It began as a result of individuals who had been struggling 50 years in the past wanted somebody to speak to.
From that want sprouted a grassroots group, which turned referred to as Headrest, was one of many Higher Valley’s most well-known nonprofit organizations, the place 1000’s of individuals experiencing psychological well being crises and substance use problems discovered solace.
“Twenty-four/seven, they might have somebody who would hearken to them — not repair them — after which assist them make choices that may assist them get out of the area they had been in,” stated Donlon Wade, one of many group’s founders. “Generally we had been planting the seed, and typically we made an unimaginable distinction with only a cellphone name.”
Within the half-century since, the group has undergone numerous modifications, together with increasing its drug and alcohol remedy applications, working with space companies to assist these in restoration discover employment and turning into a part of the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline Community.
However at its core, “the mission of Headrest has by no means modified,” stated Cameron Ford, who has served as govt director for 4 years. “The concept is we assist people who find themselves in disaster.”
A type of folks is Karl Coleman, who arrived at Headrest’s “low-intensity” residential program in February 2019 after finishing a program at a 30-day residential facility. “Remedy didn’t ever actually work out too effectively for me, so I actually took a leap of religion,” Coleman, 32, stated about attending the 90-day program at Headrest.
After he had spent a few weeks on the Church Avenue constructing in downtown Lebanon, Lori Bartlett, vocational employment specialist in Headrest’s Alternatives for Work program, began speaking to him about constructing a resume and making use of for jobs.
“I hadn’t labored in fairly a while and each job that I did have, I simply type of threw away. It appeared like a frightening job for me to discover a job,” Coleman stated. “She was batting for me the entire time and it was simply life-changing for me.”
He washed home windows in a seasonal job. Then, a few yr in the past, Coleman began working at Tractor Provide. Now, he’s an assistant supervisor.
“I simply use the instruments Headrest taught me. To at all times push by way of and never hand over on one thing that I need,” Coleman stated. “There’s a higher life on the opposite aspect of worry.”
In the summertime of 1970, Hill Anderson, a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1970, proposed beginning a hotline for college students who had been struggling. Wade, who was dwelling close to campus and dealing a building job on the time, signed on to assist. The group was named Headrest after volunteer Tamar Smith leaned her head again on a automotive seat whereas getting back from a visit to the College of New Hampshire to study a hotline that was beginning there.
The volunteer group additionally acquired recommendation from Dartmouth’s Psychiatry Division and was given area within the basement of a faculty constructing.
When the hotline went dwell in January 1971, its organizers thought it will primarily serve Dartmouth college students who had been struggling, or possibly coming off dangerous journeys from LSD.
“It led to the invention of wants that weren’t being met by the medical, psychological well being system,” stated Jim Rubens, who was with Headrest in its earliest days earlier than leaving the group and returning to chair the board within the Nineteen Eighties.
Younger individuals who had been utilizing medicine had been reluctant to go to a medical facility as a result of they had been afraid of the influence that their experimentation would have on their futures.
“Even when you’re not doing something unlawful, the impression one will get of psychological well being providers on the time may be very institutional. The danger of being locked up, of being quote-unquote ‘cared for by establishments,’ the place scenes come to the thoughts like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” stated Rubens, a former Republican state senator from Etna. “We wished a spot the place folks might get assist, risk-free, instantly, from individuals who care. Not an establishment.”
Whereas the group had a good quantity of help from Dartmouth, Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital and the larger Higher Valley neighborhood, others dismissed the younger folks — and their lengthy hair — who had been main Headrest.
“They thought it was a bunch of drug-crazed hippies,” stated Wade, who spent 31 years at Headrest earlier than leaving to kind a personal observe. “It wasn’t.”
The time period “counter-culture” was thought of virtually derogatory, however the strategies they used — figuring out a neighborhood want and pulling a gaggle of volunteers collectively to deal with it — prevail in the present day.
“It’s a approach of organizing neighborhood and human relationships now deemed elemental to wholesome societies,” Rubens stated.
After a yr at Dartmouth, Headrest moved to Financial institution Avenue in Lebanon. That set off a interval the place the group moved seven occasions in seven years, typically resulting from neighbors who objected to the shoppers who got here to Headrest, Wade stated. On the time, it additionally served as a spot for individuals who had been detoxing or had nowhere else to go. In 1978, Wade’s father bought a house at 14 Church St. for Headrest for $27,000. The group paid the mortgage, with the settlement that it will ultimately buy the house, which Headrest did.
