The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News

The Vineyard House celebrated its 25th annual Seaside Water Tasting Thursday night at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs. The fundraiser, filled with a raw bar, paella, raffle and signature water tasting, both still and sparkling, supports Islanders struggling with substance abuse disorder.

Bill Howell, chairman of the organization’s board of directors and former resident of Vineyard House, the island’s only sober community, was one of the featured speakers.

Owner of a local construction company, Mr Howell stressed the importance of the immersive treatment offered by the organization, citing his own experience with the program as proof of its effectiveness. He particularly thanked Kate Desrosiers, Executive Director of Vineyard House, and the entire island community for their continued stewardship of the organization.

“This event tonight gives me a lot of hope,” Mr Howell said after his speech. “To see this level of support from the community is amazing. Drug addiction isn’t always the bright and flashy cause to support. It means a lot to see everyone here.

Founded in 1997, the Vineyard House provides structured, sober housing for 24 island residents struggling with substance abuse. In the decades since its inception, the organization has helped more than 350 men and women recover from their addictions to alcohol and drugs.

The organization thanks fundraisers like Water Tasting for funding the program, enabling the participation of many Islanders who cannot afford the high cost of off-island rehabilitation facilities.

Linda Jackson, an Edgartown lawyer, has volunteered at Water Tasting since its inception.

“I became involved with Vineyard House because of my own experience and observations of what the island needed to serve those struggling with addiction,” Ms. Jackson said.

According to the Department of Public Health, Dukes County consistently reports one of the highest rates of substance use disorders per capita in the state. In 2020, a survey recorded by public health nonprofit Public Good Projects showed that most winemakers believe addiction is a serious problem on the island.

It was evident that the challenges of substance abuse had affected many of the community members present and volunteers at the event. Event volunteer Ava Maggi was inspired to help with the water tasting after growing up amid the island community’s struggles with illness.

“I have a lot of people who have benefited from all the help drug addicts get on the island,” said Ms Maggi, a student from Oak Bluffs. “I’ve known most people here all my life. I just want to give back after all the help they got from [The Vineyard House].”

The party continued well into the evening, with baked goods and fresh fruit provided for dessert. Edgartown residents Kristin and Tim Brown mingled with the crowd as the festivities wrapped up.

“It’s a must-attend event of the summer. I’m really happy it’s been going on for so long,” Ms Brown said, adding that while she’d heard about the fundraiser for years, it was the first time she attended.

“All we have is each other on this island, and that’s why this event is so important,” added her husband.

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