Marnie Ward stirred the squash and carved the turkey, but those attending the Portland Recovery Community Center’s Thanksgiving dinner served up heaping plates of acceptance.

“I’m just the line chef,” Ward said, laughing.

Empathy, acceptance, support, hugs and understanding are on the menu every day for those who show up at the modest center on Forest Avenue.

“I came here because I knew I would be loved,” said Niki Curtis of Portland. “This is home to me.”

Curtis said she was addicted to alcohol, heroin and the synthetic drug bath salts before she discovered the recovery center, a place where people can not only get treatment, but also peer support and a social network. Curtis said her life was “chaos” when she first walked through the doors in 2012, but now has a stable life, and is working while training to be a massage therapist.

The recovery center hosted its second annual Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, and everyone was expected to pitch in, either by bringing food or helping to cook, set up tables or clean.


Leslie Clark, executive director of the Portland Recovery Community Center, said the dinner is a “participatory event.”

“We are not serving to the clients here. Everyone helps put on this community dinner,” Clark said. “We used to be closed on holidays, but now we stay open, and it’s a wonderful thing. Some people might not have anyone nearby, or they might be estranged from their family. They can always come here and be welcome.”

Ward, 70, said she began coming to the center about three years ago, and she’s been sober from alcohol for 29 years. She said that even though she’s been in recovery for a long time, the center helps her because she listens to people who have had many varied experiences and are at different points in the recovery process. That helps her stay positive, even during dark times.

“Your personal journey is respected and understood here, and not judged,” Ward said. “There’s such an openness. It helps you see life in a positive way.”

Angela Absher, 80, of Scarborough said she began coming to the recovery center in 2016 to teach a meditation and mindfulness course. Absher said she’s been sober for 42 years, but she’s made many mistakes in her life and hurt many friends and family. She said she finds it easy to connect with people at the center.

“Empathy is a good word for what you find here,” Absher said.


Liz Holder, peer support specialist at the recovery center, said they will see people on Thanksgiving that they haven’t seen in years, as people stop by to say thanks for the support network that helped them.

“People will just show up,” Holder said. “We always have each other.”

Clark said Thanksgiving is a “perfect” holiday to share at PRCC.

“Recovery is so much about gratitude, connection, and community,” she said. “So, sharing Thanksgiving dinner is a natural celebration for us.”

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