Serving Recovery with a Dose of Gratitude

This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore who she has met along the way.

You won’t meet a more compassionate couple about recovery than Mike and Sara Rissolo of Easton. The couple took their savings and instead of investing in a larger house for themselves and their five children, chose to open The Gratitude House, a recovery house for men on Davis Avenue in Easton.

Their house motto, “A grateful addict will never use,” is striking chords with 15 residents who remain clean today having lived at The Gratitude House during this past year.

Sara Rissolo, MSN, RN, CPAN, a nurse, and co-owner and the clinical director of The Gratitude House, comments, “For years my husband and I have wanted to run a recovery house. He has been in recovery for 30 years. I am a nurse working on my Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree.”

The community helped the couple to open the house in June 2017, donating furniture, painting rooms, and refurbishing the house. The Gratitude House opened with two residents in June and by August 2017, the house was full. It has remained full at 96 percent occupancy since then.

The recommended length of stay at The Gratitude House is between six months and one year.

The men of The Gratitude House, along with owners Mike and Sara Rissolo, wear shirts to celebrate the first two graduates of the program.

Sara recalls a nine-week period when no one left who was living at the house. When asked what makes this recovery house different, Sara points to gratitude as an important element of the recovery process. She states that in the field of positive psychology, gratitude is known for its prosocial qualities, including the development and maintenance of social relationships.

She adds, “In addition, you have to want to work on your recovery to live here. Although we are working with anyone who needs help, we are picking who stays here so that everyone fits in and can work together. Residents come by personal referral and sexual and violent offenders are not allowed. We want the house to run like a family.”

Terry, a 25-year old resident, who was living precariously on the street and came to The Gratitude House from another recovery house, comments, “What is working for me is my desire to do the right thing combined with what the house has to offer me. It’s an atmosphere like a home and they make sure they talk to people who come here. Also, they are doing this because they want to see us clean.”

Sara states that they wanted to form a community where people are cared for and can face some of the feelings and issues that are behind their addictions. She adds that the opioid epidemic is a symptom of a greater problem, with mental health issues at the root of addiction. Her doctoral research showed that participation in recovery residences decreases relapse rates and significantly increases recovery outcomes. She states, “We set up the environment for the work to take place, creating a safe space and home-cooked meals, which the residents cook. We replace drugs with community and peer support. It makes them feel that they matter to someone.”

Sara adds, “My experience as a nurse is really helpful. These residents have health care disparities. I can connect them to the right provider and I can give them a plan for their medicine. They have an ‘Ask a Nurse’ 24/7!”

According to the Rissolos, everyone needs a home base. The couple takes pride in providing parental roles for the residents. Some of the residents even call Sara “Mom.” Mike enjoys hanging out with the guys.

Taylor, another 25-year old, who was on the verge of being homeless after leaving treatment, comments, “These are my brothers here.”

Another resident, Ron, who actually worked in treatment before getting addicted to opioids after an injury and suffering from Lyme’s Disease, states, “Houses like this work because with the shortened treatment time for detox, residents need to be cared for. Many are still detoxing when they arrive. This is a unique recovery house.”

Sara states, “What we are doing here is completely different and special. It’s working. Of our 2018 residents, 88 percent are clean today. Almost all of the residents have legal issues resolved and 75 percent have obtained vehicles for work and are getting their drivers licenses back. All but two of the residents are now employed.”

Another unique aspect about Gratitude House is the role it plays in restoring family relationships. Sara adds, “All residents with children are rebuilding relationships with their children and have had overnights with them and are paying child support.”

The Rissolos are currently looking for property in Easton to open a recovery house for women to help further their goal of reuniting families affected by drug and alcohol addiction. They would be willing to rent a residence and are looking for a house with four to five bedrooms within walking distance to downtown Easton.

The Gratitude House is owned and operated by Realslow Recovery, LLC, a 501(c)3 non-profit. Its mission is to provide safe, affordable, and supportive housing for all people to live and grow in recovery from drugs and alcohol. The house is for men, ages 18+ and every resident is required to work at least 30 hours per week either at a job, job hunting, school, or volunteering.

Tax-deductible donations are being accepted to The Gratitude House. In addition, the house is in need of household and personal care items, lawn and garden supplies, men’s bikes, bedding, and food items. To donate, contact Sara Rissolo at 443-618-0296 or email sara.realslow@gmail.com.

Along with their youngest child, Mike and Sara Rissolo stand on the porch of The Gratitude House, a recovery house for men on Davis Avenue in Easton.
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