Expanding Center of Hope eyes July finishMay 26, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer
The project is adding 2,500 square feet to the existing facility that currently takes up roughly 5,000 square feet on Adams Avenue in Riverton.
On Aug. 24, Lionel Brown was sitting in the Fremont County jail after being arrested for public intoxication.
He was a severe alcoholic -- one of the numerous local men who make regular appearances in the jail and at the Center of Hope "detox" facility in Riverton.
"Is this what I'm living for - being in and out of jail?" the 49-year-old recalls thinking at the time.
He hasn't had a drink since.
Brown now lives in an apartment he's fixed up on College View Drive, and he works in housekeeping at the Wind River Hotel and Casino.
"I just got tired of being in the cycle that I created," he said.
He credits both the Center of Hope and a treatment center he attended in Sheridan with helping him get sober.
"I've come to respect what they have to say a lot," he said.
The treatment facility in Sheridan, which, like the Center of Hope, is run by Volunteers of America, tries to accommodate a diversity of clients with three different treatment tracks: the Alcoholics Anonymous program, a Christian-based track, and one based on American Indian spirituality.
Brown opted for the American Indian program during treatment, participating in weekly sweat lodges, smudging and talking circles.
Skye Heeran, director of development at the treatment facility, said the Sheridan location is the only one in the country with an American Indian treatment program certified by White Bison, a Colorado-based nonprofit that's developed sobriety and recovery services rooted in American Indian cultures.
With a new expansion set for completion in July, staff at detox hope stories like Brown's become more and more common.
Such recoveries already have become more plentiful since VOA took over the facility - previously known as the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center - in 2013.
Before that, facility director Shelley Mbonu said the center served merely as "a Band-Aid."
"We were lucky to send one person to treatment each year," she said.
Under VOA's leadership, the center has now sent 169 clients to treatment.
The new expansion aims to continue that trend, adding 2,500 square feet to the existing facility that currently takes up roughly 5,000 square feet on Adams Avenue in Riverton.
Plans include an exercise gym and improved safety for intake. The facility also will centralize social services that help clients deal with grief and loss or connect with employment services.
Helen Warpness, a board member for the Center of Hope and one of the founders of the FCACC, believes the expansion and new layout will allow the facility to better "break that cycle" of alcoholic behavior.
"Yes, some are going to relapse, but we're prepared to deal with that," she said.
In its current setup, Center of Hope holds 24 beds grouped in three separate sections.
Seven of the beds are in the "close observation unit," where intoxicated clients are brought in and allowed to stay for three days.
When those beds fill up -- as they tend to do -- any new intoxicated clients who show up at the center are taken to jail.
"We can pretty much count on that being full most of the time," Mbonu said.
The facility's other beds are in the "social detox" or "transitional" wing.
The social detox wing caters to clients who have expressed a desire to get sober and are applying for treatment. Those clients can stay in social detox for 14 days.
The transitional wing allows for stays of up to three months for clients who are about to leave for, or who have recently returned from, treatment. That wing is the last stop for clients before they leave to live outside of the facility.
Currently, all three wings at the Center of Hope are "wide open" and concentrated in tight quarters, Mbonu said; the layout inappropriately exposes sober clients to the smell of alcohol and other triggers.
"You don't want to have them right next to someone who's detoxing or in crisis beds," Mbonu said. "(That) doesn't make for a very therapeutic stay."
In the expanded facility, the wings will be more fully separated.
As the Center of Hope's scope has expanded, Mbonu said the facility has been blessed by community support that she said "is like a family."
The Denver-based Daniels Fund recently donated $500,000, and Mbonu said the Northern Arapaho Tribe has helped with a remodel of the backyard and supplied washers, dryers and surveillance equipment.
The Riverton Police Department has been strongly supportive of the facility as well, encouraging its increased usage to prevent substance abuse from becoming a law enforcement issue.
"We can always count on (interim RPD chief Eric Murphy) to help out," Mbonu said.