Keith Arvanitis has been regional coordinator for Amistad in Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties since July 2019. He is based in Boothbay Harbor at the Peer & Wellness Center at 35 School St.
Arvanitis facilitates groups there, for people in addiction and alcohol recovery. Last March, when COVID-19 arrived, the Center had to close. He continued to provide updates on possible re-openings and other information via the Center’s Facebook page while offering help and support via phone, text and email.
Late spring and summer meetings resumed outdoors at the Center and at Barrett’s and Knickercane parks. The meetings were socially distanced and masks were worn. Once the colder weather arrived, due to CDC guidelines and due to the size of the Center’s meeting area (limited to five people), the group of 10 regular members could no longer meet together.
Arvanitis set up group meetings via Zoom, but it had its limitations. Many people in recovery do not have access to technology. They may be homeless, out of work (or both), and cannot afford a cell phone, tablet, computer, or laptop let alone an Internet provider. Fortunately, thanks to a generous Amistad donor, Arvanitis was able to provide free cell phones to those in recovery.
“In the beginning there were a lot of bennies to Zoom, but it was a temporary band-aid,” Arvanitis said. “Nothing replaces the true reaction and connection that happens in a meeting – particularly at a time when they (people in recovery) are feeling vulnerable … they’re sharing some traumatic parts of their life and when you’re doing that over video it’s just not the same. People are burnt out with the virtual meetings.
Arvanitis can empathize; he is also in recovery. He has been calling those he has been working with just to check in. “It’s been hard. Connection is the most important thing – calling let’s another person people know that they matter and can make all the difference in the world,” Arvanitis said. “ I’ve heard this so many times from people who are not part of the videoconferencing. They thank me for calling because they haven’t talked to anyone in however many days.”
Some call him for support. But, Arvanitis stresses that he and others with Amistad are not counselors, therapists, or psychologists; they are people who have gone through similar experiences and can lend a sympathetic ear. But, when a person calls in crisis they provide that caller with Sweetser’s Maine Intentional Peer Warm (hot)Line: 1-866-771-9276 and the Maine Crisis Hotline. 1-888-568-1112. Both hotlines are available 24/7.
What does someone without a phone do? “In most cases, if someone came to the Center, one thing I would do is support them by being by their side and walking that journey with them so they are not alone.”
Arvanitis has also worked with Boothbay Harbor Police Chief Bob Hash and State Rep. Holly Stover. In meetings the three have held, each helps from their form of support. Arvanitis shares his own experiences, his story of strength and hope, what his challenges have been and what his recovery has been like.
“Bob offers his support, not only as a member of law enforcement, but as a caring person. Bob has a huge heart – in uniform or not,” Arvanitis said. “Holly has the experience and compassion. I’ve seen her helping someone get into a treatment facility and going with them through the intake process. She has worked on connecting an individual with doctors and therapists, and making sure all of these people are in place for the individual.”
Amistad center representatives, like Arvanitis, meet monthly with the Office of Behavioral Health and the Maine Recovery Hub. As of this writing, with the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state, no decision has been made about re-opening all the centers. Some are open as each Center decides if it is safe for their communities to do so.
Arvanitis noted the increase in overdoses in the state as was shared by Gordon Smith, Maine’s director of opioid response, at the December meeting.
He said distribution of Naloxone, an opioid medication reversing an overdose, is very important. “We have been promoting one of our community partners on our Facebook page offering virtual Naloxone training. Once completed, these individuals can then send this medication to an individual’s home.
“We have hours of operation. But if someone needs to call me, they should. Just one mistake could kill you,” Arvanitis said. “We encourage people to get sponsors, but it’s the interaction before and after meetings that makes that connection. You just can’t do this through Zoom.”
The Center’s Facebook page has been a primary tool for getting information out. People are encouraged to become members of the Center (no fees; it’s free). A monthly newsletter available via email includes a calendar with meeting information.
For those without email: Monday through Friday from 3 to 4 p.m., the Harbor Peer & Wellness Center offers an All Recovery Group on Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/4997856830; Meeting ID: 499-785-6830. This group supports all pathways of recovery and is facilitated by a Peer Recovery coach trained in the CCAR (Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery) Model. Families, friends and others effected by someone in recovery are welcome to attend providing the person in recovery says it’s OK.
The Center’s Employment and Recovery Group meets via Zoom every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon. ZOOM link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/4997856830; Meeting ID: 499 785 6830.
Arvanitis is hoping that once the warm weather returns, the groups can start meeting in person again; that is worth its weight in gold for someone in recovery.
Amsitad is part of the Maine Recovery Hub with 13 community recovery centers, including one in Boothbay Harbor which covers all of Lincoln County. The centers provide recovery support services, recovery coaching, public education, prevention efforts, and advocacy to build hope and support for people in and seeking recovery. Based in Portland, Amistad has been providing services that are “organized and delivered by peers with a focus on building positive relationships and should become an integral part of the mental health system.” (https://amistadme.org) The organization helps people dealing with mental illness, substance use disorder and chronic homelessness and their related issues to recover and lead healthier lives.