Founders hope club aids those in addiction recovery

Years of planning resulted in the limited opening of the Oasis Community Recovery Club in downtown Shamokin. Board members are, from left, Tiffany Kaseman, secretary, Danielle Houtz, founder/president, Ethan Farrow, program director, Brandy Yasenchak, treasurer, Sue Long, vice president.

Editor’s note: The Daily Item will recognize people who have Made a Difference in the Valley in 2020 this week. This is the fourth part of a series that will continue until New Year’s Day.

Patience helped volunteers persist in opening the Valley’s only sober living social club and it’s what’s going to get them to the other side of one health crisis so that the Oasis Community Recovery Club can play a part in aiding another.

Oasis opened in Shamokin in November. The club is meant to offer a relaxed social atmosphere for people in drug and alcohol recovery. There will be special dinners, dances and movie nights. There will also be hours where Oasis is simply open for anyone in recovery to wander inside and find a quiet space or meet up with others maintaining sobriety.

“You can have a life outside of going to the bar, using, whatever,” said Ethan Farrow, a board officer with Oasis and someone who is in recovery. “Every person that I’ve talked to in recovery that has come here has been blown away.”

Oasis is located in the large basement of the American Legion building on Independence Street in downtown Shamokin. The building also is home to the public library. The basement had been renovated years ago for a short-lived teen nightclub. There remain pool tables, plush couches and chairs. Donors gave additional furniture and accents, books and shelves, board games and electronics.

Pandemic restrictions won’t presently allow the club to host social events but Oasis hasn’t been dormant. 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Nar-Anon have used the space for meetings. Volunteers with Oasis served takeout Thanksgiving dinner, an alternative to a previously planned get-together. Its Facebook page shares information about online meetings, naloxone distributions, inspirational messages and, eventually, scheduled events at the club.

“COVID has changed everything we thought we would start with. We’re doing the best we can,” said Danielle Houtz, the board member who initiated the effort to create Oasis after visiting a recovery club with her brother in Lancaster.

COVID-19 stole the world’s attention in 2020. Seemingly lost was attention paid to the nation’s addiction crisis which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has never been deadlier.

Provisional data studied by the federal agency found that more than 81,000 people died in the U.S. of a fatal overdose in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

There’s a Christmas tree inside Oasis. It’s decorated with white balls on which people wrote the names of loved ones lost to addiction or inspirational words for those still around to get the message. Those messages were scrawled at the club’s inaugural walk/run fundraiser in 2019.

Sue Long, a board member, said she has many relatives in recovery. Support is essential, she said.

“We lost so many (lives) but we’re here to help those who are here right now,” Long said.

Houtz said there were many hangups to overcome before finally establishing Oasis, namely finding a location. Momentum is building. Oasis got work that the city waived rent temporarily for building tenants due to the pandemic. The club received a grant from Northumberland County to support rent payments when they eventually come due. Support from the Geisinger Foundation will sponsor free community meals on Sundays for six months, likely takeout for the time being.

Board members were surprised by the public reception, by and large, they’ve received. They didn’t sense much in the way of stigma. It’s almost routine for people to drop by the salon where Houtz works and donate money to the cause, she said.

“So many families have been affected that so many people are looking at us as hope,” Houtz said.

Oasis isn’t a treatment center. It’s specific in its mission: helping those in recovery readjust to social life. But there will be information available on-site directing anyone about how to find specialized help.

Tiffany Kaseman, a board member, envisions Oasis offering daily meetings, tutoring some days, yoga classes and social events. The club is but one piece of a broader puzzle that still needs assembling. She said housing and jobs are needed for those starting fresh.

“We’ve got the patience. We’ve proven that. We can get past this pandemic,” Kaseman said.

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