NEWBURYPORT — Elizabeth McCarthy and Kim Keene have seen the suffering caused by addiction up close in their loved ones but they have also seen the healing power that hope can have along the road to recovery.
And in November 2015, McCarthy, Keene and Keene's husband, Steven — all Newburyport residents — set out to spread that same sense of hope when they co-founded the Pelican Intervention Fund to help provide funding for 12-step, extended-stay recovery programs for men and women struggling with addiction.
"We did this because we have been given the gift of seeing the people we love in recovery," McCarthy said. "They've been given a second chance and they both give back. We just want to give others that chance and to show people that there is hope."
The group's founders stand firmly in their belief that long-term, 12-step programs provide a deeper and more complete treatment, resulting in an "emotional sobriety" not quite as achievable through short-term, drug-based rehabilitation.
But with a usual price tag of about $15,000 per six-month stay, Keene said these programs can easily be out of reach for people whose drug addictions have also left them with empty pockets.
"They're learning the tools they need to get sober," Keene said. "Everyone wants a quick fix in this country, and this is not a quick fix. This is a slow process. Medications aren't really addressing the issue of why people are using, and when you go through a 12-step program, it's an interior journey."
Over the past two years, the Pelican Intervention Fund has raised more than $125,000 in donations from Greater Newburyport community members and organizations, and has been able to send 21 people to nonprofit, long-term residential recovery programs across New England.
"We are so grateful for everything we've received from the community," McCarthy said. "We never thought we would be this successful in terms of the money we've raised, the people we've met or the lives we've touched. It's very humbling because we feel like we are being led on this pathway, and so many people have heard our request for help and have come forward."
The group has been widely supported in the area, gaining recognition through Old South Presbyterian Church's recent Festival of Wreaths and Trees, which benefited the fund, as well as other public events that have put them in the public eye.
McCarthy and Keene said none of the Pelican Fund's income has come from state or local government funding. They expressed their gratitude to Newburyport area residents and businesses' "extremely generous" support.
"Individuals have given us thousands of dollars but then there are the people that have given us $5 or $10, or have saved pennies for us," Keene said. "It's been very humbling. This is an example of a community embracing a really tough epidemic that is affecting everywhere in America."
McCarthy noted that the group is always seeking help from community members, as well as donations so they can continue to carry out their mission of hope.
"The key is hope for other people — we can give them this opportunity, we raise the money but they do the hard work," McCarthy said. "This method of caring is so vital to the people going through recovery, to know that someone values them and is willing to give a donation, even though that person doesn't even know them."
Jack Shea can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.