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New Kent neighbors split over plan to turn former children's camp into drug-rehab center

Former Makemie Woods church camp
Posted at 11:31 PM, Apr 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 23:39:03-04

NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. -- The conversation around mental health and recovery is creating a divide in New Kent. Residents are split over a Newport News faith-based recovery center that is proposed to relocate to the area.

The New Kent Board of Supervisors will decide in early May if they can grant a provisional use permit.

That permit would allow Faith Recovery to operate their facility in New Kent. If not, officials said they’ll have to find another location to go.

Former Makemie Woods church camp site
Former Makemie Woods church camp site

The current proposed site sits along Ropers Church Road in New Kent. It was formerly operated as Makemie Woods church camp. According to permit documents, it’s a piece of property spanning 274 acres, with wooded dorms, a full industrial kitchen with dinning rooms in a camp style.

Travis Hall the  Executive Director of Faith Recovery said it has everything they need. They hope to move their program to New Kent from Newport News.

“That camp really provides an environment that is much more conducive to emotional healing,” Hall said.

Hall said the recovery center needed to get out of the downtown Newport news area.

“There are so many temptations right around there where guys can go two or three blocks away and score,” he said.

Faith Recovery Executive Director Travis Hall
Faith Recovery Executive Director Travis Hall

He said the new facility would have 40 men in the program going through the faith-based process. They live on site with staff year round, as they coach them through recovery. He said they have been doing this for 40 years and they understand recovery and addiction well.

However, the premise of the program is polarizing to New Kent community members.

There are counter petitions currently circulating.

Sandra Gauthier
Sandra Gauthier

New Kent native Sandra Gauthier is one citizen that is concerned with the idea of the facility. She said New Kent is quiet, has low crime, and folks keep to themselves.

“There will be 40 adult men every day of the year for 12 months unrestrained and many of them are coming from rehabilitation programs in jail. They are leaving incarceration and coming out here unrestrained and it’s a concern,” she said.

Outside of safety, Gauthier is taking issue with the success rate and the lack of licensing of the program. She also finds concern on what it could do to property value, and the fact part of the property is a sacred space.

Hall addressed those concerns. He said it’s tough because the of the stigma that comes with addiction. The facility said they don’t take sex offenders or violent criminals and folks spend the majority of time on the property outside of supervised visits to appointments or church. To address their license, Faith Recovery said ministry recovery is not clinical and doesn’t need a license.

Former Makemie Woods church camp
Former Makemie Woods church camp

However, they are currently in the process to get their state license to add a professional clinical component to the program. They also say over the last two years about 25 members have made it the full year to graduate the program out of 115 members. It’s a number they state may sound low, but they find is typical, because of the length of the program, or because people leave for family or medical issues. Hall said there is also a plan is place to keep the sacred space protected.

“It’s important to remember that these are people first and foremost that have a very complex disease and these are people looking to get help,” said Hall.

 Rick Ferrell
Rick Ferrell

One who understands the need for a facility like this is New Kent resident Rick Ferrell. He’s been in recovery for over two decades.

“I didn’t set out to just be a bad person that day. It takes over and erases any morals you have,” he said.

He finds there are so many stigmas and stereotypes that still exist about alcoholics or addicts. He said it makes it even more tough because there hasn’t been a full generation where these terms have been medically recognized.

He thinks because of the need he sees locally for recovery and across the country that New Kent could benefit from the recovery facility.

“There is already a lot of drug abuse already in the county, just in my little street alone. I experienced a life changing opportunity to connect with a God during recovery. That’s how it begins and that’s why it’s so important for these new people to be exposed to people like that,” he said.

Former Makemie Woods church camp
Former Makemie Woods church camp

Now the New Kent Board of Supervisors is left to weigh all of it. They’ll take into account the zoning commission, views from community members and approval from reviewing agencies to see if a future of recovery has place in New Kent.

Gauthier hopes more people can become aware of the proposal and do their own research.  Ferrell, hopes folks realize that New Kent has a unique opportunity that can bring positive change to people who need it.

Hall hopes the board will approve the permit.

“I want them to see the other side of addiction that these are people in their community,” he said.

The New Kent Board of Supervisors will meet on May 9. They’re set to make a decision on whether Faith Recovery can use that land.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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