ELLSWORTH, Maine — A substance abuse recovery center in Ellsworth has received $50,000 from the state after Gov. Paul LePage directed the money be spent from a discretionary fund he controls.
The grant comes after LePage met in June with Open Door Recovery Center officials and graduates of its substance-abuse programs.
“I think he was really touched by the stories he heard from the graduates of Open Door,” said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett on Wednesday.
Any given week, the center serves between 20 and 40 clients from Hancock, Washington and Penobscot counties, said executive director Barbara Royal. The group also provides treatment to prisoners at Hancock County Jail and works in area schools.
She said the gift is a boon for the organization, but that it’s a drop in the bucket of what the group needs to become whole after the economic recession that kicked off four years ago.
“We’re drastically understaffed and underfunded,” she said. “Our family program is not running right now. When you look at the big picture, at the holes that are here just because there isn’t enough money to sustain programs, you’ll see this is a big chunk of money, but we need to continue bringing in donations.”
For example, Royal said the center needs to bring in about $150,000 before it can reopen Hill House, its residential treatment center that closed two years ago. Hill House gave women struggling with substance and alcohol abuse — and their children — a place to live while they recovered.
“When it’s up and running, it’s staffed 24 hours a day,” Royal said. “Over a period of four years, we served 30 women and their babies, who resided there and received treatment.”
But Royal said the need for further fundraising does not diminish the gratitude she feels for LePage taking an interest in the organization.
“When he asked me, ‘What can I do to help?’ I could tell he meant it,” she said. “He was with [program graduates] for more than a half-hour, just listening to them tell their stories and talk about their treatment.”
A recent tax filing by the group shows the financial stress the center is facing. During fiscal year 2012, the group’s expenses outpaced revenue by about $134,000. The group still provided 1,150 client days that year. And Royal said that the center never turns away clients for the lack of ability to pay.
“We serve Hancock and Washington counties, the two hardest-hit counties in the country in terms of opiate abuse,” Royal said. “And we’re underfunded. This [donation] sends a message to the community, that we’re worth it.”
“These individuals are committed to changing their lives for the better, and this program helps to do that,” LePage said in a statement Tuesday.
LePage also announced that $100,000 would be directed from the contingency fund to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. The governor, who grew up in a home with a violent father, has made domestic violence prevention one of his signature social issues since being elected governor in 2010.
This year, he’s also directed $50,000 be spent on relief for the victims of fires in Lewiston, $44,000 for suicide prevention and awareness, and $18,000 to expand the use of electronic monitoring for domestic violence perpetrators.
The emergency contingency fund is a pot of public money from which the governor, at his discretion, may donate up to $300,000 per year benefit Mainers. Bennett said LePage has opted to direct large sums of money to a handful of groups that need it, rather than smaller amounts to a wider range of groups.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.