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‘Hidden Gems’ Lend a Hand to Those Recovering

September 18, 2011
By LINDA COMINS Life Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood of Wheeling, the "hidden gems" of Lazarus House and Mary and Martha House offer a ray of hope and a "hand up" to a sometimes forgotten segment of the community.

The nonprofit residences provide a place to live, a place to heal, a place to recover and a place to reconnect with society for people who are in reoovery from alcohol and/or drug addiction. Two facilities of Lazarus House serve male clients, while the Mary and Martha House provides for women.

"We are a hand up, not a hand out," board president Shelley Rohrig of Wheeling said. Residents can stay up to one year in the transitional houses, although "usually within six months, they're ready to move on," she said.

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Lazarus House takes its name from the biblical figure who was raised from the dead by his friend, Jesus Christ. In keeping with that legacy, small "resurrections" happen every day at Lazarus House, where lives are transformed and renewed through counseling, work and by embracing a substance-free lifestyle.

Mary and Martha House shares the names of the biblical Lazarus' sisters, but one of the names has a special meaning for the Rev. Pat Condron, founder and director of the houses. He explained that "Mary" comes first in the title of the women's residence in memory of his mother, who was a strong supporter of the ministry. "She helped to get it up and going," he said.

Several years ago, Condron, a Catholic priest, saw a need in the community for a transitional home for people who had gone through detoxification or 90-day treatment programs or had left halfway houses, and sought a safe place to reside while rebuilding their lives. "The first year in recovery is the hardest," he said.

Recovering addicts may be homeless, or they may realize that, in order to remain clean and sober, they must move away from friends who might tempt them or situations that could sabotage their recovery.

In 2002, Condron established Spirit House, as a temporary home for men in recovery, at a former convent building. Between 2005 and 2006, Lazarus House was formed, replacing Spirit House.

Lazarus House moved to its current location in March 2007; a second facility for men, Lazarus House II, opened in July of that year. Mary and Martha House opened in January 2008 to serve women.

Despite the need for such services, the independent program is a rarity in West Virginia. "There aren't many facilities like this in the state," observed Susan Oglinsky, the Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition director, who assists the Lazarus and Mary and Martha houses with fundraising.

A fundraising dinner, to benefit the houses, will be held at the Italian American Club, Sycamore Avenue, Wheeling, from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25. Meals will be priced for adults and for children.

The dinner menu will feature pork roast, baked chicken, baked cod fillet, cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes, desserts, bread and beverages.

Take-out meals also will be available. For more information on the dinner, call Rohrig, 304-277-4630.

The nonprofit corporation operates on a lean budget, without governmental funding. The organization continues to be sustained and to grow through the generosity of individual donors and local foundations that recognize the importance of its work, said Condron, who takes no salary for his work with the program. House managers are on staff for the residences. Physicians donate their time to treat residents. Therapists are utilized for people who need special assistance.

"It's nonprofit, and it's grown to two other houses," Oglinsky said admiringly. In addition to serving the residents of the three houses, the program "helps others in recovery" in the community, she commented.

"Hope - that's what we offer," the soft-spoken Condron remarked.

At Lazarus House and Mary and Martha House, residents participate in a life preparation program, readying them for independent living through employment and education. A holistic approach to healing and recovery is taken, paying attention to the residents' overall health.

Explaining the need for the program, board members cited three factors:

The purpose of the organization is set forth in its mission and vision statements:

"The mission of Lazarus House is to provide a safe and supportive residence for addicted men and women who are actively and successfully working on their recovery, and who are transitioning to wellness and independence.

"The vision of Lazarus House is to offer respite and hope to the spiritually, emotionally and materially impoverished victims of addiction. Here they continue to heal and pass a hand of help to their brothers and sisters as they live in a recovering, loving community."

On a typical day, the residents of the houses rise early in the morning to go to work or to school. Residents either have a job or are looking for work, Rohrig said. She explained that residents' paychecks are divided by thirds, allocated respectively to the house, to a bank account and for spending money.

On an intangible level, residents benefit from the role that the home-like settings play as "healing communities." Board member Jim Mullooly of Wheeling explained, "Nothing goes on without community."

Healing occurs collectively, as residents form and participate in a community, Mullooly said. "That's where the work goes on. That's also part of community ... The more decisions they make, the more they're healed."

Rohrig said, "The guys are like a family. The guys do take care of each other. A lot of the guys coming in have never had a family. Father Pat is like the father." She added, "Father Pat is accessible to all the guys any time they need to talk."

Regarding the purpose of the program, Mullooly commented, "It's about planting the seed. That's enough. That will flower somewhere down the line."

Rohrig said most addicts don't believe they can get sober. But when they see others attain sobriety, it can serve as an inspiration, she said. "Once they learn and are sober for any length of time, they realize they can do it," she said, adding, "If they haven't been sober for a long time, they forget about how it could be."

For male residents, "Lazarus House II is a step up from Lazarus I," Rohrig explained. "When they have had a job for a while, they're working the program and have a sponsor, they move to Lazarus II. That's the step before they go out on their own."

Mary and Martha House was established to give the organization the opportunity to provide "what women really need in recovery," Mullooly said. "They do have different recovery issues. With recovery, it's not one size fits all. Women have special requirements and needs, and you have to be sensitive to that."

A "tremendous need" exists for treatment programs for women, Mullooly said.

"In West Virginia, it's almost a disservice to discover a problem because there's no treatment," he commented. "A house for women is such a rarity."

Looking beyond the current Mary and Martha House, Rohrig said, "Maybe in the future we'll have a step-up (house) for women. Right now, three houses are all we can handle."

Residents of the houses come from a variety of backgrounds. "We do have skilled people that come to the house. Perhaps they have not been able to work for a while because of their addiction," Rohrig said.

For any person, recovery is never finished. "It's always ongoing," Rohrig pointed out.

"We don't just deal with the addictions," she said. "We get to the basis of why they feel that way ... A lot of times the basis of treatment comes from helping the person understand why they do what they do."

In making decisions for the program, the organization's board of director operates under the philosophy that "if God wants this to happen, it will happen," Rohrig said.

"It's a spiritual thing. If we reach out and give, things always come," Mullooly commented.

The ministry is nondenominational, "just like all the 12-step programs," Rohrig said. "But the basis is that you have to have, you have to come to the conclusion, 'there is something greater than me.'"

Rohrig has a special connection to the organization. After the tragic death of their 20-year-old son, Mark, she and her husband (who is now deceased) donated the proceeds of Mark's life insurance policy for the purchase of the property that became Lazarus House. A small fountain and a stone marker dedicated to Mark Rohrig stand in place at the entrance to Lazarus House.

"All of the guys and the women know about my Mark and how the houses started," she related.

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