Johnson project aims to provide shelter, work for people in recovery

Published: Feb. 27, 2020 at 5:28 PM EST
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The battle against opioid addiction has many fronts -- from prevention to law enforcement to treatment. Our Ike Bendavid has the story of one Vermont couple that has made it their special mission to provide jobs and shelter to people fighting to stay clean.

From the outside, the historic building on Main Street in Johnson stands out for its character. But inside, dirty dishes and old equipment from the restaurant that called it home make it look abandoned.

"It was a coffee shop. It just needs a little love," said Greg Tatro, who along with his wife Dawn, have bought the property with big plans. "We purchased it knowing it's going to take some work."

They plan to turn the building into a sober home and place of employment for people recovering from opioid addiction.

"When people get out of in-patient, they need a safe place to live. The second step to that is that they need a safe place to work," Tatro said.

On the ground floor they have plans to renovate the old coffee shop. Upstairs, there are enough rooms for at least six women who will also be the employees.

"Our goal is to have people come here, get stabilized, get used to working, then go work somewhere else," Tatro said.

He says their wages will vary and that they will pay rent. They will have to apply for the jobs and rooms and that there is no timetable for how long they might stay.

"Some people will be settled in and ready to go in a couple months and other people are going to take six to eight months," Tatro said.

"There was very little discussion about -- 'Not in my back yard.' I would say there was none," said Johnson Selectman Douglas Molde.

The selectboard recently gave its full support to the project, applying for a $500,000 community development block grant on behalf of the future sober home and cafe.

Molde says this will be important for the town by giving people a place to stop and grab coffee while also helping those who are trying to recover. "I think this fits a substantial need of our state and community," he said.

The rest of the renovations will be paid for by donations and Tatro's own money.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Will this be sustainable?

Greg Tatro: That's the whole idea, to make this sustainable.

Tatro's nonprofit, Jenna's Promise, is named after their daughter who died from an overdose one year ago. Tatro says Jenna made a promise to them that when she got better, they would help people in recovery.

"We are taking Jenna's promise and we are going to run with it," Tatro said.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: What do you think Jenna would think of this?

Greg Tatro: Oh, I think Jenna would be pretty proud of this. We wish she was here working with us.

They hope to have construction done in about a year.

They also renovated a nearby church with the goal to be a safe haven and event space for those in recovery. They recently hosted their first sober dinner.