Amethyst House director: ‘When you’re ready, we’re here’
Mark DeLong believes in second chances. And third chances. Or as many as it takes someone battling addiction to find their way.
DeLong is executive director of Amethyst House, a Bloomington, Ind.-based nonprofit and United Way of Monroe County member agency that for nearly 40 years has provided a supportive, nonjudgmental space for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction or gambling issues.
The agency’s ultimate goal is to help people build a foundation for clean, sober, healthy living through both in- and out-patient services, and the staff, board members, and alums of Amethyst House form a supportive community.
DeLong said that not everyone is ready to change when they first come in. Amethyst House, though, sees recidivism in a different light than many other places do. “We’ve seen people come back who say, ‘I felt respected and supported here, and I feel like I’m ready now.’ Our job is just to keep building hope, believing in them, and letting them know, ‘When you’re ready, we’re here.’”
Over the years, Amethyst House has increasingly partnered with other United Way member agencies including Shalom House, MiddleWay House, and Hoosier Hills Food Bank. And the increasing opioid epidemic has brought Bloomington’s nonprofit agencies even closer together, DeLong said.
The National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among the more than 72,000 deaths estimated in 2017, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to opioids. While Indiana’s opioid addiction rate went up 20 percent overall in 2017, the rates in Monroe County actually decreased, a strong indicator that Bloomington’s collaborative efforts such as harm reduction, needle exchange, and Naloxone distribution makes a difference. “The epidemic has really forced us all to realize we’re not going to solve things by ourselves,” he said. “We have to come together as a community.”
One of the most heartening parts of the job is getting to see people who’ve struggled for years or even decades learn how to have fun sober. Amethyst House now has recreational enhancement funds and actively intervenes before the weekend to help clients make weekend plans. “We say, ‘OK, here are activities you can be doing, here’s somebody in the program you can meet up with on Friday afternoon for a meeting, and maybe then you can go rock climbing.’ One client wanted to take singing lessons, so we gave him money to take singing lessons every week. Maybe for somebody who’s an alcoholic wants to take his kids to lunch and a movie on Saturday and maybe has never been sober with his kids.”
The name Amethyst is symbolic. The ancient Greeks believed that the semi-precious purple stone would prevent people from getting intoxicated; today, the stone is popular among people recovering from and healing from addiction.
DeLong continues to feel optimistic about the growing number of those in recovery who can support those entering treatment programs. “Bloomington is probably the best recovery community in Indiana,” he said. “Not only do we get people locally, we get people from all over the state and a lot of our success stories end up living in Bloomington because it’s such a great place to figure out how to get clean and sober.”