Raising Your Awareness about Narcotics (R.Y.A.N.) is converting the former Knights of Columbus Hall at the corner of U.S. Route 9W and Burt Street in Saugerties to a space that would combine a dedicated clubhouse for AA and Al-Anon meetings, along with sober parties and dormitory space for those looking to get back on their feet after recovering from addiction.
“Our goal is to create self-supporting housing for people who get out of rehab and want to rejoin society and get a job,” said Vincent Kelder, who lost his son Ryan Kelder, a 2008 Kingston High School grad, to a heroin overdose in 2015. Kelder is no stranger to struggles with addiction, having recovered from alcohol addiction, a recovery he credits in no small part to support he received in such groups.
“I’m lucky enough to have found guys and women who showed me a way and I was able to recover,” Kelder said. “My family has suffered the devastation of addiction, but we also know the joy and beauty of recovery.”
Kelder said R.Y.A.N. recently purchased the building, to be named the R.Y.A.N. House, from the Knights of Columbus for $350,000. He said the Knights of Columbus chapter was reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and declining membership and moved its activities to an area church.
He said the clubhouse on the first floor could open as soon as Mid-September in honor of his late son’s birthday. Right now, they’re busy cleaning up and making repairs to the space, like putting up new ceiling tiles.
Kelder said groups have already booked 6:45 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. meeting slots and he also plans for 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. meetings. He feels there will be even more meetings to fill in the middle of those slots. “I’ve been to clubhouses in Florida where they meet every hour,” he said.
It comes at a time when AA and Al-Anon meetings, often held in churches have struggled to find a home for meetings as houses of worship have opened and closed for in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The churches don’t want the responsibility,” he said.
And with R.Y.A.N. House, instead of having to carve out a corner or book a multi-purpose room in a church, AA and Al-Anon groups will be able to have a spot to call their own and be proud of, he said. “They don’t have to pack up their chairs or take down their 12-step stuff. It can be something to be proud of. We want to erase the stigma of alcohol and drug addiction.”
Everything will be in a central and accessible location right in front of an Ulster County Area Transit bus stop, Kelder said. And he added that over the years he’s seen sober people be very generous to pick up those who can’t drive or catch the bus.
“When there are night meetings, there’s always someone to pick you up and bring you home,” he said.
He asserted the R.Y.A.N House will also have sober functions, like dinners, Super Bowl parties, UFC fights and barbeques. “It will be a place where people go to have fun sober,” he said.
But perhaps the Kelder’s and the not-for-profit’s biggest goal is to create self-supporting housing for people who get out of rehab and want to rejoin society and work to get a job, but don’t have the foundational elements in place to make that happen. The not-for-profit hopes to complete that project by August 2022, according to R.Y.A.N.’s website
He said they initially plan on using the second-floor for a dormitory space for 8-12 men in a dormitory-type setting, having them pay a rent of just a few hundred dollars a month for six months to a year as they get back on their feet. Kelder said the space will initially house only men, as he wants to avoid issues with mixed-gender housing. “When you have mixed, you only get drama,” he said. He said R.Y.A.N. hopes once this project succeeds they can purchase a nearby home to offer the same for women.
Kelder said people face real hardships when they get out of rehab and don’t have the $3000 or $4,000 it takes to rent an apartment.
“Then they fall into the trap of being in a bad neighborhood, bad apartment,” he said. “A guy wants to get back on his feet, but he can’t afford to get an apartment.”
He said his late son spent that last two years of his life in and out of rehab programs, including a ten-month stint in Samaritan Village in Ellenville before he was transferred to an outpatient setting, and the Ulster County Social Services Department put up him in an apartment that Kelder described as simply “less than desirable. He fell victim to his demons on August 22, 2015,” Kelder said speaking of the date his son overdosed.
“This system is broken, you put a guy in an apartment, then you get a job and you lose your benefits,” he said. “Then you sit in your apartment in your head with mental illness.”
At R.Y.A.N. House, Kelder said they’ll help the men find jobs, but they will have to maintain sobriety and want to do community service and chores.
“If you have sober support from the clubhouse, you will gain sober relationships,” he said. “To stay clean and sober stay around clean and sober people “We want to give them everything they need to succeed.”
The goal is to reward people who want to better themselves, Kelder said.
He said he hopes the efforts will be supported self-sufficiently through the clubhouse and community contributions. Kelder said he wants to avoid getting involved with public funding and the red tape that goes along with it.
He noted they already raised enough money to purchase the building through community contributions and fundraisers.
Still, the not-for-profit needs anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 to fix up the building, depending on how much they can depend on volunteer labor for the work.
As for R.Y.A.N., Kelder said it was started by his wife and daughter doing a running event, but then it added a lot of other functions, even bringing in former Yankees and Mets right fielder Darryl Strawberry who shared his story of drug addiction and journey to sobriety in an event a few years back at Saugerties High School. Then in 2019, they held a youth rally featuring ninth graders from all the school districts in Ulster County. While COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 rally, Kelder still hopes to hold the program again this year, depending on virus-related guidelines.
Kelder said when his family wrote the obituary for his son, they made sure to state that he died of a “progressive and deadly disease of addiction,” with a goal of helping to reduce stigma and create a dialogue around addiction.
“This epidemic has been facing everybody, and a lot of people didn’t talk at the time,” he said. “This opened up a community.” Kelder recalled hearing people tell him stories of nieces and nephews and sons with a problem. “If you’re not, you’re really blessed or you’re in denial.”
He said by creating this home he’ll be living out a year’s-long dream to create self-supporting housing that creates an on-ramp for people to go out and rejoin society after suffering addiction.
“I’m taking what was essentially a bar and letting sober people live in it,” he said. “This whole thing is God’s work and we’re going to make it happen.”