Out & About: Newport sober club fears for its future with rent increase

  • One of the meeting spaces at Millie's Place, a sober club in Newport. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

  • Millie's Place is located in a shopping plaza on John Stark Highway in Newport. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2022 11:36:58 AM
Modified: 1/9/2022 11:36:07 AM

In a nondescript shopping plaza off John Stark Highway in Newport, there is a storefront with a simple sign in black capital letters: MILLIES.

It is easy to overlook. But for members of Millie’s Place, it is an integral part of their lives and commitment to recovery from substance abuse.

“It saved my life,” said board president Chris Glazier, of Newport. “This is where I started coming when I started trying to get sober.”

But Millie’s Place is in danger of shutting its doors. Its rent has been raised from $700 to $1,000 a month, and with membership declining due to the pandemic, the nonprofit organization is struggling to stay open.

“The pandemic has really been difficult,” said board member Tim Sievers, of Sunapee.

The plaza recently changed ownership, and the new landlord raised the rent, Glazier said. The previous landlord had kept it low for Millie’s Place. While an additional $300 might not seem like a lot, COVID-19 has impacted the nonprofit organization’s finances.

“We were already behind because of the pandemic,” Glazier said. “We’re such a vital part of the recovery community. It would be a shame if we had to shut it up and move. People know where we are.”

The club mainly pays its rent from membership dues. Some comes from grants, but that funding isn’t always consistent. Sievers said Millie’s Place was disqualified from receiving federal pandemic relief funding because even though it’s a nonprofit, it is entirely run by volunteers and has no paid employees.

Board members have applied for grants and are asking area businesses to contribute. But they worry they won’t have enough time to shore up their finances before they’re forced to make difficult decisions that would impact hundreds of members.

To be a member, people must have three months of sobriety — based on the honor system — and pay $5 a month.

Members are given a key that allows them 24/7 access to the space. Inside, there’s what board member Jonathan Purick, of Goshen, describes as “a 50-cent pool table,” comfortable places to sit, a TV, a large conference room and smaller rooms where people can meet privately. A shelf is filled with books about gardening and other hobbies.

“A lot of our members don’t have internet,” Sievers said. At Millie’s Place, they can use the computer to connect with vital resources related to recovery.

Millie’s Place, which was founded in 1992, takes its name from Mildred Holmes, a former nurse who lived on the Eagle Block in Newport, according to an accounting of the nonprofit organization’s history. It was located on Central Street until 1997 when it moved to John Stark Highway.

Its members include people from a wide range of ages, education levels and walks of life.

“Alcohol is an equal opportunity destroyer,” Purick said, repeating a phrase often associated with addiction. “You don’t get a cure from it. You get a reprieve. We have to keep at it.”

Millie’s Place doesn’t have a website or social media presence. Board members say that’s intentional. They want it to be a space that people, especially those in the early stages of recovery, feel comfortable visiting. Due to the stigma surrounding people with substance use disorders, members prefer a level of anonymity.

Many people hear about Millie’s Place by word of mouth from mentors or others in the recovery community.

“They’re finding this is a comfortable place to get re-established,” Sievers said.

That’s been true for Sievers, Glazier and Purick, who have all faced personal and professional challenges while in recovery. Since Millie’s Place has been a beacon for them, they want to make sure it’s around to be there for others.

“Success rate with a sponsor is much greater than trying to do it on your own,” Purick said.

It is the only sober club in the area. The club isn’t sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous, although many AA meetings are held in the space. People also meet there informally with their sponsors. On Sunday, they come to watch football games in a setting where there’s no alcohol.

“If people are feeling squirrelly at home, they can come here,” Glazier said.

“You can sense a force, a power in here,” Purick added.

During the pandemic, many meetings went to Zoom. That was difficult for a good portion of the population Millie’s serves and some people stopped going to meetings altogether. Now, they have resumed daily meetings.

“The meetings used to be packed, two rows all the way around,” Purick said of the conference room space, where AA banners hang on the walls.

In-person meetings resumed outdoors in the spring of 2020 and moved indoors once the weather got colder, but the pandemic still kept people away. Sievers estimated that attendance for meetings is about half what it was before the pandemic. People don’t need to be members of Millie’s Place to attend AA meetings there.

The men emphasized that Millie’s Place is not just a meeting space — it’s a gathering space. People can drop by when they want to socialize with like-minded individuals. Sometimes just talking to someone who is also in recovery can help bring a sense of peace.

“It’s a safe place,” Glazier said.

Editor’s note: For more information about Millie’s Place, call 603-863-5126 or email milliesplace03773@gmail.com.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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