Interim House celebrates its 40th anniversary of offering a “safe place to heal”

Thirteen years ago, Toni Montier didn’t think she’d be where she is today.

“When my addiction took off, I lost everything,” Montier said, “and by the time I arrived at Interim House, I had gotten so far away from me that I had lost all faith in my ability to get my life together on my own.”

As an alumna of Interim House, a program dedicated to empowering women recovering from substance abuse, Montier has done more than obtain multiple collegiate degrees. She now serves as the Director of Housing for a non-profit provider of drug, alcohol and mental-health services.

“I started at Gaudenzia 11 years ago as the executive assistant to the president and now I’m the housing director. I would not have been able to get to where I am today had it not been for the strong staff and support at Interim House,” Montier said. “This program saved my life.”

Montier will receive the 2011 Distinguished Alumna Award at Interim House’s 40th year anniversary celebration this Thursday.

Founded in 1971, Interim House is the oldest residential and outpatient substance-abuse treatment program for women in Pennsylvania and one of the first programs of its kind on the East Coast.

The program’s director, Kathy Wellbank, said the accomplishments achieved by the women in Interim House that she’s witnessed for 18 years are nothing short of miracles.

“What makes our program really special is that the staff doesn’t feel superior to the patients. We’re partners in the recovery, we’re not above them,” Wellbank said. “We try to teach them that they can dream, that they can have goals and they can achieve them. They just need the tools to do it.”

Wellbank, who has been in recovery from alcoholism for nearly 25 years, said her job is to make sure the women who come to Interim House have those tools as well as a safe place to heal physically, morally, emotionally and psychologically. Using a comprehensive, holistic approach to treatment, Interim House provides a range of services including art, music and knitting therapy, onsite GED classes and job placement.

“Our goal is to help each woman in Interim House find purpose and meaning in their lives and to help them realize that recovery can also be fun,” Wellbank said.

Part of that fun is accomplished through the Gearing Up program, a local nonprofit organization that works in conjunction with Interim House to provide women in transition with the opportunity to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation and personal growth.

Gearing Up, which was founded by Temple University graduate Kristin Gavin in 2009, has quickly become one of the most popular programs offered at Interim House.

“The way that Interim House embraces compassion and community and provides a safe, welcoming place for women who are in transition was an inspiration. I feel honored to be a part of that community,” Gavin said.

At Thursday’ anniversary celebration – which will be held at 1 p.m. on its Mt. Airy campus – Interim House will honor Gavin with its first ever Community Partner Award, to be presented by Lisa Nutter. The mayor’s wife has also participated in the Gearing Up program, riding along with Interim House clients.

“I feel absolutely honored to win this award,” Gavin said. “It also feels ironic. I feel like I should be giving Interim House an award.”

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