Recovery in Worcester for the Latino Community: Hector Reyes House Sober Living

Recovery in Worcester for the Latino Community: Hector Reyes House Sober Living

The house at 27 Vernon St. may appear to be similar to others on the block from the exterior, but it is very different on the inside. A group of guys has been battling their addictions at the Hector Reyes House-some with booze, some with narcotics. However, there is also teamwork on the inside. There is a reason to be optimistic. There is assistance available.  

“They’re people. They’re just going through some struggles like you and I,” said Tammy Weiner, director of operations and clinical director for the Latin American Health Alliance, which runs the Hector Reyes House. “That’s what we have to see – the human side of this. They’re suffering. They don’t want to be like this. ” 

Erick Tourigny, who’d been 24 when he began abusing alcohol and drugs, is all too aware of this. He is now 30 years old and has been on the road to rehabilitation for the past five years. 

“Some people don’t consider it a disease, but I do,” he said. “I know it’s not good to go back to it, but I think about it all the time. If I had known what withdrawal was, and how you feel when you don’t have it, I would never have come down this road. I wish I could help other people when they think about doing it. ” 

Tourigny arrived at the Hector Reyes House a year ago, on May 2, 2018, after bouncing around numerous programs and never staying longer than two months in any of them. He was kicked out of a Westboro detox clinic and given a cab ride to Union Station in Worcester, where he wound up at Community Healthlink before arriving at the Hector Reyes House. 



The Hector Reyes House is a 25-bed Latino-based residential home for people battling with addiction. It offers in-house medical treatment, behavioral counseling, and vocational opportunities to encourage recovery and decrease relapse. It debuted in April 2009, the first of its kind in Central Massachusetts, and it remains the region’s only Latino treatment program, while it is open to men of all ethnicities. Last month, the hospital celebrated its ten-year milestone with LAHA. 

The team at Hector Reyes works with patients from the minute they walk through the door, according to Weiner, to help them adjust to life when they leave the residence. Many of the men are required to attend; some have recently been released from prison, and others have chosen the house as a means of recovery on their own. There are rules, duties, mandatory groups, and clinics in the environment, which is regimented and rigid-but, Weiner said, “when they come here, they feel safe.” 

She claims that many of the males are hesitant to trust others at first, but that after they realize how much the staff cares, they will begin to open up. Many people also have major trauma that was never addressed in the past or intense remorse over the death of a loved one for which they never received closure. Then there are their conflicts to contend with. 

“They try and they do well, and then they might relapse, and they have their horrible guilt about it,” Weiner said. 

But, she added, “They’re great guys. You have to look at addiction as a disease, and a lot of people don’t. It’s understanding and advocating. ” 

The Hector Reyes House, Casa Reyes’ transitional housing program, and Café Reyes’ workforce training program have all grown over the last decade to form a three-tiered approach to recovery. 

LAHA’s Founder and Medical Director, couldn’t have predicted how life-changing the experience would be for everyone involved. 

“Never in my wildest dreams,” she said. “I never realized how passionate I would become about treating addiction. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my lifetime. I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding. ” 

Castiel has been a board-certified internal medicine physician in Worcester for more than 30 years, including at UMass Memorial Medical Center. She has been Worcester’s commissioner of health and human services since 2015. 

Castiel and LAHA believe that simply treating and releasing people suffering from addiction is not the answer; services following the program must also be provided. 

“Graduation is all good, but what we advocate is those wrap-around services afterward,” said Castiel. “To make it full circle, you have to make those services available.” 

Tourigny felt he wanted something different from the previous rehab places he’d visited. 

“I figured out that being in places where I was comfortable wasn’t working,” 

He, too, was having trouble with the treat-and-release approach. 

“Battling addiction for years, and in three months, you have to figure out what to do?” he said. “I wish more programs were set up like [the Hector Reyes House]. I found a passion for this place. ” 

“When we were looking at starting a project, it wasn’t something people were interested in talking about,” said Castiel, who met Reyes when he was one of her patients. “No one wanted to talk about addiction. No one even wanted to say addiction was a disease, even though we’ve known it for decades. ” 

The house was the brainchild of the late Hector Reyes, who grew up on a farm in Puerto Rico with his father. 

