JOHNSON — Vermont Adult & Teen Challenge will soon open a new statewide recovery center for women who are the victims of sex trafficking and addiction, and also complete a 12-bed expansion of its men’s facility in Johnson.

A fall event will be held at the University of Vermont Alumni House at 61 Summit St. in Burlington at 6 p.m. Thursday, to raise additional funds for both programs. It will be a call to action and an appeal for donors and civic and community leaders to support recovery efforts in Vermont, officials said.

The move is in response to the growing crisis of addiction and sexual exploitation of women who need a safe place to live while in recovery.

Vermont Adult & Teen Challenge has operated a men’s recovery and rehabilitation center in Johnson since 2005.

Statistics from the Vermont Department of Health’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention program show that providers treated about 11,500 people a year, of whom roughly 42 percent are female. Officials say the numbers reflect reported cases or requests for treatment and are likely much higher.

Pastor Rick Welch, the Vermont Adult & Teen Challenge executive director, said the women’s center was part of an expansion of services by the organization in the state.

“The real objective of the gala event in Burlington is to get the message of hope and help out to those who are in need,” Welch said.

The new women’s center will start with 12 to 16 women and be modeled on the Teen Challenge New England program with a new curriculum designed to emphasize helping those affected by sex trafficking and substance abuse. The women’s center is in a renovated 3,238-square-foot Victorian home and includes four dorm rooms, bathrooms, living room, kitchen and dining room. There is also an apartment for the program director, a freestanding chapel, an attached learning center for academics, a private sitting garden and a spacious lawn area. The location of the center has not been revealed to protect the safety and security of women in the program.

“It is also our vision to open a crisis center in Burlington and a transition house for people in recovery re-entering the community from our programs,” Welch said. “Burlington offers opportunity for employment, education and transportation.”

Projected services will include outreach in Burlington which has been plagued by problems related to homelessness, substance abuse and mental health crises.

“We want the people of Burlington to know we are there to help,” Welch said.

In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans died from opiate abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Vermont, drug-related deaths fell 6 percent to 124 in 2017, compared with 132 in 2016, according to figures from the Vermont Department of Health. However, fentanyl deaths increased by one third to 67 deaths in 2017, compared with 49 deaths in 2016. Fentanyl is involved in more than half of all drug-related deaths in Vermont. Prescription opioid deaths remained about same last year, accounting for 31 percent of deaths. Deaths involving heroin decreased slightly but still accounted for a third of fatalities. Cocaine fatalities nearly doubled in 2017 with 37 deaths in 2017 compared with 22 in 2016.

The Burlington gala will feature a live multimedia production calling people to “Hear Their Cry,” a poignant theme of the event.

Officials said the gala is an important event to raise awareness about solutions and strategies to address the opiate crisis in Vermont, its impact on women and efforts to help them with a new recovery center.

Money raised will help launch the new women’s center and preventive and protective services for women at a cost of $25,000 to $30,000 a year per person. Funds raised will also support expansion of the men’s facility in Johnson.

Vermont Adult & Teen Challenge works closely with sponsors to help those who cannot afford the full cost of its recovery programs.

One effort to raise money for both centers at the fall gala is an Art Sweep raffle with an original Rory Jackson painting, donated by Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury Falls. Tickets to enter the Art Sweep are $20 each or five for $80. The painting, “Soft Rain,” was originally priced at $9,000.

Tickets for the Fall Gala at the UVM Alumni House are $65.

Vermont Adult & Teen Challenge has served more than 750 clients in the past 13 years at its campus in Johnson. More than 40 percent of participants complete the 15½-month program. To learn more about Teen Challenge programs, call 635-7807 or visit www.tcvermont.org.

For more information about the fall gala, call Tyree Williams at (802) 760-8153 or publicrelations@tcvermont.org.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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