CARIBOU, Maine — Nonprofit Recovery Aroostook has launched a new effort to keep The County’s only two recovery houses from closing.
There were 716 Mainers who died of drug overdoses in 2022, and 48 were from Aroostook County, according to the latest state data. That’s up from 2021, when 631 Mainers died of overdoses, 39 of them from northern Maine.
As Maine continues to set records for overdose deaths, Aroostook’s recovery community is stepping up to ensure that more people have access to shelter and community support systems. The recovery houses offer drug- and alcohol-free living for people recovering from substance use disorder. But finding the money to keep them going is tough.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been a month we broke even,” said Jon Holabird, chairperson of the Recovery Aroostook board.
In March, the Caribou-based organization started a campaign to draw 500 regular donors by year’s end to contribute $10 per month. Funds raised will help sustain Recovery Aroostook’s family support groups, which run from October to April, a new life coach program and the men’s and women’s recovery houses that the nonprofit operates in Caribou.
Last year, operating expenses for both houses totaled about $6,984. That included electricity and unexpected expenses, like a new boiler in the men’s building and repairing burst pipes in the women’s dwelling.
A $10,000 donation from a local family helped the homes get through the winter.
Recovery Aroostook launched in 2017 as more mental health professionals worked to highlight local stories of the opioid epidemic. The group partnered with another Caribou nonprofit, Center for the Advancement of Rural Living, to open the recovery houses and connect families with counseling, life coaches and medical treatment.
The men’s house opened in 2020 and the women’s house followed in late 2021. Though owned and initially managed by the Center for the Advancement of Rural Living, the seven-member Recovery Aroostook board now manages both houses.
Four board members are in active recovery, including Jon and his wife, Elizabeth Holabird, of Caribou.
Recovery Aroostook began overseeing both houses in 2022 to give residents more connections with others who have gone through recovery, said Elizabeth Holabird, board treasurer.
“For me, it helps to be in a room of people who understand what I’ve gone through,” she said. “So residents look to us because we get it.”
The two have 11 years of sobriety between them. They know firsthand how important it is to have a recovery support system.
In middle school, Jon Holabird, 36, began misusing drugs and alcohol to impress classmates he thought were his friends. He continued to deal and use drugs, including heroin, throughout young adulthood. He relapsed after his first attempt at rehab in 2015 and was arrested two years later for drug trafficking.
While facing years of jail, he had an epiphany: he no longer wanted to be someone who brought pain to his family and community. He entered rehab in Bangor and was still sober eight months later during his court appearance, with the support of family and his newfound church community.
“I had a whole room of people who testified on how much I wanted to change my life,” Jon Holabird said. “I did nine months in the county jail and never looked back.”
Elizabeth Holabird, 32, turned to alcohol as a teenager while dealing with family trauma and struggled with alcoholism as a young adult. Though she tried rehab outside Aroostook, she found she could not face her trauma until she returned home.
The couple met about five years ago during Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and have been married for three years. Today, Jon owns Rick’s Redemption in Presque Isle and Elizabeth works at Miss Jordyn’s Child Care & Preschool in Caribou.
The Holabirds dedicate much of their spare time to volunteering and fundraising for Recovery Aroostook.
At each recovery house, residents are expected to find jobs, pay rent, attend group meetings and work toward recovery through counseling and/or medical-assisted treatment. Each house has six rooms, several of which can be shared.
So far only a few regular donors have signed on to give $10 per month, but Recovery Aroostook has already seen its fundraising momentum increase as it recovers from the pandemic, which shut down most in-person programs.
The organization raised $23,000 in the past year. That includes $6,000 from a memorial 5K race, $3,700 from a SnowBowl-themed fundraiser and more than $10,000 from the Center for the Advancement of Rural Living’s fall spectacular.
Last fall, former Caribou resident Kristin Gifford donated $2,000 in memory of her late daughter, Marissa Lloyd, who passed away in a vehicle accident when she was 7, and Lloyd’s childhood friend Hanah White. White died of a drug overdose last year at age 22. Gifford’s donation allowed Recovery Aroostook to set up a scholarship fund for recovery house residents with limited incomes.
Bill Flagg, community relations director at Cary Medical Center, is on the board for the rural living group. He and the board were instrumental in fundraising for and purchasing the recovery houses.
Flagg knows how much people in recovery benefit from support systems. Elizabeth Holabird is his daughter.
The more funds Recovery Aroostook can raise, Flagg said, the more communities can understand that there are real families behind the stories of addiction.
“It’s a tough thing to come out of, and I’m so proud of what Elizabeth has become,” Flagg said. “For so long Aroostook County has not had a recovery community, but we’re building it. I think this is just the beginning.”