He worked as a baker at Widoff’s for 14 years after moving to Worcester with his family in the 1960s, but he spent most of his time campaigning for the Latino community, particularly those who, like himself, had struggled with addiction. 

Among other things, Reyes founded the first Latino Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, collaborated with his daughter Marlyn to launch Latino radio programming on WICN 90.5 FM, and founded the first Latino softball league. 

“I feel like if he could see how it was running,” Tourigny said of Reyes, “he’d be proud.” 

From 2004 through 2009, Castiel and Reyes worked together to campaign for the house, gaining governmental and community support as well as money from the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services. 

The goal was to create a culturally appropriate and bilingual treatment program for Latino men, as well as a medical aid treatment, or MAT, model in which psychiatrists, infectious disease experts, and medicine would be brought directly to people suffering from addiction. 

According to Castiel, such an approach “has a much better outcome.” 

Reyes passed away in July 2009, just a few months after the house debuted. 

The residents’ day at the house starts at 8 a.m. with morning reflection, followed by group sessions in the afternoon on topics such as triggers/coping skills, life skills, relapse prevention, humility reflection, self-worth, parenting, infectious diseases, business coaching, and dealing with emotions and responsibilities. 

Chores are distributed among the males, and when a specific amount of time has passed, they are allowed to leave the house on Saturday and Sunday afternoons if they have earned a pass. 

Tourigny said he was allowed to go to the zoo with the group last summer. 

“It helps you realize there are other purposes in life than using it. I used to need drugs and alcohol to have fun, “he said. 

Now, he said, “I can do these types of things if I get my life together.” 



Living in the Hector Reyes House has helped Terry Hamner forget his negative habits, and he now feels more progress in his recovery. 

“It keeps me morally straight and clean. I have maintained sobriety for six months, “he said. “It’s helping me not be a criminal in my elderly life. I’m back to serving God the way I’m supposed to. ” 

Hamner came to Massachusetts from Alabama to be closer to his sister, who had relocated here. 

“I ventured down the wrong alleys,” he said. “I started boozin ’it up and spent a lot of money. I was foolish to think I should spend my money on drinking or getting high. ” 

Hamner came to the Hector Reyes House after completing a detox program, where he discovered his spirituality and aspired to set a good example for others who are attempting to rehabilitate themselves. 

He went on to say that the program provides you with structure. It allows you to move about and use your strength. You must put the program to its full potential-otherwise it will not work. 

Castiel stated That’s what makes it so appealing. It can’t be an institution; it needs to be a nurturing environment. 



But Castiel didn’t stop at the Hector Reyes House; she quickly understood that residents would continue to require services when they graduated from the program. 

“They graduate and they’re doing great, and they have nowhere to go,” Weiner said. “They’re working, their physical health is good, their mental health is good, but they have nowhere to go.” 

To help with the problem, LAHA bought the house next door in 2011 for a transitional sober house, Casa Reyes, where those who graduate from Hector Reyes can live if they like. 

“The transition from being in a structured environment to being on your own, even if it’s right next door, is very difficult,” Castiel said. “They’re afraid of going out. They’re afraid of going into the community. They don’t want to live the lives they’ve had. This is the first time they’ve been in a safe environment. ” 

They can stay in touch with the treatment center’s services and engage in activities and groups by living at Casa Reyes. 

Because of the risk of relapse, Castiel believes this is critical. 

The goal of LAHA is to address this through its residential and therapy services approach. 

Rent is $425, and if they pay between the first and fifth of the month, $100 of their rent is transferred into their savings account, ensuring that they will have money saved when they leave the program. 

LAHA just purchased the building next door for a second transitional residence because the program is sorely needed. 

Renovations are now underway, and it is expected to reopen on June 1st. 



