By Kevin Coughlin
Morristown is Morris County’s hub for social services and halfway houses.
But four decades ago, Mrs. Wilson’s Treatment Center for Women was a hard sell to the community.
Margret Brady did the selling.
Hundreds of women have received a second chance as a result. This week, the nonprofit halfway house thanked the former councilwoman for her advocacy, at a benefit in the Kellogg Club.
“It was very forward-thinking, 40 years ago, for a woman to advocate for a halfway house,” said Barbara Colie, president of Mrs. Wilson’s.
Named for Lois Wilson, wife of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Mrs. Wilson’s operates two homes in Morristown that help women of all ages ease back into the mainstream after completing treatment for substance abuse.
The transitional facilities can accommodate up to 24 women, who receive counseling, encouragement and job training in a safe environment for six- to eight months, until they are ready to fully re-enter society.
Right from the start, Brady had a soft spot for Mrs. Wilson’s.
“My mother was an alcoholic,” she recounted. “When I grew up, you kept women alcoholics a dark secret. I spent from the time I was four or five lying why my mother wasn’t there. I always said she was ‘ironing.'”
Brady said she understands her mother’s demons–and appreciates how clients of Mrs. Wilson’s must fear having their dark secrets revealed.
“We were illegal German immigrants” living in constant fear of deportation, Brady said. “My mother lost contact with her family. Her father was killed. It drove her to drink.”
Mrs. Wilson’s “was one of the first projects I worked on when I came to town,” she said, remembering her early days on the council.
Brady also founded the town Historic Preservation Commission and chaired a long-range planning committee, and she still serves on the Morristown Parking Authority and the Passaic River Coalition. She also writes occasionally for MorristownGreen.com.
‘OUR DOORS ARE ALWAYS OPEN’
Tuesday’s Kellogg Club soiree was anticipated to raise about $45,000, said Mrs. Wilson’s Executive Director Michelle Reyes. The organization subsists on a mix of grants and contributions.
“We provide compassionate, dedicated services for this community,” Reyes said. “Our doors are always open.”
The need for such services is huge, she said. Opiates — from pain killers to heroin — have replaced alcohol as the drug of choice for 70 percent of the ladies who come through the program now.
About half of Mrs. Wilson’s clients manage to stay clean after they leave, Reyes said.
Tuesday’s honorees included the Willets Foundation and David Ellis Events, which has donated nearly $1 million of production- and catering support to Mrs. Wilson’s and numerous other charities.
“Our mom was an alcoholic. So Mrs. Wilson’s is very near and dear to our hearts,” said Chad Ellis Peters, a board member for the nonprofit who was recognized along with his brothers, Jonathan David Peters and Ryan Peters.
It’s inspiring to see “beaten down” women emerge from Mrs. Wilson’s with dramatically improved lives, Chad Peters said. The agency is small enough “where you can make a real difference.”
Mayor Tim Dougherty, the event’s honorary chairman, described Marge Brady as “my second mother” and praised Mrs. Wilson’s for its role in the war on substance abuse–a war that is taking a stark turn.
“Heroin is the No. 1 killer right now in our community, if not in the nation,” the Mayor said.
His wife, Mary Dougherty, serves on the board of Mrs. Wilson’s, one of the lower-profile nonprofits in town.
“For a long time, we flew under the radar,” Mary Dougherty said. “But we’re learning the community wants to support us in a bigger way.”
One place to start is the rickety back porch of Mrs. Wilson’s main house. A collection is under way to replace it.