Save the Michaels expands into Lockport

Tim Fenster/staffSave the Michaels peer advocate Dennis Stilb, recovery coach Andy Hornbarger, recovery coach Carol Plant and receptionist Pamela Gone outside the organization's House of Hope Niagara, which opened July 15 at 81 Walnut St. in Lockport.

Those struggling with addiction and their families now can get help much closer to home, thanks to Save the Michaels opening a new support center, House of Hope Niagara, at 81 Walnut Ave.

The House of Hope will offer a range of support groups, treatment education and various services, helping those in recovery with everything from transportation to securing housing and applying to jobs. The location also offers a substance-free recreational area, so those in recovery can enjoy themselves without the temptation of alcohol or drugs.

Save the Michaels CEO Avi Israel said the Buffalo-based organization, which serves the eight-county Western New York region, had long sought to expand into Niagara County, and settled on Lockport because the area is underserved and close to county facilities, such as the courthouse.

Avi Israel said the facility will serve as a recovery "community center." 

“We’re going to provide all the support services for Niagara County right from here. … This location is mainly going to concentrate on recovery and support … and education for families," Israel said.

Avi and his wife Julie are no strangers to the pain suffered by families of those suffering from addiction. The couple founded Save the Michaels after the death of their son, Michael Israel, in June 2011.

Michael was prescribed opioids to combat the symptoms of Crohn's disease, and like many patients before and after him, became dependent on painkillers.

When Michael admitted his dependency to his parents, Avi and Julie tried to get him into treatment, but hit dead end after dead end. Several doctors said they did not know how to help Michael, and inpatient treatment centers had no available beds. They tried a help line on the family insurance card and were told to visit a hospital that had closed two years earlier.

Realizing no treatment centers could offer the immediate help he needed, Michael lost all hope of recovery. At 20 years old, he took his life.

Save the Michaels emerged to provide the services the Israels found lacking during Michael's addiction, and to raise awareness of dependency to prescription and other drugs. In early 2017, the organization took on a new role — linking individuals to inpatient treatment centers. 

They serve 44 courts throughout the region, ensuring defendants charged with addiction-related crimes can get placed in an inpatient treatment facility as soon as possible. To date, Save the Michaels has helped place about 2,300 individuals into inpatient treatment.

“When somebody is ready to go (into treatment), that’s the time that they need the help the most," Avi Israel said. "That’s the time we want to be there for them.”

Save the Michaels will continue to handle its treatment center placements out of its Buffalo headquarters, 737 Delaware Ave. However, the House of Hope will offer other support services, such as computers and support staff to help recovering addicts apply for jobs, write resumés and find housing. Israel said they also will offer transport between Niagara Falls and Lockport, noting there are no direct bus routes betweens the two cities.

“We’re going to help people achieve recovery by helping them with whatever it is they need," Israel said.

The House of Hope also offers various support groups, including for parents and grandparents of addicts, parents who have lost a child to addiction, individuals in recovery, women in recovery and individuals undergoing medication-assisted treatment. The groups are led by recovery coaches and peer advocates, who have recovered from substance abuse disorders themselves.

Save the Michaels is also planning a series of partnerships to offer more comprehensive services. They are seeking to partner with Niagara County Mental Health Services to provide emotional support for those who have overcome physical drug dependency and to partner with another large treatment provider to offer more addiction and mental health counseling. 

Israel said eventually they would like to open a recovery house in Lockport, and may seek to open a medication-assisted treatment clinic at its House of Hope location. Treatment providers say medications like methadone are crucial to helping many recovering addicts maintain sobriety.

“What this location will be … is a community center," he said. "It’s a partnership that we want to create here, that never existed before. It’s going to be a place to go to to get the support they need.”

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