October 28, 2010

Road to Recovery Seeks New Address

Bob McFarland, left, and Dennis Hebert outside the Derry Friendship Center.

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- When Dennis Hebert sees a crowd smoking cigarettes outside the entrance of the Derry Friendship Center at 45 E. Broadway, he's encouraged.
"Isn't that wonderful," Hebert often says. "Look at all those people in recovery. I'm so happy they're doing something about changing their lives."
But Hebert, who volunteers at the center and himself has been in recovery for more than 7 years, says he knows not everyone in town sees it that way.
"If you're in sobriety, you understand all this," he said. "But if you're one of those out there who has no clue, then to you it's an eye sore and it's disgusting to see people smoking outside."
"But that's what this is – it's a recovery center," he said. "We've got some pretty down-and-out people with addictions and mental health issues who come in here desperately fighting to stay sober and straight and for some of them, the only reason they can is because of this place."
But as community efforts mount to find a new location for the Friendship Center, Derry Planning Director George Sioras says no one is questioning the value of the center's work.
"Everybody recognizes the need to provide that center," Sioras said Wednesday. "It's a great thing for people to help them, so I think it's more just to see if there's some place they could be in the downtown, but not on the main street to be congregating outside."
For several months last year, a former member of the Derry Downtown Committee had taken the lead on working with the Friendship Center to look for possible new locations. But after she resigned from the group this summer, Sioras stepped in to pick up where she left off.
The committee has been working for about a year to find ways to improve the state of downtown, where a growing number of shops and restaurants are shutting their doors and leaving behind vacant storefronts.
And in conversations with committee members and other downtown businesses, Sioras said there's a feeling that the Friendship Center might not be right for such a prominent place on Broadway.
"It's not anything negative, but it's just with that location," Sioras said. "It's the perception with a lot of people being on the sidewalk outside. I think some people see that and look at that as a discouragement of downtown."
Hebert says he understands that concern.
"It's the town's apparent desire recently to take a harder look at the downtown area and make some structural changes and the Friendship Center wouldn't be part of that plan," he said. "We realize that, so we're willing to consider other options."
And Friendship Center operations manager Robert McFarland says the group is already hoping to expand from the space its occupied for the past 30 years on a month-to-month lease.
"We want to try to look for something that we can use and afford that's hopefully a little larger," he said. "And if and when we need the help, we'd like the town to respond to us and help us in some way if they can."
Finding a new building to lease or buy outright on a budget would be difficult, McFarland said.The center is a registered nonprofit and all funding comes from those who rent the space for peer support group meetings and from private donations.
Currently the center serves more than 700 people each week, with nearly 20 weekly support groups meeting in the building's large main room, he said. Recently some programs have shifted to a new facility called the Avery House at the Londonderry Presbyterian Church campus, but McFarland said the Derry center is still strapped for space.
Further, McFarland said he worries about moving the center too far from its current location. Right now they are limiting the search to spaces within one mile of Broadway, he said.
"For what we do, we don't have to be downtown," McFarland said. "But we don't want people to have to look for us. We don't want them to have to travel any great distance to find us again."
Sioras said he and Hebert began conversations about potential relocation sites this fall and will continue working together in the coming months.
"Attempts in the past didn't go too far, but I think this time we have some new people and it's a great thing," Sioras said. "Most important is that we're opening up the lines of communication and that's been excellent."

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