In January 1972 a small article appeared in the East Boston Community News inviting the community to a ‘housing warming’ hosted by the staff of a new halfway-house that had opened three months prior on Meridian Street.
It was the first article introducing the community to the Fran Rowan Meridian House. There was some debate in the community at the time whether or not a halfway-house that helps people struggling with substance abuse was the right fit for the community. After all, a program like the Meridian House was a foriegn concept in 1972 and some living in the area were weary of living next door to drug addicts trying to get sober.
However, the Meridian House’s Director at the time, Buster Genualdo, said in the article the “need” for the Meridian House in Eastie was “great”–as many struggled with substance abuse issues and had nowhere else to turn. Genualdo wanted the house warming to stimulate community support for the Meridian House and give residents an opportunity to see the magic that was happening within its walls.
Now, 50 years later the Meridian House has become an Eastie institution and one of the most respected residential treatment programs in the state.
On Tuesday, June 28 at 5 p.m. at the Cottage Park Yacht Club the Meridian House staff, as well as past and current residents, supporters and special guests, will celebrate 50 years as the first and oldest residential addiction treatment program in Boston.
“It’s going to be a great event,” said Meridian House’s current Director, Audrey Clairmont. “We’re going to be honoring a few people. We’re going to be honoring a staff member who has been with the Meridian House for over 17 years as well as airing a 50th anniversary video. There will be a couple of alumni speakers that will talk about how the Meridian House changed their life as well as Rep. Adrian Madaro, Chair of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, who will talk about the impact the Meridian House has had in the community.”
Clairmont said the Meridian House will use the event to launch the inaugural John Neaney Award.
“We will be presenting the first John Neaney award to John and he will be honored at the event,” said Clairmont. “John is 36 years in recovery and was a resident of the Meridian House from 1985 to 1986. Since he graduated from the program he has been a consistent support for the Meridian House and its residents. Every year on his anniversary of getting sober he brings residents pizza and tells his story. John has really been a huge asset to the house for the last 36 years. So the first award in his name will be ceremonial and after he receives the award this year we plan on making it an annual award going forward.”
Over the course of the past five decades, Meridian House, working through North Suffolk Mental Health Association, has helped hundreds and hundreds of people find their way to recovery since its inception in the fall of 1971.
A few years ago Help.org, a trusted online resource for individuals who struggle with addiction, named the Meridian House one of the best treatment facilities around.
During the pandemic, many struggling with substance abuse and recovery were isolated from support services and in-person peer to peer meetings. The pandemic has had disastrous consequences on the recovery community.
Recent state reports showing 2021 was one of the worst years for addiction and overdoses, so Clairmont said it is more important than ever to celebrate the Meridian House’s work, and the work of similar treatment facilities.
“I think this would have been an important event at any time but given the pandemic that really set us back, not only here at the Meridian House, but the recovery community in general it definitely seems more poignant than ever,” said Clairmont. “This is our first major event since the pandemic and this work is so much about being connected, building support, being involved in the community and building that foundation. The nature of COVID just took that away from us and so many people. The ability to attend meetings, the fear of entering a residential treatment program because of the virus, treatment programs shutting down all had an impact. While remote meetings did help, I think if you ask people who are seeking treatment services, it’s not quite the same as sitting in a room with people. That human interaction, that human touch that is so important was missing.”
Clairmont added that the Meridian House and its residents in treatment have always been about the community. “For 50 years we have been ingrained in the community, attending community events, supporting those events, partnering with event organizers and hosting our own events,” said Clairmont. “We are excited to really be getting back to those partnerships and this event will highlight the good we are doing post-pandemic. This is the first opportunity we’ll have to really do that in two years so we’re all really, really excited for it. It’s nice to just be able to gather and celebrate something positive in the recovery community. Meridian House is just such an institution in the community. If you’ve ever been to Meridian House or worked there or worked closely with us then you’ve heard people use the phrase “Meridian Magic”. It’s something that you can’t really explain. I’ve overseen a lot of programs but the Meridian House is really unique in a lot of ways. There’s just something magical that happens here.”