Building On Recovery

Unity Center Embarks Upon Remodeling Project, Program Expansion

Photos by Linda Comins Mary Hess, executive director of the Unity Center, places a Valentine heart on the center’s holiday tree. The decorations are being made by members of a new arts and crafts group.

BENWOOD — After paying off its building debt a year early, the Unity Center is raising funds now to remodel the facility and expand services to people in recovery from addiction.

The Unity Center moved from Center Wheeling to Benwood in December 2017. Executive Director Mary Hess said a philanthropist bought the two-story structure at 4850 Eoff St. for the group’s use, with the stipulation that the purchase price be repaid in two years.

Ohio Valley Recovery Inc., the center’s parent organization, made the final payment for the property this past December. Hess said, “The building itself is paid for. It’s now officially ours.

“Through individual contributions and local foundation grants, we were able to pay it off early,” she said. “We’re excited about that.”

She commented, “The community has been an amazing support for us.

It shows that the community believes in us, and that having an addiction isn’t a death sentence.

It warms our hearts that the community is supporting us and saying that addiction isn’t a lost cause.”

Taking the next step, the center is raising money for remodeling its new home. “It’s going to be a complete remodel of both floors,” she said. “Our immediate need is to get the upstairs completed.”

A professional cost estimate puts the price tag at approximately $450,000 for the repairs and renovation. “We have about $100,000 committed for the remodeling,” she added.

Architectural renderings have been drawn for the project. “We’re really hoping to have the upstairs done this year,” she said.

On the upper floor, they plan to create a large meeting room that can be divided into three smaller meeting rooms when needed.

Also on the second floor, Hess said, “We’re putting in a kitchen so we can begin cooking classes.”

Participants in the classes “will learn to cook for themselves and to budget out their SNAP benefits to make them last as long as possible,” she said.

When the first phase of renovation is completed, the center plans to launch a children’s program to provide therapy for youth while their parents attend meetings of recovery groups. Hess said the program will help children identify emotions and provide anger management through art therapy, music therapy and group therapy.

“We’re in talks with a couple of organizations to ensure that the needs (of children) are completely met for us,” she said, “We’ll be able to start that program when the upstairs is done.”

After work on the lower level is finished, “the kids will have their own room. They can have their own fun space,” she said.

Building renovations will include construction of a stairwell and stairs to make another exit from the lower level in case of fire.

The new stairs also will create better access between floors. “There are no steps from the upstairs to the downstairs without going outside currently,” Hess said.

In addition to seeking money to pay for the construction work, the center’s board is asking for donations for furnishings and equipment for the meeting room and kitchen.

“Every little bit helps; it all adds up,” the director said. “We hope the community can help make this a reality because it is for the community.”

As the center expands its services, a volunteer-led arts and crafts group now meets at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. Participants have made fabric banners and Christmas ornaments, decorated vases, painted rocks and engaged in inspirational coloring. Donations of art materials and craft supplies are being accepted.

“We’re excited,” Hess said. “Arts and crafts is the first of our own programming. We’ll be expanding on that.”

The group is designed “for people to learn how to positively express themselves and learn a new skill to keep their minds busy,” Hess said. “To get lost in your mind is a dangerous place for people in recovery.”

In collaboration with Marshall County Partners in Prevention, “Better You” self-help and parenting classes are being offered at the Unity Center from 3-5 p.m. on Wednesdays.

The Partners in Prevention initiative provides instructors and selects topics for the workshops.

Participants may attend as many sessions as they choose.

Upcoming sessions will cover Internet safety, this Wednesday; grief and loss, Feb. 12; child discipline, Feb. 20, and love languages, Feb. 27. Earlier topics included body safety, motivation, money habits and attitudes, and emotional well-being.

“It’s been great. Attendance is becoming steady with these classes,” Hess said. “On average, attendance is 10 to 15, which is up. It’s good for a non-mandatory group that is just starting out.”

Previously, Partners in Prevention conducted workshops at the Marshall County extension office in Moundsville before relocating the program to the Unity Center.

In keeping with its main mission, the Unity Center serves as a meeting site for six different types of support groups: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Dual Recovery Anonymous, Refuge Recovery and Adult Children of Alcoholics.

“Smart Recovery is a science- and evidence-based program that helps with behavior modification versus a spiritual program,” Hess explained.

Dual Recovery Anonymous is designed for people who have a mental illness, anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder in addition to an addiction.

Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist-inspired recovery program. “They do meditation and work with mindfulness. It’s a very peaceful group,” she said.

The Adult Children of Alcoholics group assists people who grew up in a dysfunctional family to see how the dysfunction is affecting them as adults. Through group sessions, they learn “how to change and adapt and understand what is going on,” she said. “If they didn’t have a positive family atmosphere to mirror, it will help people get understanding.”

As a center, “we’re always open to more types and different fellowships. We would love to have a GA (Gamblers Anonymous) group. Celebrate Recovery meetings have been held in the past,” Hess said. “We want to be able to continue to provide a variety of roads to recovery , no matter what the addiction is.”

The organization also serves as a place for people in recovery to celebrate holidays in a non-threatening atmosphere. Events include Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner and gatherings for New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day.

“People are thankful to have somewhere to go and not feel pressured … Most holidays, there is some sort of gathering down here,” she said.

The gatherings appeal to people who are in a treatment program far away from their families or who avoid going home because relatives are still using alcohol and drugs. In these situations, the center provides “a place to go and celebrate with their recovery families,” she said,

The Unity Center was founded in 2005. “The founding members were from a variety of fellowships. They wanted to create a home base for people going through recovery,” she said,

Initially, the organization rented meeting space in Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 2314 Chapline St., Wheeling. A couple of years later, Aldersgate officials offered to sell the building to the Unity Center.

The former church remained as the center’s home for several years until the cost of repairs and maintenance became prohibitive for the nonprofit group.

Even with the cost of buying and renovating the new site in Benwood, “it’s still a more usable space here,” she said. “At the church, we could have spent $3 million preserving the historic integrity of the church, but it still wouldn’t have met our needs. It will cost us less than a third of that (amount) and we have space to grow.”

The Unity Center still owns the former church, but the board is trying to sell that property.

“It (Aldersgate) is a beautiful building, but we are a nonprofit helping people in recovery, not in restoring historic buildings,” she said. “We want to put money into programs, not restoring the building.”

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