The Restoration Society, Inc. is one of those quiet success stories in Buffalo catering to a clientele mostly overlooked by too many—those suffering from mental health conditions, substance abuse or homelessness.
The organization is a peer operated recovery center that offers holistic, person-centered self-directed services for its customers. The programs its staff of highly dedicated individuals offer include rehabilitation, housing, vocational and homelessness services as well as a Youth Clubhouse for young adults with chemical dependency diagnoses. The services focus on managing and maintaining wellness, increasing independence, developing friendships and natural supports and accessing desired opportunities.
Its Mission is followed daily by its team: “Illuminating pathways toward opportunity, possibility, wellness and independence.” Its team members truly believe all individuals can lead active lives filled with hope and satisfaction and they can make valuable contributions to our community. They create new meanings and purposes in one’s life as one grows beyond the challenges they face.
I am a Vice President of the Friendship Foundation, the development arm of the Restoration Society. On Christmas morning I joined fellow board member, Dr. Sigrid Pechenik, PsyD, the Associate Director of the New York State Suicide Prevention Office and also a member of the RSI Board of Directors, along with David Merlo, an RSI board member, staff and volunteers for the annual Christmas Day dinner for its customers and homeless men and women, many of whom had nowhere to spend the holiday.
The guests began arriving at 10 a.m. to RSI’s Empowerment Academy at 327 Elm Street, which is around the corner from its Harbor House Resource Center on Genesee Street, one of three Code Blue Shelters in the city. The guests were a mix of customers who came from their homes throughout Western New York to the homeless, who left their bags of life possessions at the first floor entrance.
A middle aged RSI customer said he took a few hours of Christmas celebration with his family to be with his RSI family who helped save his life from a mental illness that cost him his job as an engineer. The college educated individual spoke in glowing terms about what RSI does for members of society too many people want nothing to do with.
“This is truly my family,” he says as he interacted with guests at tables or those playing a game of pool. “I regained my dignity here and now I come back to volunteer and to give hope to the customers.”
A homeless man in his 40’s explained that he is a veteran with a slight disability and is new to the homeless community. He was intrigued to learn about RSI and when a staff member invited him back during the week to learn more about it, he said he would certainly come back. “I want to be productive again,” he explains. “I just need some help and a break.”
The nearly 100 guests made their way through a serving line to receive a choice of homemade meals—turkey and gravy, potatoes, veggies and salad or lasagna with sauce and garlic bread. There were slices of homemade pies, fruit and coffee for dessert. More than anything, they were greeted by smiling, happy staff and volunteers serving them plenty of food before they went to tables with white tablecloths and flowers. The guests were made to feel right at home as Christmas music played in the background before one of the guests began playing some beautiful tunes on the piano.
“These individuals are more than just customers; they are our family,” explains Amanda Kopacz, Manager of Empowerment Academy. “Often times, individuals experiencing mental health conditions will isolate themselves, or they may be estranged from family and friends, or experience their symptoms 10-fold during this, often-difficult time of the year. Our priority has always been to ensure that everyone has a warm, safe, friendly place to spend the holiday and to enjoy a hot, homemade Christmas dinner, with carols playing in the background, great company, conversation and the ability to create positive memories this holiday season.”
Dr. Pechenik and her husband and fellow Friendship Foundation Board member, Jeffrey Lapides wrapped gifts of gloves, hats, socks, mugs and scarves for the guests and Colvin Cleaners of Kenmore provided free winter coats from its 22nd annual Coats 4 Kids Program. Each guest left with a huge smile on their faces and some hope to get through another day.