Castiel noted another challenge for folks in recovery after Casa Reyes was up and running: finding work. 

She admitted that finding stable employment was difficult. She claims that without shelter and a job, the cycle repeats itself, and many people wind up back in jail. 

Because CORI checks often prevented those in recovery from getting work, they would often take seasonal employment, only to become unemployed again, according to Castiel. 

As a result, LAHA opened Café Reyes, a Cuban-inspired restaurant at 421 Shrewsbury St. in 2015, which employs residents of the Hector Reyes House and Casa Reyes. 

The café collaborates with Quinsigamond Community College, which provides classes on ServSafe requirements, prep chef skills, and other topics. 

“It’s a way to teach soft skills,” Castiel said. More importantly, she added, “It brings addiction into the community. People realize that addiction is no different from any other disease. For the residents, it’s a way to expand their community so they can see that people care.” 

LAHA recently expanded as part of the Access to Recovery initiative to support other residential facilities since it runs the only localized job site in combination with a treatment home and because work training has been so successful. 

The café serves as a 14-week training location for residents in various programs thanks to governmental cooperation. 

They earn a certificate at the end of the program, and LAHA assists them in finding employment. 

According to Weiner, the program began last month, with the initial training group coming from Catholic Charities’ Crozier House on Hammond Street. 

One of the Hector Reyes residents who has worked in the café is Tourigny. 

“It’s nice and homey. I love being there, “he said. “I love to talk to people, to try to make them laugh and make their day.” 

Roberto Santiago enjoys working in the café as well. 

Hector Reyes House resident for the second time. He previously worked at the café until graduating from the program after a year. 

He returned to Brockton and resided with his mother for a few months, but before getting into trouble, I chose to return to Worcester. 

Santiago also asked to work at the café after he came home. 

He’s a handyman, dishwasher, prep cook, and server all rolled into one. 

I take care of whatever needs to be done. 

“I love this place,” Santiago said, adding that working at the cafe has helped make him stronger to deal with everyday things in life. “It was really hard for me to get back into society because I got stressed. This place helps you. ” 

And when people tell me, it makes me feel like I did a good job, he added. 

I didn’t think I was worth it when I was out on the street. 

It gives you a sense of exclusivity. 

When the boys arrive at work in the morning, Jose Rivera, the manager of Café Reyes, gives them a pep talk and reminds them that it’s one day at a time. 

“We’re here for them, and we carry out our day,” he said. “I try to remind them why they’re here.” 

On a daily basis, the café employs at least five people: front staff, cook, prep, dishwasher, and barista. 

In addition to the café’s meals, the restaurant also provides catering services, which keeps employees busy even during off-peak hours. 

Rivera, a recovering addict, enjoys working in the café and with the boys. 

His dream was to deal with addicts, he said, adding that the café job was a wonderful fit for him when he was hired last August, given his history in food service and management, as well as having previously owned and run his own business. 

“It is rewarding. I was one of the lucky ones, and I can show them that it can be done, “Rivera said. 

Because he is in recovery himself, David Gonzalez, a case manager at the Hector Reyes House, understands the challenges the residents face. 

He had been in and out of AdCare, a substance abuse treatment facility, more than 15 times in the previous two years, and had also served time at the House of Corrections. 

“I’ve slept in cars, I’ve slept on the streets, I’ve slept in empty buildings,” Gonzalez said. 

Now, on the other hand, he looks forward to going to work. 

He’s been at the Hector Reyes House for about two years, and he’s also the president and substance abuse liaison for Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, or EPOCA, a Worcester-based organization that works to provide resources and opportunities for those who have served time in prison. 

I don’t think I’ll ever want to use it again. 

Gonzalez said he aspires to instill such a feeling in the residents with whom he works. “Having a sober environment with people to back you is very important. I think the program’s success is because of that, but it also has to be a person’s determination, “he said. “This is where I belong. This is my calling. ” 



Residents benefit from attitudes like Gonzalez’s and those of other staff members. 

