Partner Profile: Richard Winant
Richard Winant built his career in corporate software sales, and judging from the endorsements he’s compiled on his LinkedIn profile, he was pretty good at it. But, in 2011, after 6 years in recovery, the grind was no longer fulfilling. So he left his job at Oracle and took some time off while volunteering as a recovery coach. He was contemplating his next step when a childhood friend called, needing a ride from a treatment facility to a local sober house.
“When I dropped her off at the house, I met the manager, asked some questions, came home to my wife, and told her my prayers had been answered: I knew what I wanted to do now.”
The idea for Kelly House was born.
“The idea was to help 7 or 8 guys. But I wanted to do it differently than it was being done, which is to say, not go buy a 3-decker in a bad section of town, sign the purchase agreement on a Friday, open the doors on Monday, and call it a sober house. I wanted to do it the right way.”
Unfortunately, Richard and his wife soon discovered that buying a duplex in a nice neighborhood was cost-prohibitive. But one weekend, during a walk along the lake in Wakefield, the plan came together.
“Our daily walk route takes us past the old Kirkwood Nursing Home, which had closed 5 years earlier. Between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, a For Sale sign had been stuck in the lawn. I called the number from my cell phone while we were out, a gentleman answered, and we scheduled a walk-through on Sunday. I made an offer and they accepted. I have no other explanation than I believe in a higher power.”
Kelly House opened in 2013, and offers sober living to 29 men. The program is rigorous. Residents must attend at least four 12-step meetings a week; daily meetings if they don’t have a job. Admission is selective. “The house is like recovery itself. It’s something you have to want.”
In exchange, those who are willing to abide by house rules get a safe and affordable place to live and one-on-one support for all aspects of life. “I go to drug court with the guys, I help them with their resumes, I do role-playing to prep them for job interviews, and I’ll drive them to the interview if they don’t have a ride. We do regular individual check-ins. Most sober house owners just swing by on Friday to collect the rent. This is my full-time job, and I treat it that way.”
Winant also emphasizes communication. “I make all the young guys call their moms every day, and make the older guys call their wives. A lot of healing happens through communication, and there’s been little or no communication in these families for years. I also tell the wives and the moms to let me know if he doesn’t call or if she hears something that’s off,” trusting a woman’s intuition and a mother’s instinct to tip him off to early clues of relapse.
The waiting list for Kelly House would be a mile long, if Winant kept one. But rather than raise expectations unfairly, he refers callers to other trusted sober homes. “I treat every person that calls like family. I don’t refer people anywhere I don’t trust.”
To build this trusted referral network, Winant’s work with the Massachusetts Association of Sober Housing (MASH) – of which he is currently president – has come in handy. And if the association is successful with its most recent effort, that network will, hopefully, grow larger. Under Winant’s leadership, MASH created a certification system to improve the long-troubled sober-home culture in Massachusetts. The system rolled out this month, and while certification is voluntary, it is a requirement if a house wants to accept clients with court conditions – a huge percentage of the sober-home population. The program is on the Governor’s radar, Winant says, so it’s a policy experiment that people will be paying attention to, and hopefully will pay off.
While his work with clients can be draining -- and his tireless organizing for sober-home reform has, at times, been tiring – Winant says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Seeing the sparkle return to a man’s eye -- when those eyes were dead the day he came in – is incredibly rewarding. There’s an experience like no other when you’re not thinking about yourself anymore, but you’re reaching out to help someone else. Recovery is a program of action, and recovery really starts to take off when you help others.”
Read more articles from our January/February 2016 issue of our newsletter, "TheBuzz":
Massachusetts Lab Increases Capacity with Facility Move
My Story: I Gave Up a Kidney -- and Gained a Friend
Compassion in Action: Adopting Families for the Holidays; Polar Express
Event Educates, Unites Families Impacted by Addiction
From the Lab Bench: Not All Assays Are Created Equal
"Continuing Ed" with Ed Baker: Nice to Meet You!
Drug Trivia: Alcohol Use During Pregnancy
Patient Services News: Burlington Extends Hours; Rutland Ribbon-Cutting