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Opening the door to recovery

Gilly's House

A tragedy in the life of Barbara and David Gillmeister led to the opening of Gilly’s House, a sober recovery house for men, honoring the memory of their late son. Shaw’s supports this nonprofit through the GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program.

Tell us about Gilly’s House.

My son Steven, known as Gilly to all his friends, passed away in 2016 from a drug overdose. He was so happy and friendly. He knew so many people and loved to make them smile and laugh. My husband and I knew we had to make something positive out of all of this, something to honor his memory.

We decided to open a sober recovery house for men. The doors of Gilly’s House opened in May of 2018. The interesting part of this is what we found out after we purchased the large home that now houses Gilly’s House. This house used to be a nursing home but was vacant for 17 years before we bought it. The house lies between our home and the home of Steven’s childhood best friend. This friend informed us that when he and Steven were around 12 years old, they used to walk past this empty house all the time. Often, they would stop in front of it and say, “Wow, if we had all the money in the world, what would we do with this house?” I knew I did the right thing after hearing this story.

We can have up to 21 men staying in the house at one time, and their ages will vary from 18 to 65, which is what we have right now. It is for men who have started their recovery and want to continue with long-term recovery. Addiction knows no bounds; it can affect anyone. We’ve had residents with wives, families and homes, to young guys just graduating. Nothing happens overnight; you’re in recovery for the rest of your life. Gilly’s House is for men who want to keep recovering in a safe, sober, structured environment.

Addiction knows no bounds; it can affect anyone…nothing happens overnight; you’re in recovery for the rest of your life.

What services do you provide to the community?

This is a nonprofit sober house, which you do not often see. We also have staff 24 hours a day. These staff members are in long-term recovery, so there is always someone there for the guys to talk to who understands what they are going through. Gilly’s House is an AA-structured home, meaning support is always available whenever needed.

When someone comes into our house, they receive all the necessary bedding, towels and toiletries they will need. We also provide food; meals are brought in some nights, and at other times, our refrigerator and freezer are packed. The residents may take and make whatever they want to eat.

Through community support, collections of items happen often. The house receives donations of things like detergent, dish soap and shampoo. All sorts of necessities help support these individuals while they recover.

The house has a very homey atmosphere, and we receive a tremendous amount of support from the community. For example, three times a week, someone from the public generously signs up to make a meal for the house. Often, people have lost someone from addiction or know someone in recovery and want to be a part of the support.

What sets Gilly’s House apart from other nonprofits in your community?

The fact that there are barely any other nonprofit sober houses out there sets us apart. When we purchased the home, we knew it would need much work inside and out. There was so much volunteer support from all over. We quickly realized that lots of people came to tell their stories. They knew this was a safe place where nobody would judge or say, “You must have been a bad parent” or “You did something wrong.” These people somehow knew, even though they didn’t know us, that this was a safe place to come and talk about addiction. Through the renovation process, Gilly’s House became a place for healing in many ways that go beyond the men who stay here.

We do a few other things to try and fill the void. Every month we have something called Supper for Siblings. This is an event for siblings who have lost a brother or sister to addiction. Dinner is provided, and a support meeting is facilitated by an individual who also lost a sibling.

Another outreach we offer is a Mom’s Luncheon for mothers who have lost a child. This year’s lunch will have 80 women participating. We try to make it a space to cry and laugh and have a beautiful lunch served. Guest speakers come with activities, and each luncheon has a theme. This year the theme is “Move Forward and Upcycle Your Life,” so the activity revolves around that.

A considerable portion of what we do is to help people not get stuck in their grief. The truth is that they will have it for the rest of their lives, so we want to help people move forward in their grief and learn to deal with it.

 Gilly’s House is out there in public because it’s essential to talk and help reduce the stigma around addiction-caused traumas. So much of the lack of discussion causes even more grief for people.

Gilly’s House is out there in public because it’s essential to talk and help reduce the stigma around addiction-caused traumas.

Tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.

One of our residents was homeless in Boston for eight years. He had a job but couldn’t find a place to live, which drove him in the wrong direction. He would say, “There’s no reason I should be alive.” He came to Gilly’s House and has been here for almost two years. This young man has now gotten his license, bought a car and held a good job. He said, “I can’t believe I’m in this space now. I just would’ve never believed I could do this.” There are several stories just like this, and it is so wonderful to be a part of them.

I know we have graduates of the program who have gone on to lead extraordinary lives. We stay in touch as much as people want us to, and the door is always open for those guys. It’s so rewarding to have individuals come back for a visit so we can see how amazing they are doing.

Another story I would like to share is about why each one of our rooms is so unique. When we bought the house and were working on it, a couple came in one day and asked if we would consider allowing them to decorate a room in memory of their child that they lost to addiction. Our answer was an immediate, “Yes!” Every room in Gilly’s House has been decorated and named in memory of someone lost due to addiction.

That couple decorated the room with a fishing theme because their son loved to fish, and another room was designed in the Boston Bruins colors. Each one is personalized to the memory of a particular person. The rooms became a way for people to feel like they were doing something. They may not be able to help their children anymore, but they can try and help someone else’s. It was a beautifully therapeutic process.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

I am most proud that we’re so well accepted in our community. We have an excellent reputation in town, which is remarkable for us. When we started this process, people were skeptical, but we educated them and proved we could be an asset to the community.

Gilly’s House has integrated well and does lots of outreach projects. We work closely with local schools doing presentations and having students come to the house and help cook dinners. The acceptance and collaboration with our community have been great to experience.

What do you want people to know about Gilly’s House?

I want people to know we’re here as a resource. No one should ever call Gilly’s House and leave the conversation without knowing what their next step should be. Maybe our home is not suitable for them, but we always want to give plenty of resource information to help steer them in the right direction. Traversing the system to find help can be complicated, so whatever little bit we can do to help someone makes all the difference.

It is also essential that people know we are a nonprofit that thrives on the kindness of others’ donations. A contribution is received within hours if we post a need on our website. It is so great and just amazing to see. 

How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?

It does cost to live at Gilly’s House. The men pay a weekly fee. Occasionally somebody will come needing to stay here and recover who has been homeless without a job or in between positions. Getting a job and then receiving a paycheck takes a little time. So, we have a scholarship fund for when one of our residents needs assistance covering their fee. The funds raised in Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program go into our scholarship fund. This money helps these residents stay in recovery and live better lives.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Gilly’s House is proud of what we’ve accomplished. We love giving tours to anyone interested. It lends itself to the conversation of recovery and what it takes. Educating people whenever we can is something we love to do, and it’s so important to move forward.

Barbara Gillmeister is co-founder of Gilly’s House. Here, Barbara is pictured with her late son Steven, or Gilly, namesake of Gilly’s House.