Central Maine Recovery Center President William Lessa, left, House Manager Ron Austin, center, and Vice President Calli Merrill sit together in the meeting room at the Waterville center on Tuesday. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — A residential substance use disorder recovery center has opened on Hazelwood Avenue that is the first of its kind in the area and much needed, according to officials who work in the field.

The nonprofit Central Maine Recovery Center is a new, 12-bed program that takes an integrated approach to recovery by providing a substance-free home environment with structured programming and access to clinical and vocational services, according to the center’s president, William Lessa.

The goal is to help residents re-gain power over addiction by creating a balanced and healthy lifestyle to support recovery. The center, at 8 Hazelwood Ave., accepts residents who are medically cleared and referred to the center by a detox program or hospital. The minimum stay is six months and residents may live there as long as 18 months to two years. While the program is now for men only, center officials anticipate expanding to additional housing so women also can be accepted.

Lessa and Callista Merrill, the vice president, operate the center on a recovery program based on three phases called education, empower and evolve. In the first phase, residents will receive education, adapt to their new surroundings and lifestyle, engage in daily group meetings and live in a structured and disciplined environment, Lessa said. In the second phase, residents will become employed at jobs, with support from staff, to help regain their power after having been powerless over drugs, he said. The third phase is when the residents move on, become independent and graduate.

By that time, they should have a vehicle, a driver’s license and money in the bank, according to Lessa.

The center works with various community partners including the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, Kennebec Behavioral Health, the city of Waterville’s general assistance program, the courts and many other entities.


“It’s re-integration — it’s a collaborative effort between all the professionals and the community itself,” Lessa said.

The meeting room is seen Tuesday at the Central Maine Recovery Center in Waterville, where President William Lessa says “the magic happens.” The room is a space for listening, speaking, learning and inspiring. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

State Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-District 64, who has for years advocated for having such a program in the community, praised the effort. She represents part of Waterville and Winslow.

Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville Contributed photo

“I’m really impressed with the program and I’m so excited that they’ve opened here in Waterville,” Madigan said.

A licensed clinical social worker who works in the substance use disorder field, Madigan said she visited Lessa, Merrill and the center’s house manager recently to welcome them to her district, Waterville, and the community at large.

“They were wonderful, they were welcoming and what they’ve done with the remodeling — it’s super nice,” Madigan said. “And I was just so impressed with all of them and how they want to help folks in the community.”

Madigan is a member of both the legislature’s health and human services committee and the substance use disorders commission. She said there is both a housing crisis and a substance use disorder crisis in the Waterville community and the residential program can be a big part of the solution, providing a safe place for people to live, supported by people who will help them in their journey to recovery.


Madigan said she told Lessa and Merrill about the training program the police and fire departments are conducting for volunteers to help staff the warming center at The Lighthouse soup kitchen and a similar center the city plans to open at the City Hall Annex at 46 Front St. during severe weather events. Residents at the recovery center will take part in volunteering opportunities as part of their program, according to Lessa.

Lessa and Merrill are licensed professionals who have worked many years in the field, including several years for the Maine General ACT Team, or Assertive Community Treatment Program. They have spent the last two months fixing up the building on Hazelwood into a clean and warm and environment, Lessa said. Three residents now live at the center, which has nine available beds. Funding comes from general assistance and Kennebec Behavioral Health to help with residents’ first month at the center and after that, they pay for their own recovery with money they earn from being employed.

A bedroom at the Central Maine Recovery Center in Waterville, where people can stay for a period of six months to as long as two years, is shown on Tuesday. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Lessa said they are eager to let the public know the center has opened. Those wanting more information about the program or to learn about how to donate to it may call 207-616-0416 or email billy@centralmainerecovery,org or calli@centralmainerecovery.org.

Lessa said a lot of what he learned throughout his own time in recovery will be part of life lessons to be passed on to residents in the “gratitude-based home.” About 23 years in recovery himself, Lessa grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he became a commercial fisherman in an environment in which the use of alcohol and drugs was rampant in the late 1980s, he said. Lessa said he became addicted to heroin.

“I watched a lot of friends die,” he said.

He got into serious, structured programs, where he developed coping skills and was able to flip the switch and stay in recovery. He owned a construction company and hired people who were struggling with addiction and shared his knowledge with them.

Then, he decided to move to Maine, where  he said it was less costly to live and where he specifically wanted to help people recover from substance use disorder. He bought land in Winslow and he and his wife built a house. He went back to college at University of Maine at Augusta and studied for six years there.

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