After losing their 23-year-old son and brother, Ben, to the opioid epidemic in 2016, the Miller family founded Speak Up for Ben Inc., a nonprofit that is planning to open The Oasis Community Center in Hanover Township, Northampton County. Rather than offer a drug and alcohol treatment center, their goal is to create a recovery center for families, a place to go for those with loved ones affected by substance abuse.
The Oasis center, which opens July 1 at 3400 Bath Pike, is near the border with Bethlehem close to Route 22, but in a setting characterized by calm.
“We are in an 1803 stone farmhouse; it’s such a serene setting right along the Monocacy Creek,” said Rhonda Miller, Ben’s mother and executive director of Speak Up for Ben. “It’s an oasis in the physical sense from the chaos of the storm of life.”
The center provides support, activities and resources for families of substance abusers, focusing on those who have lost loved ones or those whose loved ones are still struggling with addiction. The center is not just for families but also for friends, co-workers and others. All of the services at the center are free.
Noting that families often lack outside support, Miller said the center would provide family support meetings, grief recovery groups and healing activities. The house, which is about 3,200 square feet, will include space for cooking classes, a meditation room, restorative yoga, art therapy and other activities.
“Of course, with the opioid issue surging, this is really a time for it to open,” Miller said. “The need has always been there. It’s no longer something that people can overlook.”
Though still claiming thousands of lives per year, drug overdose deaths fell slightly in Pennsylvania, falling from 5,559 deaths in 2017 to 4,267 in 2018, according to data from the state’s OpenDataPa online portal.
In April, the Easton chapter of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce attracted nearly 80 executives to a program on the opioid epidemic, emphasizing the concern over its impact on families and the workforce.
“We think Oasis is going to allow families who are grieving over the loss of loved ones to recover and can help them help us and the rest of the community battle the scourge of the opioid addiction,” said Lamont McClure, Northampton County executive.
Miller believes the roots of the opioid crisis are complex but feels over prescription plays a role. Those who are prone to addiction already can quickly become addicted to opioids, according to Miller.
“Ben was 23 and he struggled with an opioid addiction through prescribed opioids,” Miller said of her son.
Once prescribed opioids were cut off, Ben turned to street opioids and eventually heroin, she said. It’s a path that many people take once they become addicted, Miller said.
For healing to take place, people need to come together, she added.
“There’s hundreds of thousands of families like me,” Miller said. “This touches many families. A lot of overdose deaths are unreported. I really want to break the stigma around addiction. We are creating a safe community where they can access resources and gain support.”
The Northampton County Drug and Alcohol Division covered startup costs for the center and as a nonprofit, Speak Up for Ben conducts fundraising efforts and is looking for donors. The county provided Speak Up for Ben with $105,000 in funding for the fiscal 2018-19 year, said Sue Wandalowski, director of human services for Northampton County.
Miller declined to provide an estimated operating budget.
Linda Johnson, president of Voices for Change, an Easton-based nonprofit, believes the Oasis can bring people together who have loved ones suffering from substance abuse.
“I think what it does is bring the recovering resources and the family resources together because that’s how we heal,” she said.
Voices for Change focuses on helping people coming out of treatment programs and getting them into recovery houses, Johnson said.
By showing the community that recovery is possible, the center also could help change the stigma surrounding opioid and substance abuse, she said.
The center will be open weekdays for regular programs and on occasional weekends for special events. The center will also have a certified family recovery specialist on site, a person trained in supporting family members seeking recovery from a loved one’s addiction.
The center will host a grand opening at noon on June 28.