Anti-addiction clubhouses to offer young adults a springboard into drug-free life

Feb 8, 2016

Young adults from the age of 18 to 21 will soon have a unique place to go for help in the struggle against addiction.

Buffalo-based Restoration Society, Inc. will be leading a group of Western New York agencies in the creation of “Youth Clubhouses.”

Jack Gustaferro (3rd from right) stands with Restoration Society leadership, Erie County Commissioner of Mental Health Michael Ranney (3rd from left), and patrons of Restoration Society's Empowerment Academy in downtown Buffalo.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Restoration Society’s recently retired Chief Executive Officer Jack Gustaferro said the clubhouses will be operated by their members, using a method known as “mutual self-help.”

“It’s a peer-to-peer kind of program,” Gustaferro explained. “It will have individuals who have substance abuse problems, their families, other relatives or significant others come together, and it will offer a configuration of services or opportunities and resources.”

Those services and resources will include support groups, job training, education opportunities, and recreational activities. The clubhouse members who use them will be called upon to offer input on which programs are helpful, and which are worth discontinuing.

Michael Ranney, Commissioner of Mental Health for Erie County, said the clubhouses are going to be an excellent addition to the local continuum of care. He said the program’s proactive approach is like nothing else the region has seen before.

“I see this as reaching a very vulnerable population. That age that agencies are working with – up to young people of age 21 – if we can prevent and work with individuals of that age group than we may be successful in helping them not go any further in the addictions, and stop, and lead a productive life,” said Ranney.

The snack bar at Empowerment Academy is an example of the kind of communal location Youth Clubhouses will offer young adults battling addiction.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Gustaferro said Restoration Society has offered similar clubhouse-style programs for individuals with psychiatric disabilities for a number of years, and he has seen how effective the relationships they foster can be.

Gustaferro said he often told people, “‘If you were in the hospital and you saw the person in the next bed and then you came to the clubhouse and you saw the same person there, it made the clubhouse a more welcoming environment that gave you somebody to connect with and somebody to work with in getting where you wanted to go and help them get where they want to go.’”

In addition to member feedback, the clubhouses will be guided by an advisory council made up of at least 51% of individuals who have substance abuse problems in their families. The rest of the council will come from substance abuse prevention organizations in the community.

The gym at Empowerment Academy offers recreational activities like those that will be offered in Youth Clubhouses.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Among the vast group of agencies involved in the creation of the clubhouses in Western New York are Prevention Focus, the Erie County Council for Alcohol and Substance Abuse, the Mental Health Association of Erie County, Compeer, Buffalo State College, Horizon Human Services, and Kids Escaping Drugs – each providing their own expertise and services to the program. They will receive a total of $250,000 in funding from New York State for 2016. It’s part of an overall $1.6 million for similar programs across New York, announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo at the end of January. Ranney said that money is expected to be presented annually.

Six or seven clubhouse locations are planned based on the greatest needs within zip codes in Erie County. The majority of them will be located in the City of Buffalo. Gustaferro said the program is meant to act as a springboard into more meaningful addiction-free lives.