A Changing Odyssey

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By Susan Morse

Hampton Union, Friday, June 2, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]

From left, Ally, Gina and Heather are three of the young residents living at Hampton’s Odyssey House, where a positive social environment contributes to their healing, learning and growth.
[Photo by Andrew Moore]

Odyssey House’s image and mission has changed since the residential home opened on Winnacunnet Road in 1968.

It began as an adult treatment center to battle a growing heroin problem on the Seacoast. Former addicts often became the new counselors.

Odyssey House is now called the Adolescent Therapeutic Center and houses teens - there’s a waiting list - and is staffed by those with professional credentials.

What hasn’t changed is the presence of an admitted drug problem on the Seacoast and the residential treatment home has survived. Federal and state funding cuts have shut down numerous rehab centers statewide.

Students from all over the state arrive at the Adolescent Therapeutic Center by court order. An estimated one-third are from the Seacoast.

Eighty percent have substance abuse issues, with alcohol being the No. 1 problem; 60 percent have a mental-health issue; about two-thirds have a history of trauma or abuse; and half are coded as special needs students in education.

The 20 boys and 10 girls in residence stay for six months or longer, a much longer amount of time compared to many shorter-stay rehab programs.

By the accounts of those who live there, the program is effective.

Gina and Ally, both 16, have been there half a year and are graduating next week. Their last names were withheld to protect their identities.

Their speech is peppered with counselor-sounding statements.

"I lost myself," said Gina, who attended Nashua High North. "It was an escape."

Gina came in for alcohol and drug abuse, which included cocaine, pills and Ecstasy. She was skipping school, not coming home and doing self-mutilation.

"It helped me a lot," Gina said of Odyssey. "It got me off drugs, self-mutilation. Every time I go home (they) can see I’ve changed."

Ally, who last attended school in Pembroke, was a runaway who assaulted people, she said.

"My biggest issue was self-esteem," Ally said. "My whole life, a lot of people walked out on me. I built up anger at the world."

Both are scared of returning to high school and leaving their support system behind. They like the stability.

Gina and Ally have more complaints about the toilet paper at Odyssey than their structured lives, which does not allow them to be gone without permission for more than 10 minutes before the police are called.

They attend school during the day at the house and go on organized outings for ice cream at night. There’s down time for phone calls and recreation. Weekends include trips home for those who have earned the privilege.

"I’m scared too because I’ll still have the same temptations," Ally said. "The whole school didn’t go (to rehab), change their life."

Another Odyssey House resident, Heather, turns 17 in August and will legally become an adult. It’s a fact she’s well aware.

She said she feels she’s one step away from jail.

Heather recently had a relapse, running away from a weekend trip home to Portsmouth.

"I left the house at 1 a.m. and didn’t return until 5:30," Heather said. "I wanted to be with my friends."

Her biggest issue is alcohol.

"I don’t think there’s punishment enough for people," she said.

Heather arrived in January and believes she’ll be out by the end of July, just before her 17th birthday.

"This is my last chance," Heather said. "If I screw up again, I’m going to lock-up."

Asked if she thought she could stay straight, she said, "Honestly, no. I can see myself relapsing."

She wants to get her high school diploma but unlike Ally and Gina, sees no college in her future.

Ally said she’s going to school for "another eight years." She wants a job working with animals.

Gina wants to go to college to become a professional photographer.

Heather knows she has a way to go.

"Usually they start internalizing the treatment and values, they start to take treatment seriously after two to four months" said Jessie, a counselor who withheld her last name because residents are not given counselors’ full name.

What makes it work, Jessie said, is residents, "being able to open up and trust somebody, making connections."

Gina said she would recommend the program to those in need of this type of assistance.

Parent organization OdysseyNH is expanding. It plans to open a new recovery high school at the former Maranatha Church on High Street for the residents and day students.

Having a day school makes economic sense, said Odyssey NH CEO Erik Johannessen.

"The state doesn’t want more beds," Johannessen said.

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