By Lois Wilkerson
Photographed by Laurie Szostak
Why not us? These three words launched the uncertain journey that led to the opening of the first sober clubhouse in the Hudson Valley, Single Purpose, named after the idea of having just one purpose: extending a helping hand to anyone seeking recovery.
This past summer, Michael Fanelli and five other respected members of the recovery community, with decades of sobriety under their belts, lamented that the Hudson Valley region needed a sober clubhouse. Popular in other parts of the country, sober clubhouses are places where people in recovery gather to attend 12-step meetings and enjoy fellowship. “For those seeking, or fresh in, recovery from alcoholism and substance abuse, there are few safe havens to congregate, particularly if they are trying to limit the people and places that could serve as triggers,” said Fanelli. “Clubhouses have been a lifeline to friends of mine and key to their long-term sobriety.”
The need is profound: between 2015 and 2016, New York State saw the largest increase in opioid-overdose deaths in six years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fanelli knew it wasn’t going to be easy to start a sober clubhouse; a few people he knew had tried before but lacked the connections and resources to make it happen. He and his five friends formed a steering committee that met weekly. Momentum built in the form of seed funding, contributions from the MARC (Mid-Hudson Addiction Recovery Centers) Foundation and a pro-bono attorney to legally form the not-for-profit. However, there was a critical missing element: the physical space. Fanelli quickly figured out why so few clubhouses exist in New York State: rent and overhead can be prohibitively expensive, and purchasing a building would be nearly impossible without a prior track record to secure a loan.
The 43-year-old Poughkeepsie resident wasn’t about to give up, now that the wheels were in motion and a group of “low-flying angels” had surfaced, many of whom answered Fanelli’s prayers and requests to assist with time, talent or financial support. Fanelli had to overcome his own barriers, talking with others publicly about his 20-plus years in recovery. Breaking his anonymity was a small sacrifice, considering how many people could benefit.
After an attempt by one of the founding members to purchase a building fell through, an even better solution emerged, thanks to an introduction to Christa Hines, executive director of Hudson River Housing, Inc. The nonprofit organization was shifting the location of its homeownership center, leaving a serendipitously vacant space. Before Fanelli knew it, a lease was signed for Single Purpose to call 291 Mill Street in Poughkeepsie home.
“I was amazed at how people rose to the occasion, including those outside of the recovery community,” said Fanelli, who credits the tenacity and faith of the five other founders, and their network of friends, with bringing Single Purpose to life.
Through word of mouth and an active Facebook page (Single Purpose Sober Club), the clubhouse now hosts daily meetings and regular sober social events. While Fanelli is only one person, and one of the six founding members, he knows that all it takes is a singular focus—and plenty of “Why not us?” friends—to turn wishes into reality. █