The difference between a happy, healthy life and a quick decent into a place you never meant to find yourself can be a matter of four walls. Such a haven is something McHenry County has long been without for those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, especially for its youth.
“It’s disturbed me for a long time that a safety net for people battling addiction in McHenry County has been so weak,” said Ken West, owner of Material Things Artisan Market in Woodstock. “Each new generation is more affected by addiction than the [last]. Something has to be done.”
Last year, New Directions Addiction Recovery Services formed to fill that gap in services, offering advocacy, treatment and continued care to address substance abuse in the community. Now it is taking its next step to help the youth of McHenry County. New Directions Youth Recovery Services opened this month to provide necessary resources to youth and their families to reach success in recovery and to educate the community on early-age substance abuse.
To increase awareness and help raise money for program, West is leading an effort to create “recovery glass” pendants, coins and sun catchers that feature the Alcoholics Anonymous symbol. All proceeds will go toward funding the new program.
New Directions Youth Recovery Services offers free assessments and directs patients to the proper level of care even if it’s outside of its doors.
New Directions Youth Recovery Services Executive Director Nikki Cornelius said the creation of the program came from a need – the community has a growing substance abuse problem and little in the way of quality treatment to stop it.
“It’s scary, but the heroin epidemic is on the rise in McHenry County, and there isn’t much quality treatment offered in Illinois period,” Cornelius said. “Times have changed. Kids are inundated with so much in the way of media and peer pressure, and parents are away more, working longer hours. Heroine is cheap and looked at as the worst possible drug to do, and I think teens are using it as a way to try and prove themselves.”
West is an active member of the community, dedicating time to several related charity groups and programs. He is no stranger to seeing the effects of addiction on a loved one and jumped at the chance to do his part in opposition of its growing hold on the youth of McHenry County.
“It’s all about awareness,” West said. “People don’t realize how big the problem really is and how young these kids are starting.”
West is offering his handmade glasswork for sale at his store, 103 E. Van Buren St., Woodstock, and at The Other Side, 93 Berkshire Drive, Unit G, Crystal Lake, a division of New Directions.
Young people also are pushing back against the growing issue. Woodstock High School senior August Potje, 17, works in West’s shop and helps to make the recovery glass. He said he has seen friends and family struggle with addiction and feels the mission aligns with him.
“It’s hard to see people my age making these major choices without understanding the gravity of their decision,” Potje said. “I’m sick of seeing good people make bad choices.”
Tyler Hollis, 20, of Crystal Lake, also worked with West and Potje on the project. Hollis met West through performing with his band, The Skelters, at local fundraising events. Before long, Hollis found he liked doing his part for the community.
“Addiction is often something people sweep under the rug, and it carries a stigma that is undeserved," Hollis said. "Addiction is a disease, and it’s time we start treating as that.”
The Other Side is a concert-like venue that provides entertainment in a substance-free environment. The sober bar includes a stage on which many local bands have performed, a bar that serves a variety of nonalcoholic beverages and an upstairs area with pool, ping pong, video games and much more.
Cornelius has worked with adolescents and families dealing with substance abuse for the past seven years and said that with operations such as The Other Side, people have a place to go that looks like a fun bar or music venue without the temptation. It’s a place for them to feel normal again, Cornelius said.
“In order for adolescents to stay sober, they need to have fun,” Cornelius said. “The idea is to bring young people into an environment that doesn’t look like a hospital and replace drugs and alcohol with fun.”
The Other Side will hold a Substance Free Jamboree on Aug. 9 to celebrate the fundraising campaign, raise awareness of the recovery services and simply have a good time, sober. Recovery glass will be available for purchase at the event.
“This event has a message, and the message is that you’re not alone in recovery,” Hollis said. “I hope this recovery center is able to get a strong start and remain a resource for young people for a long time.”