ARC celebrates 50 years of helping addicts recover


ARC celebrates 50 years of helping addicts recover
Elspeth Simoni, the Addiction Referral Center’s executive director, shows a piece of a sweatshirt from 1974, two years after the center was founded. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

MARLBOROUGH – It was a cold and rainy midweek morning at the Addiction Referral Center off Main Street. It was also a rare morning.

It was quiet.

There were no meetings taking place, and no one was seeking help at the moment.

Elspeth Simoni, the center’s executive director, and Tracey Gustafson, a member of the center’s board of directors, discussed the ARC’s past 50 years, and what it would take to keep the center going for another 50 years.

The key to the center’s success – lots of volunteers.

“This has always been a grassroots organization,” said Gustafson. “We still rely on a lot of volunteers.”

“There’s always been a need” for the services offered by the center, she added.

Simoni, one of two people on staff, is a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and coach.

The other staff member, recovery coach Kris Thomson, is also a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor.

The ARC began in 1972 by a group of recovering alcoholics wishing to create a more supportive environment.

First opened as the Greater Marlborough Alcoholism Center on Lincoln Street, the center became a nonprofit organization in 1983. In 1995, to reflect its inclusion of those dealing with drug abuse, the name was changed to the Addiction Referral Center.

In 2002, the center moved to Pleasant Street, then moved to its present location in 2006.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the center was one of the few places open, although there was social distancing and other restrictions.

“We wanted to keep the group together,” said Simoni.

What the Addiction Referral Center offers

More than 25 meetings take place seven days a week, either in person and via Zoom. Most of these meetings are for Alcoholics Anonymous, but there are meetings for Al-Anon and Narcotics Anonymous as well.

“After work, it’s packed,” said Simoni. “Some have come for years and years. It speaks volumes for their comfort level.”

According to the center, between 500 and 600 people visit weekly for referral services, recovery coaching and meetings.

ARC celebrates 50 years of helping addicts recover
The Addiction Referral Center hosts meetings seven days a week, from morning to early evening. The current meeting room can seat 40; according to the center, it’s had to turn people away because of a lack of space. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

Simoni will arrange for referrals and transportation for those needing detox or other services.

“Every referral I check out,” she said. “I meet with the staff.”

When she first became executive director 18 months ago, Simoni spotted some gaps in services. For example, a person needing to get to a detox center, but having no transportation.

She started the BRAVE program (which stands for Build Recovery through Accessibility, Validation and Health Equity) to help fill those gaps. By arranging with Tommy’s Taxi, the center can provide that connection to detox.

Also through BRAVE, Simoni provides care bags containing toiletries, towels, socks and other essentials for clients in need.

“She creates a more thorough package for those in need,” said Gustafson.

Search for a bigger home

Currently, the ARC leases the building, and pays for maintenance and utilities.

The biggest challenge facing the ARC is space. According to its “Case for Support,” which is distributed to potential donors, “The present location does not hold all the clients that come on a weekly basis.”

There’s also a lack of parking.

ARC celebrates 50 years of helping addicts recover
The current home for the Addiction Referral Center off Main Street. The center is seeking a larger place. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

In its “Case for Support,” the center said it’s had to turn people away because of a lack of space.

Gustafson said a building fund was started in 2017, with the goal of $400,000.

The fund currently holds just over $300,000, but thanks to a changing real estate market, the goal is now $800,000.

“The ground shifted underneath us,” she said.

Despite rising prices, Gustafson said the center maintains a good relationship with Main Street Bank.

“We need one more big push,” she said.

Should the center meet its goal, it can purchase a building and create a more suitable space – a larger meeting space, a kitchen, a computer lab, office space and a reception area.

Raising money and awareness

The center hosts two main fundraisers – a comedy show in February, and a golf tournament in the summer. The funds go to the center’s operating expenses.

The center also receives donations from individuals and corporate sponsors.

“They’re amazing,” said Gustafson.

In August, the center, with a grant from the Cultural Council, sponsored a play about substance abuse to middle school-age students.

“They got really engaged in it. They asked a lot of questions,” said Simoni.

For information about the Addiction Referral Center, its programs and its building fund, call 508-4854357, or visit


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