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University Heights clubhouse to support young adults battling addiction

A new clubhouse for young adults recovering from addiction will focus on peer-driven support when it opens Thursday in the University District.

The clubhouse, sponsored by Restoration Society, a non-profit organization that works primarily with mental-health services, was made possible by $250,000 in state funding. It is one of 11 clubhouses throughout the state dedicated to supporting teens and young adults battling addiction.

Located at 66 Englewood Ave. in the basement of a former church, the yet-to-be-named clubhouse is around the corner from the University at Buffalo's South Campus. It will serve young adults ages 18 to 21. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to preside over ribbon-cutting ceremonies Thursday afternoon.

“We’re trying to tap into the college base,” said Robert Morrow, clubhouse program manager. “They think they won’t have any fun being sober. You can still have fun and be a part of the world and the stream of life without using.”

Morrow, 25, marked five years of sobriety this March. The former City Honors School student was addicted to alcohol and marijuana for years.

“I tried over and over to quit but I don’t think I understood the severity of it,” he said. “Through my own recovery process, peer support was a huge part of me staying clean and sober.”

“We aren’t counselors,” stressed Morrow, who plans to offer workshops on anger management, self-esteem, coping skills, yoga, meditation and holistic healing. “I was blessed to find a group of people that followed a path to recovery. The community aspect was definitely a huge thing.”

The clubhouse will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “We will serve one meal every day and two meals on weekend days. We expect the members coming in to help us prepare these meals.”

Peers are a critical part of this model, said Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez, commissioner of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

"By leaning on one another for support, these young people are creating healthy, addiction-free communities for the future. Young people who have not had experience with addiction can also participate alongside their peers in recovery. It is my hope these clubhouses will be safe havens for young people now and into the future."

A variety of services and activities will be available including tutoring and help with homework, college and job preparation, community service opportunities, sports, fitness and group entertainment activities.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in November announced $1 million in funding for four clubhouses sponsored by Oswego County Opportunities, Trinity of Chemung County, Seaway Valley Prevention Council and Mental Health Association of Columbia/Greene Counties.

Creative Connections Clubhouse opened in Amsterdam this September, said T.J. Czeski, program director. Serving middle- and high-school aged members ages 12 to 17, it averages 45 to 70 visitors each day. In Amsterdam, the clubhouse is modeled more like a Boys and Girls Club, and was inspired by the drug-related murders of two teens ages 13 and 16 in 2012.

“It’s not the best area, and there isn’t a ton of parental involvement,” said Czeski. “There’s not a ton to do for city youth. This provides a place for them to come and feel comfortable and enjoy being a kid.”

The City of Amsterdam located along the Mohawk River once prospered as a center for carpet mills. It has since fallen on bad times leaving its 18,000 residents struggling for economic survival.

“We’ve been open for three months, and we’re still trying to figure it out,” Czeski said. “I continue to learn and grow just like the kids here.”

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