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Posted: Oct 23, 2007 14:21


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Bel Air, Maryland
Jon Feldman, Director of Marketing & Business Development

Visit by Judi Bessette, EdD

From day one at Maryland Recovery Partners, clients learn that MRP is where one either gets well or one’s family may need to love them in the future from afar – meaning that the client’s use has so damaged the loving relationship that it’s now sink or swim – get better, stay better or stay away.

While that philosophy may seem harsh, it is a reality that is supported by great love and great caring for young people and adults serious about recovery who come to MRP. Let me tell you more…

In the charming colonial town of Bel Air, just 22 miles north of Baltimore and less than 15 miles from the northern waters of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Recovery Partners owns 6 houses that are home to 55 men and women –18 and up – who are working to integrate their newly found sobriety with life in the real world. Clients come to MRP from primary treatment, including wilderness programs, to live under the caring umbrella of support in this extended care and sober living environment. MRA operates 35 beds in its extended care houses. Graduates – individuals who successfully complete about a four month program – are welcome to stay an additional six to twelve months in one of the 20 beds in the MRP sober living homes. Fully 80% of the young adults who complete the first phase of the program choose to stay.

My “tour guide” was Jon Feldman, one of three partners who own the program. Jon is the head of marketing and admissions. We met in his office in an old but attractively refurbished building in downtown Bel Air. The suite of offices houses administrative functions and therapy services. All of the dozen or so staff members are in recovery and are more than willing to share their stories with you. MRP has been in business for over twelve years.

We talked about the program’s philosophy in the office. Jon explained that there are two essential elements to the MRP extended care program. First and foremost, there is a strong emphasis on recovery through a highly-structured commitment to working the 12 steps of AA. The second element is a commitment to getting and keeping a job because MRP sees work as the way to rejoin the “real” world.

For young people, an entry level job is seen as the key to regaining self-esteem and a way for the individual to both “earn their keep” (or some of it, at least) and to be busy. In Jon’s word’s, “We’re not looking for a young man or young woman to get a job as the CEO of the company – there’s way too much stress involved with that! We want our young people to care about the job they are doing…but be able to leave work issues at work so in the rest of their lives, they can focus on their continued recovery.”

Because MRP works with adults as well, it’s important to know that these clients are professionals – doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers – who are there to work their 12 steps as well. Because these individuals may be on disability from their regular positions back home, MRP helps them find volunteer work in a variety of local nonprofits. In fact, the local food bank is next door to the MRP offices.

Believing that “secrets make you sick ”, another facet of the MRP philosophy is that all its clients sign away all rights to confidentiality from loved ones – be that Mom & Dad or one’s spouse. Families are part of the solution at MRP in every way.

While we continued to talk, we walked to Jon’s car and he took me to visit two of MRP’s extended care houses. As we drove, Jon commented on the sense of neighborhood and community that is apparent in the well-kept homes and yards in suburban Bel Air. The MRP houses fit right in – not appearing in any way to be different from the single family homes on either side of them.

The inside of each of the two homes was as well-kept as the outside, demonstrating both the house rules and the clients’ pride in their living space. While neither house I saw was luxurious, each was cozy and comfortable – places where you can feel at home. There was a living room, dining room and kitchen – the latter two being especially important because residents prepare and share the evening meal together every night followed by a meeting – as well as bedrooms and bathrooms. About six clients live in each house – with most sharing bedrooms. Outside, there was a place to sit and talk and a grill – another component of the shared meal philosophy. Each house has live-in staff and a senior resident, both there to offer support to newer clients embarking on their journey to recovery.

At the men’s house, I met two young men who had come home from work for lunch. While we did not have a lot of time to talk, these two healthy looking fellows were happy to answer my questions about the program while they made sandwiches. I was impressed with their openness and with their obvious commitment to the program. Both had jobs – one at a local grocery store and one at a big-box department store. They talked about the group activities that had gone on over Labor Day – with one young man sharing that he did not play in the co-ed softball game (one of the few activities that mixes the men and women in the program outside of meetings) because he needed to go buy new shoes – shoes designed to make him feel more comfortable given all the time he was on his feet at work.

In the first four months, to help avoid distraction and possible isolation, no one has a car, a cell phone or a computer. However, there is a phone in the house…computer access including the internet at the town library where you can set up an e-mail account…and almost everything is close enough to walk – helping residents get daily exercise to avoid extra pounds showing up as food is plentiful and always available. There are also strict curfews and random drug tests in each house.

I asked what happens if a client relapses and Jon replied that they typically allow the punishment to fit the crime. Some breaches are irreparable – violent behavior toward another client or staff or bringing drugs or alcohol into the house. More often, a relapse is handled by moving the client to an inexpensive motel for a few days, recommending the family not allow him or her to come home, suggesting they “beg for their bed” while agreeing to do whatever extra work or writing assignments they are asked to do in order to return.

Jon explained that Bel Air has become a haven for individuals in recovery because there are several other treatment centers nearby. He told me that the 20 or so AA and NA meetings held each week within walking distance of the houses are often SRO…standing room only…with between 80 and 100 people present.

I was impressed with MRP’s commitment to work and with how they handle clients’ wages. Each week, clients bring their checks to the MRP office where they are banked. Clients get $60 each week in spending money. As part of the intake process, new residents and their loved ones establish a plan for their banked funds. Some choose to help pay a portion of the monthly tuition out of their earnings (possible because of a very reasonable fee schedule) while others keep the funds banked for a future down payment on a car or for college or technical school tuition.

For the program graduates who stay on in the sober houses, fewer rules apply but there are still curfews and random drug tests. Residents can now have a phone, a computer and a car – and they can go to school or consider a job with more of a career path. Harford County Community College is a great opportunity for many and the greater Baltimore area also has much to offer including culinary schools, art schools and more. And, Washington, DC is not too far to commute if that appeals to a client.

For a young man or woman who is unsure about going on to school and who is committed to recovery and could see the adult clients around them as part of their recovery support system, Maryland Recovery Partners is worth considering.

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