BENNINGTON — The Bennington recovery center has chosen its supervising recovery coach to become the center’s new executive director.
Julea Larsen will lead the Turning Point Center of Bennington starting July 1, when the incumbent director steps down.
The center’s board of directors selected Larsen because of her experience in the field of addiction recovery, her familiarity with Turning Point as well as her knowledge of grant writing, said board Chairman Dan Lucy.
Larsen, a 42-year-old Bennington resident, has been a Turning Point recovery coach since 2017. Besides overseeing about a dozen recovery coaches, she also supervises the center’s emergency department response program at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
Around six people applied for the executive director position, Lucy said, “But it was pretty apparent to the selection committee that she was head and shoulders above all the rest.”
He said the board was impressed by the endorsements she received from her Turning Point colleagues, as well as her “tremendous” references from the center’s clients and community partners.
Larsen will be taking the reins of the organization just as Vermont is fully reopening from the coronavirus pandemic. The state saw a record-setting 157 fatal opioid overdoses last year, and Lucy said recovery efforts will be a major undertaking for Larsen.
Larsen agrees. She foresees as her biggest challenge reaching people who are struggling with substance misuse, getting them engaged in recovery programs and “dealing with an entire community that’s mourning one thing or another.”
But Larsen said she is excited to take on the job that is close to her heart. “I really want to do as much as possible in the recovery community,” she said. “I care deeply about the Bennington community, and I want this to be a town that is more caring, loving and forgiving and understanding of people with substance use disorder.”
Because losing interpersonal connection is a “slippery slope” among people who are in recovery, Larsen is hoping to organize community events to bring people together. “So that people can realize that there’s always a support system,” she explained. “Sometimes I think people forget where to reach out to or they get complacent.”
A key part of her work as director would also be setting up programming at a proposed recovery home for men in Bennington. The Bennington Select Board approved on Monday the town’s application for a $1 million grant on behalf of the developer of the men’s home and a separate one for women.
Lucy also acknowledged the contributions of the outgoing executive director, Tom Haley. He earlier credited Haley, 71, for expanding the center’s services and providing stability to the organization. Haley, who became director in May 2019, was the third person to head the center within a half-year period.
Haley said he and Larsen have talked extensively to ensure a smooth transition. “I have every confidence that she will grow programs that lead to future recovery,” he said. “That is her calling.”