Working toward a new life

11 28 Riverbank Vantz Kyle Martin

Kyle Martin, woodworker for Vantz Live Edge Furniture, said the work gives him a sense of peace. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Riverbank House spawns growing list of new businesses


LACONIA — When Randy Bartlett opened the Riverbank House, a rehabilitation and detox community for men in downtown Laconia, a central part of his philosophy was to help his clients build a new life so that they wouldn't revert to their old habits when they leave the program. For the young men that are increasingly coming to the Riverbank House, a new job provides one piece to the puzzle.

Toward that end, there are now six businesses – and more planned – that have opened to support the recovery effort. The businesses give Riverbank House clients a way to spend their day and teach them a marketable skill. They also generate revenue that can be used to make recovery at the Riverbank House more accessible.

Keeping the Riverbank House accessible – meaning, affordable – is important, because Bartlett believes that the longer a person stays in a rehabilitation setting, the less likely he is to return to substance use. While the industry norm for people entering detox programs is a 28-day stay, Bartlett said that model is shown to keep people sober for a year at only a 50 percent success rate. The Riverbank House aims to keep people on its campus for months instead of weeks, leading them through a program based on a 12-step model and infused with meditation and reflection. In operation since 2012, Bartlett said Riverbank House only sees about one in 10 of its clients relapse within a year of leaving.

"We don't have a lot of repeat customers," he said with a smile.

The Riverbank House starts with a 28-day detox, then keeps clients on its sober campus for a year or more, building skills and strategies. Bartlett summed up the process by saying, "Get 'em sober, get 'em a pathway, get 'em a career, get 'em grant money to stay here."

The six businesses that have sprung up around the Riverbank House within the last year address that last two of those "get 'em's." In the winter of last year, the first two businesses opened: Nibutti Yoga and Pumped Neighborhood Gym, which both opened in order to provide both health and employment opportunities. The Karma Cafe, in the same Church Street building as the first two operations, opened in time for summer of this year, and has become a favorite downtown place for breakfast and lunch. Next came Vantz Live Edge Furniture, which has already outgrown its first home and now occupies a building on Court Street. Premier Private Charters launched this summer to provide double-deck pontoon boat tours of Lake Winnipesaukee; and the newest business, River Construction and Landscape Design, already has more than $50,000 in orders placed.

All of the businesses are profitable, said Bartlett, and there are plans already underway for new ventures, such as recording and pottery studios.

The Riverbank House has consistently had between 50 and 60 people between its programs, which have a total capacity of 75, said Bartlett. Many of those clients come from outside of the region, such as Kyle Martin, who came to Riverbank House from Friendship, Maine.

Martin, 31, was referred to Riverbank House after overdosing, then going through a withdrawal program at Pen Bay Hosptial in Rockport, Maine. He had been a builder of custom lobster boats in Friendship, but in Laconia, he found himself drawn to woodworking in the Vantz Live Edge Furniture shop.

"I think it's helped me a lot, to be creative and peaceful. I just come in, listen to my music, and create stuff," Martin said. It has been rewarding for him to watch Vantz grow. "I got lucky enough to be able to do this, now it's becoming something. It helps out other people, too, and I like the community. I have real friends now. We're all trying to do the right thing. It helps my sobriety."

Martin isn't interested in going back to building lobster boats, he said.

"I like doing what I do – it has definitely changed my life for the best."

Bartlett sees the businesses as providing services that the local community needs, and, once clients are ready to leave Riverbank House, they do so with training and experience.

"The trades are suffering up here.There's not enough guys. We know that," Bartlett said.

He hopes that some clients who leave his program will be able to make a new home for themselves in the Lakes Region, where they will stay connected with the network that they've built at Riverbank House. His experience so far has been very encouraging, and he's excited to see what the future has in store for his business and his clients.

"You can do absolutely anything if you put your mind to it," Bartlett said. "Empower people, and they can do amazing things."

11 28 Riverbank recording studio

A recording studio has been set up in one of the buildings on the campus of the Riverbank House, and will be added to the growing list of businesses which support the recovery center. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

11 28 Riverbank Vantz table

Vantz Live Edge Furniture has outgrown its original space and is now located in a building on Court Street. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)