New Brunswick

Youth addiction treatment centre to add $2M fitness facility

Portage Atlantic, a residential treatment centre in New Brunswick for youth with serious substance abuse problems, is adding a $2.1-million fitness facility.

Late doctor's estate, capital campaign and provincial government help fund complex at Portage Atlantic

Portage Atlantic, a 67-hectare, 64-bed youth treatment centre at Cassidy Lake, near Norton, broke ground on a new fitness facility on Tuesday. (Portage Atlantic)

Portage Atlantic, a residential treatment centre in New Brunswick for youth with serious substance abuse problems, is adding a $2.1-million fitness facility.

A sod-turning ceremony for the Lewis Fitness Centre was held at the Cassidy Lake site, near Norton, on Tuesday.

The facility, which will include a gymnasium, a fully equipped exercise room, and a room where people can do yoga or meditate, is being paid for through a donation from the estate of Dr. Bill Lewis, a capital campaign, and funding from the provincial government.

Construction is expected to begin immediately, officials said.

"The absence of suitable fitness and recreational resources … is a need that could no longer be postponed," said Carol Tracey, the director of development for the facility.

Carol Tracey tells us about the plan to build a fitness centre at Portage Atlantic for young people getting treatment for substance abuse. 8:12

Portage, a 64-bed facility for youth aged 14 to 21, has long encouraged its residents to exercise to improve their physical, social and emotional well-being.

"These activities enhance the treatment process and it helps youth to focus and be more receptive to their treatment and also it helps them focus better in class," said Tracey.

Since 2013, Portage has had an outside trail on its 67-hectare property for walking, biking, running, or winter snowshoeing.

But for indoor recreational and physical activities, "there's an old building, about the size of a trailer that has served as a stopgap solution … for a long, long time and it's no longer adequate," said Tracey.

A permanent fitness centre will benefit residents of the program for years to come, she said.

"It's going to allow them to do a larger number of activities to add to what they do already."

Donation launched capital campaign

Portage Atlantic's board began a capital campaign to raise money for the fitness facility in June 2014, just after it received a donation from the estate of Dr. Bill Lewis.

"Dr. Lewis was a long-time friend of one of our board members and a few years before we launched the campaign, he had been to the centre and was very impressed with the young men and young women who were attending the centre," said Tracey.

Lewis also helped fund the three buildings built in 2010 — two dorms and an administration building — which replaced more than a dozen trailers that Portage was using beforehand.

"I really believe that he felt that we were … really benefiting young people's lives," said Tracey.

"It has a trickle effect. We're not just helping young people, we're helping families and the communities they live in, as well."

Provincial Health Minister Victor Boudreau was expected at the sod turning to announce a $450,000 contribution to the project.

"This investment in the Lewis Fitness Centre project will assist youth in treatment to participate in daily recreational and physical activities as a way to help improve their social, emotional and physical well-being," he said in a news release.

2,000 helped over 20 years

Portage became a reality 20 years ago after a group of concerned citizens came together to create a centre in New Brunswick to help young addicts.

Before that, many of those who needed treatment had to be sent out of province.

The group became aware of Portage in Quebec, which started in the 1970s, and now has centres in Quebec and Ontario as well as the one in New Brunswick.

"Nearly 2,000 youth with serious addictions have come to Portage Atlantic with the goal of turning their lives around," said Tracey.

Most, she said, were not attending school regularly, more were alienated from family and friends, while others got in trouble with the law.

At the heart of it all, it's the young men and the young women that are working hard to overcome their drug addiction and take back control of their lives.- Carol Tracey, director of development, Portage Atlantic

"Some have been taking drugs as young as 10 and 11 years old," she said.

Program lengths can vary, but residents are usually at the centre for treatment for between four and six months.

"It depends on the individual and how fast they move through the phases and how motivated they are to their treatment," Tracey said.

Tracey said current residents are excited about the new fitness centre, though most of them will be out of treatment by the time it is built.

"At the heart of it all, it's the young men and the young women that are working hard to overcome their drug addiction and take back control of their lives," said Tracey.

"It's an accomplishment that takes incredible courage and determination."

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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