Impact: Behavioral Health Series

Issue #8; March 8, 2005

From “Heroin Town” to “Recovery Town”

In October 2002, the Hartford Courant published an explosive five-part series with dramatic photos that depicted Willimantic, CT as “Heroin Town.”  The impact of these articles was devastating to Willimantic, a town that was (and continues) putting forward tremendous effort to revitalize the downtown area and attract new businesses.   

The town immediately held a series of public forums and organized a broad-based group of citizens and community leaders to address the problem. Prominent among them was Diane Potvin who, courageously and with great sensitivity, represented the then unpopular presence of the “recovering community” within Willimantic. A person in recovery from a substance use disorder herself, Ms. Potvin is a long-time resident of Willimantic and the Area Coordinator for the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), an organization that advocates for recovering people. CCAR receives support from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. 

A year after the Courant’s articles, the collective actions of the full Willimantic community began to yield positive changes. The local perception of the problem and public opinion regarding viable and effective solutions gradually changed through education and persistent influence from Ms. Potvin and the local CCAR Chapter. After difficult and often contentious work, the town adopted a plan that, amazingly, embraced the recovering community as a positive force for addressing the heroin stronghold within Willimantic. This marked the town’s first major step in transforming Willimantic from “Heroin Town” to Recovery Town.”

Subsequently, CCAR established the Windham Recovery Community Center (WRCC), a storefront on Main Street – not a hidden side street. The space was beautifully renovated by people in recovery and a Grand Opening was held in February 2004. More than 200 people packed the opening, including State Senator Donald Williams, State Representative Walter Pawelkiewicz, and First Selectman Michael Paulhus who publicly offered their support.  Major TV stations and the press covered the event. The Director of the local Chamber of Commerce noted, “I wish all ribbon cuttings had this many people!”  

The WRCC is truly a positive change agent for the City of Willimantic. It is a physical presence in the community with a recovery perspective where individuals and families can go for support, information, education, and resources. Simultaneously, it is a high visibility site that offers opportunities for people in recovery to “give back.” It reaches people who struggle with addiction and offers them hope and supports to achieve a better future. Open six days per week from noon to 6:00 p.m., volunteers have logged more that 1040 hours of public service in 10 months, including community education, support groups for people in recovery and for families, telephone recovery support and recovery trainings, and hosting drug- and alcohol-free events. It also has held memorial services for members of the community who lost their lives to addiction.   

When all is said and done, the health of a community is the responsibility of the citizens of that community. The recovery community of Willimantic rose with passion and skill to help meet this responsibility, and continues to do so. Call 860-571-2985 or email for information about CCAR.

Your thoughts are welcome at

Recovery…a positive change agent for urban revitalization.

/ Impact Index 2005 /