Megan*, a vibrant 31 year-old, is no stranger to alcohol abuse or recovery programs. On two occasions, the former art student went through the Emerson House residential program for women at Gosnold Treatment Center in Falmouth. After her first stay, she returned home, where alcohol was still being used heavily. She ended up drinking again—and heading back to Emerson House. Megan’s post-treatment housing options were more dismal the second time, since she was facing surgery for pancreatitis caused by her drinking. “I knew I would have to be on pain meds and a lot of sober houses wouldn’t take me in,” she says.
Megan is grateful she connected with William “Bill” Dougherty, founder and executive director of an innovative support organization for women called Recovery Without Walls in Falmouth. Dougherty helped Megan find housing, paid the security deposit, and assisted with transportation to doctors’ visits. She says, “That was huge for me, knowing I had a safe place to go and basically putting a sense of structure underneath me.” Now Megan is rebuilding her life: she volunteers at Recovery without Walls, attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and is working on returning to school, possibly for a degree in art therapy.
Dougherty saw a need for continuing support services, like those that gave Megan a foothold, after working in the substance-abuse field for over 20 years, including five years spent working in a transitional facility for men and women. “I came to see a lot of women do well in treatment, but ongoing outpatient case-management services didn’t exist,” Dougherty says. With his wife’s financial support, Dougherty founded Recovery Without Walls in March 2006.
“With women, recovery is harder,” Dougherty explains. “The jobs aren’t there and safe housing is almost impossible. We try to put structure under people and in return for that, people volunteer to help us. We’re a nonprofit training program.” Instead of the 15 to 20 women a year Dougherty initially estimated the organization would serve, he’s seeing eight a month. “Not only was the need there, it was what we thought it was times ten,” he says.
Funding comes from three annual sports events and grants, which former clients play a significant role in developing. After leaving Emerson House, Julie* received assistance from Recovery Without Walls—including help getting a car—and she now volunteers in the office, recruiting golf tournament sponsors and creating brochures. “I’ve learned a lot here, working the computers and running the golf tournament,” she says. “I want to work in nonprofits and this has taught me a lot about the business.” Dougherty sees the efforts of clients-turned-volunteers as a pay-it-forward benefit. “Julie getting more sponsorship has opened up new areas of the Cape and changed the face of Recovery Without Walls,” he says. “In a year, she could be working successfully in any nonprofit organization.”
Keeping Recovery Without Wall’s program personal while it continues to grow is a challenge, Dougherty says. Charlotte*, another volunteer who has transitioned to sober living, adds, “We want to make sure each of the women is helped in a unique way.”
In 2009, Dougherty received a Heroes Award for Community Impact/Community Service from the Cape Cod and Islands chapter of the American Red Cross, but his work with the organization has been more than an award winner. For Megan, Julie, Charlotte, and countless others, Recovery Without Walls has given a gift of hope.
*Names have been changed.