Friendship Center Settles in at New Home Downtown

Carol Bowen led the way to a small kitchen off the main room of the new Friendship Center on Railroad Avenue. “The kitchen needs work,” Bowen said. “The stove is operable, but we still have to hook it up to gas – we’re taking one day at a time.”

The phrase “one day at a time” is familiar to her guests, people in recovery from various forms of addiction, and their loved ones. The Center moved from its longtime home on East Broadway in October. While there’s work to be done, Bowen, chairman of the board, her fellow volunteers and their guests are reveling in their new digs and the chance to change more lives.

The Friendship Center operated for 32 years out of 45 East Broadway. The recovery community and their supporters raised $40,000 for the down payment on the building, which cost them $199,000. The building is 3,400 square feet.

The building, a former Eagles Club, had been vacant for five or six years after the Eagles disbanded, Bowen said as she led the way across the main meeting room. “When we first walked in, we said, ‘This is perfect!’”

The main meeting room has a sharp-looking black and white tile floor, a big-screen TV, and rows of wooden chairs instead of folding metal chairs. “A woman we know got these with a grant,” Bowen said. There’s a literature table, a few toys for clients who bring their children, and even a stage/platform, she pointed out. The platform held an armchair between two Christmas trees, and was where Santa held forth in the Center’s recent Christmas party, she said.

The mottoes of recovery groups are prominently displayed, including the 12 Steps, the Serenity Prayer and sayings such as “First Things First.”

Another small Christmas tree graced the bar, a welcome leftover from the Eagles. The Friendship Center inherited red leatherette stools and Tiffany lamps from the former owners. Though they don’t serve alcohol, it’s the perfect place to linger over a cup of coffee, Bowen said.

And there’s plenty of light. “There were no windows in the old place,” she said.

The new facility has several storage areas, including one where the different groups can store their meeting materials and food supplies in metal lockers. There are separate men’s and women’s bathrooms, a luxury after the unisex one in the old place, and some of the plumbing fixtures and vanities have been donated, she said.

The community has opened its wallets for this project, Bowen said. “A man came in last week and offered to paint the ceiling – all we had to pay for was the paint,” she said. A computer instructor at Mount Washington College is donating a new Web site, constructed by her students as a class project.

There are two more storage rooms in the back and a room that’s poised to be a media center and library, Bowen said. And a comfortable office has a desk, computer and armchairs, the latter for clients who want to meet privately with a sponsor or friend.

While they are making their mortgage, they can always use in-kind donations of labor and materials, Bowen said. “I’d like to eventually get new doors, a new kitchen floor,” she said. And as the coffee pot is almost always on, donations of coffee, sugar, cream and munchies are always welcome, along with paper goods.

Since they moved into the new place, Bowen has seen changes in her guests. It’s important to have a nice facility, she said, because it raises the self-esteem of the people in recovery. “It gives them a sense of ownership,” she said.

One man, who had been coming around for years, noticed a spill and said, “Carol, you got a mop?” He cleaned up the spill himself, she said, noting, “He had never done that before.”

Bowen became involved with the Friendship Center at the urging of the late Mac McCartin. “He talked me into coming on to the board,” she said. “I was on the board, then vice-chair, then when Mac died, chair by default.” It wasn’t an easy transition, Bowen admitted.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to do it,” she said. But like her clients, “I found I had it in me.”

As a busy professional who runs a beauty salon, Bowen has limited volunteer hours, and she chooses to spend them at the Friendship Center. She’s been involved for eight years now, and said working with people in recovery brings her a special joy.

“It’s so great to see them get their lives straight, when they’re broken in spirit, in emotions, in finances. To watch them transform – it’s a miracle,” she said. And it’s not one you often see on the 11 o’clock news, she added.

The new building offers more room for events such as the recent Christmas party for the community, the 24-hour Christmas Eve-Christmas Day marathon recovery meeting, and the upcoming Chocolate Ball in March, which will be held at their own facility for the first time this year. “It’s a DJ, dancing, all the chocolate you can eat and all the coffee you can drink,” Bowen said. She’s already picturing the DJ on the new platform.

And like broken lives, the building will come into its full potential, one day at a time.

“We have,” she said, “all the time in the world.”

Those wanting to volunteer or donate may call 432-9794.

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