had finally arrived to the Vineyard.  A majestic beech tree, intentionally spared in the excavation process, was beginning to bud. It is a tree under which which many hopeful and heartbroken conversations will surely take place. And it will likely stand, resolute, on idyllic summer days and through tempestuous winter storms, for many years to come.