Martha’s Vineyard has a new sober-living facility

Mary Nada, a founder and fundraising campaign chairman of Vineyard House, cuts the ribbon to open the new facility. — Michael Cummo

Frigid temperatures and the slate-gray skies didn’t dampen the spirit of the celebratory crowd gathered for the official opening of the new Vineyard House residential campus off Holmes Hole Road in Vineyard Haven Friday. The crowd included Vineyard House alumni, board members, volunteers, and clinicians who battle in the trenches against one of the Island’s most critical health problems. Hugs, handshakes, and high-fives were abundant among the close-knit group, which easily numbered over 100.

A half-hour before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, personnel from an amalgam of Island contractors, including Tea Lane Nursery, Squash Meadow Construction, Tabor Tree & Land, Mahoney’s, and Daniel Rogers Excavating, were raking and shoveling and zipping around in Bobcats at a frenetic pace. Dawn Bellante-Holand, managing director of Vineyard House, told The Times it had taken a Herculean effort to make the grounds presentable after the torrential rains earlier in the week.

“These crews have been working from seven in the morning until midnight,” she said. “A few days ago, we were knee-deep in mud. We tried to get wood chips to soak up the water, and we were told it would take two days to get the trucks. We asked John Keene, and he had trucks ready to go in 20 minutes. You hear people say that this is a close-knit community, but the generosity that Islanders have shown to make this happen is just amazing.”

While the landscaping was still a work in progress, five new cedar-shingled buildings, each with a Christmas wreath on the door, stood ready to take in Islanders in the early stages of recovery.

“I’m glad I have to speak over such a festive group,” Ms. Bellante-Holand said, taking the podium. “This has been such a heartwarming experience. The love and the joy that is already in these rooms and in these houses is because of the generosity of our community.” Ms. Bellante-Holand gave special thanks to interior designer Julie Robinson: “Julie has literally done everything from choosing the paint to figuring out the width of headboards to how to get more storage space, and no matter how busy she was, she always made time for us.”

Bill Potter, president of Squash Meadow Construction, lead contractor for the project, said he and his wife have been part of Vineyard House “in one way or another since the very first house came into existence. To see the transformation from where Vineyard House was then and where it is today is just mindblowing.”

Mr. Potter said a large number of Vineyard House alumni were involved with the construction. He added that the building committee, Squash Meadow Construction, and Mashek MacLean Architects worked hand in glove. All deserved a share of the praise, he said.

“We worked together on the project with same spiritual principles as recovery, such as trust and love and compassion,” he said. “It resulted in not only the biggest project we’ve ever done but also the easiest and most seamless project. I may be up here getting the accolades, but it’s the culmination of so many people that gave their time, all the subcontractors that spent that extra hour or two hours, or took that extra five grand off the budget. It’s been an honor to be part of this.”

Mr. Potter concluded his remarks by noting that one day earlier, the new buildings were officially LEED certified. A LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is awarded when a new building shows exemplary energy efficiency and environmental design, and it requires a rigorous third-party inspection to qualify.

“The houses are state of the art, and they were done on budget and on time,” he said. “From day one everything has fallen into place, beyond our wildest dreams.”

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. Initially located in Oak Bluffs, there was one building that housed eight men, then another home that housed seven men was quickly added, and in 1999 a house with five beds was added for women.

The Vineyard House capital committee started raising funds for the new campus in 1997, and got off to a blazing start with an anonymous $500,000 donation. After eight years of fundraising, which was temporarily stymied during the economic downturn, the capital committee reached its $3 million goal in January. A big piece of the puzzle came into place in 2006 when Jerry Goodale offered the 4.4-acre tract of land off Holmes Hole Road in Vineyard Haven to the board for $270,000, far below market price. Money from the capital fund, along with proceeds from the sale of the existing Oak Bluffs houses, enabled the new campus to be built without Vineyard House incurring any debt.

Friday morning Ms. Bellante-Holand introduced Mary Nada, a founder of Vineyard House and board member for more than 17 years, as the driving force in the fundraising campaign. “Through her own perseverance, sheer will, and charm, Mary had done the majority of the fundraising for what you see behind you,” Ms. Bellante-Holand said. “Mary made sure that the flickering light that was the capital campaign was never extinguished.” To honor Ms Nada’s efforts, Ms. Bellante-Holand asked her to cut the ribbon.
“I just want to say nobody ever does this singlehandedly,” Ms. Nada said. “I’m ruthless, and half of you know that. The other half of you, I’ll get to you later.” Speaking briefly with The Times, Ms. Nada gave high praise to Mr. Potter and the remarkably short time it took him and his subcontractors to build the campus. “Squash Meadow pulled a rabbit out of a hat,” she said.

A long line of celebrants waited patiently in the cold to tour the new men’s residence. Inside, the smell of fresh paint still hung in the air, and the wood floors were polished to a shine. A time-lapse video showing the construction of the campus played on a TV in an expansive living room. Dianne Mackellar, substance abuse counselor at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, who, along with Hazel Teagan, is on call 24/7 to help addicts and their loved ones through short-term crises and long-term recovery, beamed with pride as she toured the building. “Seven men are moving in tomorrow, three more on Sunday, and we interview two more next week,” she said. “My phone has been ringing off the hook with new applicants.”

The new Vineyard House will be home to 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. A short stretch of sidewalk that leads to the meeting room is made of bricks, some of which are inscribed with messages — some had words of encouragement; some memorialized those who lost their battle with addiction. One of them read, “Thanks to Vineyard House, we have our son back.”

For more information about Vineyard House, call 508-693-8580, or go to