Portland, Maine was destroyed by fire on four separate occasions.
Again and again the city rose from the ashes to become the foundation we now call home. The city flag is emblazoned with a solemn oath in testimony to its strength: RESURGRAM–I shall rise again. So too is the resolve one must acquire to rise from crucible of addiction onto the road of happy destiny. As the Phoenix rises from the smolder, so the addict breathes life anew, not in spite of hardship, but because of it. At Foundation House, we stress the paramount importance of service for others in the battle to achieve lasting sobriety.
“Our trip at St. John signified our choice to engage in compassion and humanity rather than the lonely abyss that is drug addiction. It’s nice to have that choice.”
— Dan S.
Sometimes it takes a hurricane to reset everything. Epic events can strike fear into the hearts of men. Conversely, they can produce a humility that bows to challenge, and an ardent fervor that rises against the tide and bellows forth into the long night, I shall not be afraid. The terror of the tempest and the courage to wage on against it is where we find the jumping off point. When Hurricanes Maria and Irma struck the Caribbean, we recognized relief work as an opportunity to give back. We have seen the success stories of many residents begin in our workshop program. Hurricane Recovery presented an avenue to be of service while applying the skills taught in our facilities.
The nature of things is impermanent. With his dying words, the Buddha imparted this wisdom: “Behold, O monks…All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.” Let us each be the monk whom neither succumbs to delusion nor leaves his liberation to the fates. A new freedom lies within, despite how inaccessible it sometimes seems. Such is the duality of all things; the very fire that razes the old is harnessed for the founding of the new.
The National Park on St. John was ground zero during Hurricane Maria, its shores the first hit by the category-5 storm. We called the Friends of the Virgin Island National Park, a conservation non-profit, and were assigned a mission: reconstruct a quarter-mile stretch of boardwalk in Francis Bay connecting camp sites to beaches. The project was top priority for returning the park to operational. The trip would then blend three major components of our program: wilderness, workshop, and service.
The work required a skilled level of carpentry under our workshop director, Cort Gariepy. Each day, Cort spent time teaching residents the basics of carpentry while restoring rotting planks, cutting new trim, constructing benches, and securing hurricane straps to the boardwalk foundation. With technical know-how and hard work, our team completed the project with time to spare, impressing our hosts and earning us an invitation back next spring.
“I have an entirely new appreciation for the impact of giving back.”
— Greg S.
Although the trip to St. John was service oriented, it was not light on leisure. After work each day, the crew spent time hiking the scenic Ram Head Trail, fishing the Caribbean waters and snorkeling in Salt Pond and Great Lameshur Bay. The last two days were spent scuba diving throughout the British Virgin Islands at Little Saint James Ledge, Cow Rock, and Stevens Key.
The entire experience provided us the chance to have fun, but also to reflect on our lives through a new lens. Are we appreciative of what we have? Are we happy where we are? Do we act with gratitude and humility in our daily lives? These questions came up during our fireside process groups. It was resoundingly concluded that St. John contributed more to the growth of Foundation House than we could ever have hoped to give back to St. John.
“For me, this trip was best summed up by the Willie Nelson quote, ‘Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.'”
— Connley B.
Not unlike Portland’s motto, Resurgram, the state motto of Maine is a single Latin word that stands as a pledge to our countrymen: DIRIGO–I Lead. The Foundation House emblem has long represented the same vision that inspired and fueled our trip to St. John. In Portland we rise, through Maine we lead, and around the world we seek to serve.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity and those I was able to share it with.”
— Ben S.
Meanwhile, back in Portland…
Before departing the Francis Bay worksite, our team reclaimed some of the hurricane-weathered wood that had been replaced on the boardwalk and was being disposed. Similar to ourselves in the depths of our addiction, this wood was literally taken from the trash pile with only the faintest of hope in its productive transformation.
Upon returning to Portland, our residents recycled this seemingly ruined wood, through ingenuity and hard work, into beautiful coasters. The underside of these coasters displays the raw, hurricane-weathered wood we found upon arrival to St. John. The finished topside is the manifestation of the splendor that can arise from darkness with grit and determination.
Portland’s favorite son, poet Henry Wadswoth Longfellow, once called our home the Jewel by the Sea. In that same spirit, our workshop crew made these coasters upon returning, the jewel of our journey. It is symbolic of the recovery process. Born of the once beautiful boardwalk, battered by the cyclone’s bedlam, and resurrected to function with new purpose.
Watch the video from our 2018 International Expedition to St. John!