Out & About: Vershire program supports families affected by addiction

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-19-2024 8:30 PM

VERSHIRE — When Gregory Wilson joined Vershire Fire and Rescue a few years ago, he was struck by the number of calls related to mental health and substance misuse that the volunteer department received.

Wilson, a pastoral psychotherapist, was also struck by the family members and friends who cared for those in crisis.

“It occurred to me there’s a lot of folks out there who are suffering who are not getting care in a way,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview.

Wilson has decades of experience running support groups and has a pastoral psychotherapy practice in Vershire. Pastoral psychotherapy involves using theology and clinical techniques to provide counseling to people. Wilson has also previously served as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Last July, he hosted a class for loved ones of those who misuse substances. Around 20 people attended and, once the class was over, some continued to meet as part of a support group.

Last fall, Wilson applied for — and received — a $50,000 Prevention Lead Grant through Mount Ascutney Hospital and Health Care Center. Prevention lead grants originate with the Vermont Health Department and are part of the state’s effort to address substance misuse. The grant has allowed Wilson and members of VerShare, a nonprofit organization that focuses on resilience, economic development and youth programs, among other community-related endeavors, to launch the Vershire Wellness Group earlier this month.

“What that has done is it speeds everything up,” Wilson said. The funding — which will support 18 months of programming — allows Wilson to schedule more frequent classes and discussions, as well as other programs. He emphasized that the groups and classes he leads are not based in religion.

From 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays, there will be a support group with a “Loss and Navigating the Addictive Process” theme held at Vershire Town Center, 27 Vershire Center Road. There is also a drop-in center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays at The Church-Orr House, 6946 Route 113, where people can stop in for coffee, resources and casual discussion. From 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27, Wilson will lead a discussion titled “Loss, Grief in the Addictive Process, and Moving Toward the Non-addictive Process” at Vershire Town Center.

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“The focus is not on the person using,” Wilson said. “The focus is on the family system that’s affected by the one using.”

Vershire, located in Orange County, has a population of around 765 people and is in a more rural part of the Upper Valley. It can be difficult for people to access services that are farther away — especially if they have other responsibilities like work and caregiving.

“Here’s what I’m hearing from the families: ‘There’s nothing out there for us,’ ” Wilson said. “That’s not true for everybody, but what has come to my attention is these are people who need help, but they just don’t get the help they need, for some reason.”

The program fits in with the VerShare’s mission, Justin Will, the organization’s president, said.

“We believe that wellness programs like this are an essential component for resilience because a community that is in the habit and practice of looking out for each other, and healing together, will be more resilient when crises come,” Will wrote in an email. “Moreover, it’s important to have a predictable space for recovery so that those in need know exactly when and where to get support, and the closer to home, the better.”

One of the topics Wilson focuses on is how to support loved ones to live their own lives, separate from family members who are battling substance misuse. Sometimes, people put so much energy into assisting their family members that they become “swallowed up in somebody else’s addiction,” Wilson said. He hopes to help people work through setting boundaries and take care of themselves, as well as their loved ones.

“It doesn’t mean you abandon the person,” he said. Instead, it means you assist the person, “then you will return to your own life.”

While VerShare’s programs tend to focus on Vershire residents, Wilson and Will emphasized that they are open to residents of all towns.

“Every town in the Upper Valley has an intimate connection with each other, and our broader wellness and development are therefore inextricably linked,” Will wrote.

For more information, email Wilson at GVWilson2@gmail.com or visit vershare.org/wellness. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.