MINDY HARRISON and fellow staff member Patrick Metro are working to bring Amistad’s programming and services to Bath. NATHAN STROUT / THE TIMES RECORD

MINDY HARRISON and fellow staff member Patrick Metro are working to bring Amistad’s programming and services to Bath. NATHAN STROUT / THE TIMES RECORD


A Portland organization is expanding into Bath to help those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.

In mid-July, Amistad’s Peer Learning Community opened its doors in the First Baptist Church. Amistad has been doing this work in Portland since 1982.

“We’re coming into this with a lot of experience,” said Mindy Harrison, who oversees The Peer Support Specialist Network of Maine and the new Bath location.

Amistad is already offering a number of peer support groups that address a number of problems people are facing. So far, Amistad in Bath has scheduled or is working to schedule a weekly “alternatives to suicide” group, a biweekly human voices network, parenting classes, a trans and ally support group, cover letter and resume workshops, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and self-discovery groups.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Harrison. “It’s still evolving. We’ve brought in some of our experiences from the Portland location.”

While initial offerings are all time-tested programs from the Portland location, Harrison said they are still trying to understand what the community needs most from them. Over time, she said, Amistad would learn what works best for Bath and adjust accordingly. To that end, the organization is holding monthly community meetings to gather input.

“None of our hours or programming are set in stone,” said Harrison.

The space is open for people to come in, find help and get support.

When dealing with mental health issues or substance abuse, it’s not always clear where one should turn for help, and the further one gets away from service center communities like Lewiston or Portland, the fewer services are available.

In Bath, there’s been a growing effort to provide the institutional support individuals need to deal with mental health issues and substance abuse. Over the past two years, the Midcoast Community Alliance has become a center of collaboration on mental health issues with a focus on community youths. Still, support lags behind places like Portland and even neighboring Brunswick.

The new Bath location has been in the works for a while now, and is made possible through a state grant calling for new substance abuse peer-support and recovery centers. The grant required that any new center be at least 30 miles away from any large service centers like Portland, Lewiston and Bangor. Bath fit the bill.

“One of our values is providing low barrier services to people regardless of insurance, and it’s just not available. And that’s what these places offer to people,” said Harrison.

But for Harrison, bringing Amistad to Bath was more than just a logistical decision. Harrison is from the Bath area herself. She graduated from Morse High School in 2002.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I was an at-risk youth in the community here, and there wasn’t a lot for me. I ended up out on my own at 15, got wrapped up with the wrong people,” said Harrison. “A goal of mine has always been to come back and provide services to the community.”

Amistad is also opening another center in Boothbay.

The grants focus on addressing substance abuse issues, not mental health, but the issues are interrelated. Those affected by mental illness are three times as likely to develop a substance abuse issue, according to a 2015 Maine DHHS report. A 2017 fact sheet from the department estimates that 61,000 Mainers have an alcohol use disorder, and 7,000 Mainers 12 and older reported using heroin in the past year.

Most of the Amistad staff has been affected by substance abuse or mental illness in the past, including Harrison herself, she said.

“That’s kind of what makes us different. You’re getting support from people who’ve been there,” she said. “And if they can’t identify with your particular experience they can at least identify with all the underlying emotions and pain and struggles that go on.”

The state contract runs through 2022. After that, the contract might be put out for bid or simply extended, depending priorities of the next administration and Legislature, said Harrison.

At the moment, Harrison says the group see five to 10 people coming in per day. Eventually, she’d like to see 50 unique individuals per week once Amistad has settled in and adjusted to the community.

“This is a community thing,” said Harrison. “We really want to hear from people and see how we can collaborate with our community partners and invested people and make this work.”

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