Gary Murphy came to Vineyard House in July of 2006 with a broken marriage, taxes piled up, child support debt and a much bigger problem.
“I was a functional alcohol addict,” he said. “But I just got sick of being out there, and I wanted to give it one more try. I’ve been clean ever since.”
Just last month he left Vineyard House after serving as a house manager for five years.
“I didn’t know if I could be a house manager, but I decided to give it a shot anyway,” he said. “It turned out to be the best thing I could ever have done. I learned a lot about myself. I found out I was compassionate. I helped out a lot of people and they helped me out.”
Mr. Murphy is just one of more than 350 people who have taken residence at Vineyard House, a sober house for men and women in early recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Vineyard House will host its annual Water Tasting by the Sea fundraiser on Thursday, July 26 at the Boch family estate on Katama Bay from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Available for sipping will be Nestle’s blood orange and grapefruit sparkling beverages as well as L. Knife and Son’s Saratoga Spring water, to name a few. Tea Lane Caterers will be serving food and Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish will provide musical entertainment.
Mark Jenkins, president of the board of directors, said event proceeds go to operating the houses and providing case managers for the residents.
“The hard work is really done by our managers,” he said. “You’re a therapist, bouncer, rent collector, just a whole number of jobs rolled into one.”
Mr. Murphy said his manager Charlie Tucy helped him during his time as a resident, and pushed him to become a manager.
“He gave me that tough love,” Mr. Murphy said. “And I was in there for the right reasons. I did what was required of me, I started focusing on myself instead of everything around me.”
During his five years as a house manager, Mr. Murphy used firsthand experience to be supportive for each resident.
“It’s like being a plumber on call. You don’t know whether it’s going to be a leaky pipe or a full blown-furnace,” he said. “There would be times when I’d want to give up ‘cause I’d had enough. But then someone would come up to me from the house and thank me for saving their lives.
“It saved my life, too, you know. I wanted to return the favor.”
Vineyard House has three houses — two men’s houses with a capacity of 15, and one women’s house with a capacity of five. Mr. Jenkins said Vineyard House has acquired and owns 4.4 acres in Vineyard Haven where they hope in the near future to consolidate their facilities into one space.
“While these building have served us well and we’ve seen so many miracles take place in these houses, we have sort of outgrown them,” said Mr. Jenkins. “We’ve become victims of our own success.”
Vineyard House residents must have a job, pay rent, participate in a 12-step program, and submit to drug and alcohol testing. Not to mention they must go from living on their own terms to sharing rooms, chores and television remotes with the assortment of people in their house.
“There’s a huge spectrum in terms of ages and economic backgrounds,” said Mr. Jenkins. “Some people have never had a steady job while others have run large departments in big corporations. And now they are living in the same room together. They become friends and continue to be friends to help each other out.”
Mr. Jenkins said through Vineyard House, residents build up life skills and tools in order to avoid relapses.
“The Vineyard is a unique environment too, where it’s such a small community that you are going to run into the same people, and if your behaviors with those people aren’t necessarily the healthiest, then it’s easy to slip into it again,” said Mr. Jenkins. “That’s one of the reasons why Vineyard House is so important.”
The Vineyard is unique, too, with a rate of referral to state-run substance abuse treatment programs running 25 per cent above the statewide average. And 75 per cent of incarcerations at the Edgartown house of correction are for alcohol and drug-related incidents. According to the 2005 Health Report of Martha’s Vineyard, a tenth of the Vineyard population qualified as problem drinkers.
“It really is a community issue. Just as every community needs to have a hospital and a place for elderly people to live and a place for kids to go after school, we feel there needs to be sober housing,” said Mr. Jenkins. “So we aren’t just helping these guys, we are helping their families, their friends, their employers, their employees and the community.
Support for Vineyard House is evident in the range of donations for the silent auction this year at the water tasting. Donated items include a sunset sail for six on the schooner Charlotte, golfing for four at Farm Neck, a derby painting by Ray Ellis, and Red Sox tickets donated every year by Squash Meadow Construction Inc.
“One of the themes that runs through our organization is the support from the community,” said Mr. Jenkins. “We want people to understand the issue we are dealing with. Its by no means the most glamorous cause to support, but its one where if you have been touched by this issue, you know just exactly how important it is.”