Residents expressed their belief that the staff genuinely care about them and their well-being. 

“She treats us almost like one of her own kids,” Tourigny said of Castiel. “Ever since I’ve been an addict, I feel like I’m worthless. She doesn’t look at us like that. ” 

Tourigny described Castiel as “almost like one of her own children.” 

I’ve felt useless ever since I became an addict. 

That’s not how she looks at us. 

Santiago agreed, claiming that Castiel treated him like a son and that Weiner went out of her way to locate him a doctor who could help him with his rage issues. 

“They all really care about us,” Tourigny said. “They want to see us succeed.” 

She’s the type that will stop everything she’s doing and take five minutes to help me, “Santiago said of Weiner. That’s the most important thing. She tells me, ‘I’m proud of you, Roberto.’ ” 

So much so that even when relapses occur, new chances arise. 

Tourigny moved into Casa Reyes after graduation, having completed the program around Christmas last year. 

After a relapse, he requested and was granted permission to return to the Hector Reyes House. 

“This place was willing to give me a second chance,” he said. 



It’s also a location for folks who want to try something new for the first time. 

David Serrano, like Tourigny, has been working on his recovery for five years and has gone through a variety of programs, including the Hector Reyes House, which is his sixth. 

“Here they treat you like a human,” Serrano said. “They actually care about people. They followed Hector Reyes’ dream. ” 

Serrano was graduating from Crozier House in Worcester and had intentions of completing the program in a three-quarters house. 

However, on his last day, he had gone to Six Flags with his daughter and was late coming back to the house due to traffic. 

He’d gotten his third write-up, which meant he couldn’t go to the three-quarters house anymore. 

He subsequently made preparations to move in with a buddy, but Serrano discovered him dead from an overdose not long after. 

He had not only lost his companion, but he had also become homeless. 

“It was quite difficult,” he remarked. 

Serrano’s turning point occurred when he awoke in the hospital one day with no memory of what had occurred. 

He was found nearly dead on Green Street in Worcester, with a blood alcohol level of.59. 

In the ambulance, his heart stopped, his lungs were 65 percent full of fluid, and he spent three days in an induced coma. 

Interns came into my room to observe me. 

He claims that most people in their fifties don’t make it. 

That was the pivotal moment. 

I knew I had to act quickly or I would perish. 

Regardless of how many people told me, I needed to see it for myself. 

It has taken a long time for this to happen. 

Serrano, 49, said he began drinking at the age of 13 because he thought it was hip. 

“And then I’m 40 years old and drinking before I go to work just to feel better,” he said. “I hate to say it’s all I did these years, but it’s pretty much the truth.” 

He couldn’t quit drinking despite getting pancreatitis twice, the first time when he was 32. 

“Alcohol leads to other things,” Serrano said. “Marijuana was a big thing. I lived on marijuana. If I got a prescription, I would abuse it constantly. Instead of taking one, I’d take three. ” 

“I never thought in a million years I’d be homeless,” he said. “To go from being a father in Millbury, to a boarding house, to being on the streets, to almost dead… I’m too old. I don’t want to do this anymore. ” 

“I’m a little embarrassed about myself but mostly mad at myself,” he continued. “I thought I was the smartest guy in the world, but I wasn’t.” 

Serrano had a home in Millbury and was always employed. 

He claimed to have worked as an auto body painter, and a manager of an auto body business and subsequently built programming for computerized precision equipment until one day he couldn’t. 

“I never thought in a million years I’d be homeless,” he said. “To go from being a father in Millbury, to a boarding house, to being on the streets, to almost dead… I’m too old. I don’t want to do this anymore. ” 

“I’m a little embarrassed about myself but mostly mad at myself,” he continued. “I thought I was the smartest guy in the world, but I wasn’t.” 

Serrano has been at the Hector Reyes House for almost two months and has been focusing on self-help and the 12 Steps program. 

He claimed that if he didn’t have the house, he’d be attempting to get back on his feet or, worse, “I would’ve simply given up on myself.” 

