An alternative treatment option

More than 140 residents have lived at the Potter County Women's Recovery Center since 2014; 93 since 2017, when Northern Tier Children's Home, Inc. assumed full administrative responsibilities. Ultimately, the mission of the center is “to serve women and their families by providing effective programs and services that foster personal responsibility and healthy lifestyles, resulting in safer and stronger communities.”

For more than five years, women in Potter County who have mental health or addiction needs, or who have been criminally convicted, have had the benefit of the Potter County Women’s Recovery Center.

“(The center) allows women to get the help they need while building a new support system (and) to go on to be productive in society,” Center Program Supervisor Matt Shimkanin said.

After 18 months of planning by commissioners, judges, the district attorney and state police, as well as mental health and drug and alcohol services staff, the vision of the center was realized, said Jim Kockler, Potter County Human Services administrator.

Located on SR-49 in Harrison Valley, the center is a residential treatment facility for mothers and other women who have specific needs which the center can meet, including women who were convicted of a crime and sentenced to confinement.

Shimkanin said those who are criminally charged are given the choice between confinement in jail/prison or at the center. Kockler said one advantage of women choosing the center is they can either keep their current health insurance or the center will help them acquire insurance, alleviating county tax dollars from paying for their health care. Another advantage, Kockler said, is not merely being punished, but being helped to overcome the issues that may have lead to the conviction and confinement.

“It’s more rehabilitative than punitive,” Kockler said, noting that those who are incarcerated have a higher risk of recidivism.

“We’re trying to make them better people, not better criminals,” Kockler said.

According to the brochure, services made available to center residents include mental health therapy, drug and alcohol counseling, employment services, parenting classes, general education programs, life skills, computer skills, nutrition classes and educational programs, including GED instruction.

“We hammer the heck out of them with treatment,” Kockler said.

Staff members are also available to teach financial planning/budgeting, how to develop healthy relationships and offer trauma therapy; in fact, Shimkanin said staff members are trained in master-level trauma awareness to help them understand how to work with residents who come from traumatic backgrounds and experiences.

Every resident has the same, ultimate goal: to complete the program and utilize the skills they acquire, as residents, on the outside. Shimkanin said it’s rewarding when he hears about success stories or runs into former residents who are reaping the benefits of the program in society. Though unable to share specifics because of confidentiality, Fern Burdick, center administrator, said she and other staff have had reports from agencies and individuals that state many who have completed the program are still clean, sober, have custody of their children, are working, etc. On average, over the last five years, between five and 10 program graduates returned to the facility.

“It’s up to them to make good choices when they leave,” Burdick said.

Residents adhere to a broad schedule of activities, both in and out of the facility, all in an effort to meet their individual goals. Burdick said their schedules include cleaning and other household chores, meal planning, shopping and cooking the meals, which are served family style. Some residents have had their own vehicles, some with jobs on the outside and sometimes the center will house a mother and her newborn to toddler-aged children. Kockler said the facility was designed so that children under school-age, in the “bonding years” could live with mom at the center.

Currently, 10 women reside in the center. In 2017, the facility had its highest capacity to date — 17 — but can house up to 22 single residents or 44 doubled-up. More than 140 residents have lived at the center; 93 since 2017, when Northern Tier Children’s Home, Inc. assumed full administrative responsibilities. Ultimately, the mission of the center is “to serve women and their families by providing effective programs and services that foster personal responsibility and healthy lifestyles, resulting in safer and stronger communities.”

In other words, Kockler said those who complete the program “get a new lease on life.”