When the NuWay Counseling Center announced two years ago that it wanted to open a new addiction treatment center in the Whittier neighborhood, nearby homeowners were petrified.
The Whittier Alliance neighborhood association put up a fight to keep the center at bay, because people in recovery tend to bring about drug dealers, says executive director Ricardo McCurley. And because Whittier was already home to an inordinate number of homeless shelters, battered women’s homes, sober group homes, and drug centers, the Whittier Alliance felt that other parts of Minneapolis needed to share the pressures.
It wasn’t that they were “not-in-my-backyard,” but rather “please-not-another-one-in-my-super-cramped-backyard,” McCurley says. “We fight this fight because we already see some of the effects that go along with it, but other neighborhoods will fight against things like this being put in their neighborhood when they don’t even have anything.”
NuWay charged ahead nevertheless. It needed to upgrade from an outpatient center on Nicollet that was too cramped for the 200 clients coming through every day. So it purchased the historic Pillsbury Snyder mansion at 2118 Blaisdell Ave. S. The renovation defies every unsavory stereotype attached to recovering addicts.
Complete with ornate woodwork, crystal chandeliers, leather armchairs, and a grand marble staircase cut from the same Italian quarry that supplied the Sistine Chapel, the center’s lounges and lecture room have been preserved to reflect the period of its original owners: John and Nellie Pillsbury Snyder, who survived the sinking of the Titanic.
“The [Pillsbury Snyder] grandchildren came out in support when we were facing some of the challenges with the neighborhood,” says NuWay spokeswoman Monique Bourgeois. “They actually sought us out at that point and said we really support having this space utilized for healing and wellness and recovery."
The mansion has been open for three weeks. One client, a 59-year-old woman who asked not to be named, says she’s never quite received treatment in a place like the Pillsbury Snyder mansion.
Born into a family of 13, she suffered abuse and neglect throughout her childhood, eventually leading her to drop out of school at 16 in pursuit of drugs and alcohol. She had a child at 23, and a social worker gave her the ultimatum of going to rehab or losing custody. She sobered up for more than two decades until a bad breakup led her to slip.
Two years ago, she finally checked herself into intensive residential therapy at the Pride Institute. She then graduated to a strict sober house, and finally started seeking outpatient treatment at NuWay.
“I saw that I had choices and that I could make my own decisions or I could stay a victim and blame people for things that I needed to be accountable for. … I’m just ready to do what it is I need to do to keep myself sober and be accountable for my own actions and live a beautiful, sober life and be happy.”
She’s now 13 months sober.
“If you look back at how far this goes back, there’s been so much in this place,” she says. “To me it’s beautiful. Look at all this beautiful stuff they have for us to come in and just relax. I love the structure, I love the crystals, I love the energy that’s in here. I love this place.”
So far, even the neighbors who originally opposed NuWay are pleased with the way it’s all worked out.
McCurley says that he hasn’t heard a single complaint from nearby residents.
“At this point, they are a part of our community, so our ultimate goal is to support them as we do anybody in our community,” he says. “If there’s a problem with predatory drug dealing or anything other issues that could happen with them being here, that’s an issue for all of us in this community, and we’ll help them with that.”