The nonprofit now additionally has its administrative workplaces and a few outpatient providers at a constructing on the campus of Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon.
When Veronica Colby began answering calls at Headrest within the mid-Nineteen Eighties, the hotline was situated within the kitchen within the house on Financial institution Avenue. She labored full time for a cellphone firm in White River Junction through the day and labored nights at Headrest to assist her daughters pay for faculty. She was instantly struck by the way in which the employees handled individuals who had been in disaster.
“There was one thing about the way in which they interacted with the shoppers, the respect and so forth that they confirmed them,” stated Colby, who spent 15 years at Headrest. It was one thing she hadn’t witnessed earlier than. “That was an actual eye-opener for me.”
Colby labored alongside Gina Capossela, who joined Headrest in 1988. Throughout her dozen years there, Capossela took calls on the hotline and helped set up suicide prevention applications in space faculty districts. The calls would run the gamut from folks considering suicide, survivors of home violence and family members who had been involved in regards to the psychological well being of a member of the family. The night time hours had been particularly busy for the hotline as a result of callers wanted somebody to speak to when their household and pals had been asleep.
“There actually was nothing else,” Capossela stated, including that well being care suppliers at emergency rooms didn’t essentially have time to spend hours on the cellphone with somebody who was in disaster. “We had been the individuals who awakened at 2 a.m. and talked two, three hours, the place we had been speaking somebody out of committing suicide.”
Headrest’s present hotline supervisor, Al Carbonneau, who has labored at Headrest on and off since 2002, stated he was drawn to the work as a result of he wished to assist people who find themselves in disaster.
“It may be draining at occasions, however each from time to time you hear from somebody about what a distinction you’ve made of their lives or they name and thank the hotline as a result of they’re nonetheless alive,” he stated.
Whereas the character of the calls has usually stayed the identical all through the years, Carbonneau stated because the COVID-19 pandemic started they’ve acquired extra calls from younger folks experiencing anxiousness or despair.
The prevention a part of the hotline is essential: It’s serving to folks earlier than they’re on the verge of making an attempt suicide.
“When folks name, whether or not we consider if it’s a disaster or not, they consider it’s a disaster, and that’s what now we have to recollect. We’ve to fulfill them the place they’re at,” Carbonneau stated. “It’s extra about getting them to settle down and assist them determine the best way to get by way of what they’re going by way of.”
Within the early years, those that volunteered and labored for Headrest took on quite a few roles: They went out of state to obtain coaching in psychological well being and drug counseling. They turned fundraisers and grant writers. Wade gave displays in entrance of city boards the place he cited the variety of residents Headrest assisted whereas asking for funding. When cash was tight, neighborhood members stepped as much as contribute financially and volunteer.
“We discovered that there’s numerous actually unimaginable folks locally who wished to present their vitality,” Wade stated. “That was a present. It turned my neighborhood.”
When Mike Cryans turned govt director of Headrest in 2004, he recognized funding as its greatest problem.
“Early on, I discovered fairly shortly that cash was the hardest half,” stated Cryans, who was a banker by commerce. “I used to jokingly say if I can discover the cash, there’s loads of individuals who might do good work there.”
Throughout Cryans’ time at Headrest, the group labored with the Grafton County’s drug courtroom, which introduced in extra funding, as did block grants from the state. Fundraisers just like the annual Rail Path Ramble additionally helped. However one of many greatest modifications was when New Hampshire expanded Medicaid in 2014, stated Laurie Harding, a member of the Headrest board. That allowed Headrest to invoice for substance use dysfunction remedy and “change into just a little extra of an accepted a part of the well being care system as a substitute of an outlier,” she stated. One other change was the power to prescribe medication-assisted remedy to folks with substance use dysfunction.
In the present day, Headrest has a $2.2 million funds, round 25 staff and is house to each residential and outpatient remedy applications, together with different applications serving to folks with restoration, employment or regaining a driver’s license after a DWI conviction, a part of a continuum of look after its shoppers.
It additionally continues to function its 24/7 crisis-suicide hotline, though now it’s staffed by paid staff as a substitute of volunteers.
Those that had been with Headrest from the earliest days won’t have been in a position to undertaking its longevity, however they knew they had been constructing a spot the place folks from all walks of life can discover others who will pay attention and assist them with out judgment.
Wade is happy how the group he helped set up has grown, however he additionally stated the wants are nice. “The deficits, there’s simply not sufficient of Headrests round,” Wade stated.
Liz Sauchelli will be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.