Someday, Serrano said, “All the things I learn I want to pass on. I can hopefully help someone. It’s not nice, the things I’ve seen. It’s not nice.” 



It will be the first time for many of the residents, such as Juan Molina, 32, who will graduate from Hector Reyes in less than a month. 

Molina, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, had spent at least ten years in and out of the Worcester County House of Corrections, the longest of which lasted two years, and had been living on the streets before his arrival. 

“I was out there doing the same things I had been doing for the last 10 years, committing crimes and going to jail every year,” he said. 

Molina’s journey began when he was a teenager and paid his first visit to his father, who lived in New Jersey. 

“He called me into the bathroom and said, ‘I got something for you,’” Molina said. 

That something turned out to be heroin. 

“My dad got me hooked up when I was 14. I was young, so I got stuck in that life, “Molina said. “I didn’t know the consequences.” 

He got clean for a period when he moved back to Puerto Rico with his mother and brothers, and then to Florida with his mother and brothers, but his past life was too strong. 

Even if you want to leave after trying it and liking it, your mind will tell you that you want to do it again, Molina explained. 

You want to improve, but you also want to continue to use it. 

To pay for the narcotics, Molina began stealing, which landed him in jail each time. 

He claimed that he would commit one crime and then have a plan in his head for the next. 

He predicted that my eyes would open. I had already started doing crimes. He described getting high as “like a full-time job.” I didn’t give a damn about people. I took it from others. I had no regard for others. That is something I am not proud of. 

Today, Molina has a fresh outlook, and he credits his mother and five brothers, all of whom now reside in Worcester, with providing him with a strong support system. 

He works as a barber and a tattoo artist, as well as painting and drawing. He also works as a metal assembler in a factory. 

In prison, he trained himself to sketch and now sells some of his work. 

He painted the mural at Café Reyes and also donated canvas paintings for the house’s 10th-anniversary celebration, which took place on April 24 at Mechanics Hall. 

“I’m getting older now. I see things differently. Too much time is wasted. The years pass so quickly, “he said, adding, “I’m not thinking about using it. I’m just thinking about moving forward. ” 

Tourigny echoed this sentiment. 

He prefers to be known as a loyal person rather than a party animal. He wants to go to college and start his own business someday. I simply want to have everything in order before it’s too late. 

What happened in the last five years? I’ve spent it on programming, “Tourigny asked himself, and then answered his question. If I’m an active user, I’ll never be a good person. 

I can’t go on like this any longer. I feel like I still have a long way to go, but this place seems to be pointing me on the correct path. This location has a special meaning for me. It helped me a lot. 

I don’t believe I would be the person I am today if it weren’t for my parents. 



However, the issue remains: why aren’t more programs like LAHA’s three-tiered approach available? 

Castiel and Weiner believe that there should be. 

“I don’t know if it’s resources or funding, but it’s needed. We’re one of a kind around here, “Weiner said. 

The average state graduation percentage for any form of residential treatment program is 37.6%, according to statistics provided by Weiner from the state Bureau of Substance Addiction Services. 

The Hector Reyes House has a completion percentage of 49%. 

The average length of stay in the state is 102 days; in Hector Reyes, it’s 157 days. 

According to Weiner’s data, 9 percent of those who graduate return to their homes. 

Castiel said that it’s difficult to keep track of residents because they don’t often know where they go after graduation if they don’t relocate to Casa Reyes or keep in touch. 

They do, however, offer an alumni organization and a private Facebook page for residents and grads. 

According to Castiel, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation also gave LAHA a grant to help them keep track of statistics. 

Castiel also believes that in addition to more programs for men like LAHA’s, a women’s house should be established. 

However, she stated that finding someone who is willing to take the initiative and has the enthusiasm to do so will be difficult. 

It necessitates a lot of work, and it must be done well, according to Castiel. 

The large bucks aren’t yours. 

What it does for your heart, what it does for yourself, is a massive pay that I’ve never gotten anywhere else. 


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