Barbara Gillmeister knows what it's like to worry about a child with an opioid addiction.
"When you have someone who is actively using [drugs], you're always waiting for that phone call," she recalls.
Unfortunately, Barbara and her husband David did get a devastating phone call. Their son, Steven, known as "Gilly" to his friends, died of a heroin overdose at the age of 25, after struggling with drug addiction for years.
"If I can help a few people, that makes all the work we've done worthwhile."-Barbara Gillmeister
"Steven had a warm heart. He lit up a room with his smile," Barbara says. "He was so generous and made everyone, no matter who walked through the door, feel welcome."
After Steven passed away, the Gillmeisters opened a residential home, or "sober house." Gilly's House is for young men who have struggled with addiction and want to continue their recovery.
Thanks to donations from family and friends, they opened Gilly's House with support from the SAFE Coalition, a regional coalition of community partners in Western Norfolk County, Massachusetts.
Gilly's House offers a stable and safe environment for newly sober young men in their 20s or 30s who are in recovery. Residents participate in self-help groups and 12-step group meetings, and are assisted with setting and achieving goals to help transition to community life.
"Our goal is to have these young men leave here with the tools they need to make it on their own," Barbara says.
From cooking, to paying bills, to light carpentry, cleaning, and other life skills, Gilly's House also offers opportunities for social, educational, and vocational growth.
A daily structured schedule reinforces a lifestyle free of alcohol and drug use.
"Once you are sober, if you don't have skills to take care of yourself when you leave Gilly's House, you are apt to fall back to old patterns," Barbara says.
Each resident must be sober for at least 40 days, employed, and follow strict house rules, including a curfew.
The young men receive a furnished bedroom, toiletries, and a fully stocked kitchen to cook their own meals.
Almost all of the amenities are donated or funded by families of opioid addicts and friends.
"It seems that everyone has experienced a loved one or someone close in their lives with drug addiction, and so many people give back in the most amazing ways," Barbara says.
After Gilly passed away, Barbara thought she would never have anything to do with drugs and addiction."It seems that everyone has experienced a loved one or someone close in their lives with drug addiction, and so many people give back in the most amazing ways," Barbara says.
"Now I am surrounded by people who have lost children and want to help others," she says. "It's overwhelming. If I can help a few people, that makes all the work we've done worthwhile."