Summerwood House men’s sober home opens in Hampton. How Al Fleury helped make it happen.

Angeljean Chiaramida

HAMPTON — Eighteen months after Magnolia House, the first sober house for women in Rockingham County, was founded, Summerwood House, the county’s first sober men’s residence, has opened its doors.

For those battling substance misuse issues, the facilities promise to offer a safe, structured place to foster long-term recovery. Most of all, they offer hope and environments where substance abuse victims can develop self-esteem, if they’re willing to do the work it takes to build back their lives without dependency on drugs or alcohol.

Opened in October 2020, Magnolia House was the dream of Jules Johnson, a then 43-year-old successful sales executive who herself struggled with substance misuse. After returning to the East Coast from California, Johnson turned that dream into reality. She bought the house, left her job, did the research, financed the start-up costs and runs the sober house herself.

Sober living facilities are the third phase of recovery from addictions, after detox and rehab. They’re the part of the process that puts coping skills to work and shows the addicted they can live life without depending on drugs or alcohol. According to many, it’s the hardest phase.

According to Johnson and others involved in the cycle of substance abuse, most people who haven’t struggled with substances don’t understand the pull addiction has on its victims, or the hurdles to sobriety that friends, family and everyday life places in the path of those trying to stay clean. That’s why a separate substance-free environment like Magnolia House and now Summerwood House – when available – can help the motivated succeed.

Staying sober together

About 40 women have been through the doors of Magnolia House, according to Johnson. Though not everyone is a success story, about 80% of the women involved have remained sober for 10 months, Johnson said.

But one sober living house founded by a single individual isn’t enough to accommodate the thousands dealing with the epidemic of substance misuse in New Hampshire. If it “takes a village to raise a child,” it is taking the partnership of numerous Seacoast organizations and individuals to foster a path to sobriety for the addicted.

According to Mark Lefebvre, director of community engagement for Pinetree Institute, Summerwood House is the result of efforts involving many, including those with the Seacoast Coordinated Response to Substance Use Disorder, the Pinetree Institute, and the Housing Task Force of the Seacoast Coordinated Response, all of whom identified the need for a men’s sober house on the Seacoast and worked to fill it.

Although these organizations were originally based out of Portsmouth, Lefebvre credits Hampton Selectman Rusty Bridle and Hampton Chamber President John Nyhan for being instrumental in bringing them to Hampton.

Identifying a need, however, doesn’t automatically translate to filling it. According to Lefebvre, there was a modicum of serendipity that brought Summerwood House to fruition, and very quickly.

“A perfect storm of opportunity presented itself in December at Blue Harbor Coffee one day,” Lefebvre said. “Al Fleury approached me and offered his help, and a donor came forward.”

According to Lefebvre, Fleury, the owner of a number of businesses in Portsmouth and Hampton, including The Green Room, Wally’s Pub, Luchos and the Surf House Resort, stepped up to the plate with a pivotal offer: The use of one of his properties as the sober house.

“And an anonymous donor, who’d lost a family member to substance abuse, offered to fund the start-up costs,” Lefebvre said.

Knowing of Magnolia House, Lefebvre reached out to Johnson to see if she’d take on running a second.

“I’ve seen sober houses all over the country,” Lefebvre said. “Magnolia House is the warmest, cleanest most welcoming house by far. Jules (Johnson) works to re-establish self-esteem.”

With a property, startup funding and a person to run the facility, Lefebrve said, by the end of January there was a road map for the new 12-person men’s residential sober living facility in Hampton.

Opening Summerwood House

Johnson went to work, buying furniture and making the cosmetic improvements to the 3,000-square-foot house that made it a welcoming and appealing place for men seeking to develop the healthy habits for productive lives without drugs or alcohol. By March men were moving in.

“The decor is very masculine,” said Johnson of Summerwood House. “The men who live here have full-size beds, not twin or bunk beds stacked up. We received approval for a $5,000 grant from Seacoast Public Health Network for a garden project at Summerwood House. We’ll turn the backyard into a retreat to support positive mental health, stress reduction and self-esteem improvement.”

Magnolia and Summerwood houses are blocks apart, she said, allowing Johnson to spend time at both throughout the day. The facilities are certified by New Hampshire NARR, a branch of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and recovery community organization.

Like Magnolia House, Summerwood House is a very structured environment. Every person accepted into the program signs a contract. Included in the rules is a 10 p.m. curfew and no personal cars for the first 30 days. Everyone rises in time to make a 7 a.m. in-person recovery support meeting held nearby. They make their own daily meals, keep the place clean, and have a weekly meal and house meeting together.

“And within 30 days everyone has to have a minimum 32-hour-a-week job,” she said. “That’s to make them self-sufficient and able to pay their own way.”

Johnson accepted three applicants for Summerwood House so far, she said, and is reviewing other applications.

“But we don’t fill beds just to fill beds,” Johnson said. “We want motivated individuals. When that happens, when they’re all motivated, they all rise together. It’s magical.”

According to Johnson, there’s another critical player in this story that can’t be overstated.

“The community of Hampton has just been amazing,” Johnson said. “I can get these people jobs because of the community support we have. That’s huge.”

The Summerwood House is a brand new men’s sober living home in Hampton.

Residents of Magnolia and Summerwood House often wear hoodies with the homes’ logos, she said, and the response to those wearing the hoodies has been nothing short of welcoming. Recently, when Johnson was shopping in a local store wearing her Magnolia House apparel a perfect stranger walked up to her complimenting her on the program, she said.

“If we need something, the community has never failed to deliver it and that’s amazing,” Johnson said. “I’ve never had a negative comment. No one’s ever complained to me. Never. It’s just been great.”