The program doesn’t have a firm timeline for graduation: Staff members decide together if a woman is ready to graduate. After a woman graduates, the staff evaluates her transition depending on her needs. Some women stay and join the staff. Others have a period of living in the transitional house while they complete schooling or find jobs. Meanwhile, they can enjoy graduate and chef Starla Hamill’s good cooking, with lots of fruits and vegetables: Following the neat pattern of everything in the house, vegetables in the pantry are lined up in tidy rows.
Part of the reason New Life is in such demand now is the opioid crisis. New Hampshire has the nation’s highest rate of deaths from fentanyl, an opioid more powerful than heroin. This past fall New Life had to stop taking interviews for the program because it had a long waiting list and no available beds. Right now 15 women and 20 children live in the home, and women graduates live in the transitional home across the street. In years past, most of the women in the New Life program were in their 30s and 40s. Now most of the women are younger, in their 20s.
Last fall a woman eight months pregnant and addicted to heroin called wanting to enter the program. The house was packed, but the receptionist set an intake interview for the next Tuesday. The woman was staying with her mom, who had searched her for drugs. Over the weekend the woman overdosed, and she and her baby died. That’s when the organization’s board talked about finding another house. New Life recently bought a beautiful old home around the corner and is in the midst of renovation to add more beds.
Staffers bear the weight of the opioid crisis in other ways. Grace Rosado is now New Life’s executive director. (Her husband George has retired while dealing with health issues.) In April, a probation officer came to Grace’s office in tears. A 22-year-old woman who had been in the officer’s caseload for 11 years had just died of a heroin overdose. The officer went to Grace because she was the only “God person” he knew: Grace agreed to visit the family and read Psalm 116 with them.
“I don’t want to do any more funerals,” Rosado said—and in 40 years she has never had to go to a funeral for a New Life graduate who overdosed. That success, along with the opioid crisis, brings others to study their model. Phyllis Phelps was one of the early graduates of New Life in the 1980s with her daughter, before she met her husband Bill. She later worked at a pregnancy resource center in Keene, where she counseled one of the women to keep her baby and come to New Life. The woman did, and graduated. Now the Phelps’ church in Keene has sent the couple to serve a yearlong apprenticeship at New Life, with the goal of setting up a similar home in Keene.