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In Zack’s memory, a house of hope

New Lowell program ‘a stepping stone’ for young men in recovery

By Todd Feathers

tfeathers@lowellsun.com

LOWELL — The first time Louise Griffin reached out for a bed, the Lowell House had to turn her away.

The addiction treatment program had no room left for her son, Zachary Gys. It was in the years before former Gov. Deval Patrick declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency and organizations like Lowell House, still strapped for funding, were overburdened. Zachary had to go elsewhere. It was one of three times his mother sent him to Florida for treatment because she couldn’t find a bed near home. He would eventually die of a fatal overdose there at the age of 21. The day he died, July 19, 2013, Griffin undertook a mission to prevent the same tragedy from striking other families. Neither she nor Lowell House could get him a local bed, despite their best efforts, but now they have got him a house.

A renovated home looking out over the Merrimack River with room for seven young men in recovery, Zack’s House will be a refuge and restoration point for young men like its namesake.

“You have to have a safe, structured place,” Griffin said, standing in the home’s living room. Furniture, donated by Bob’s Furniture, is scheduled to arrive Wednesday in preparation for the grand opening on Thursday.

“The only way we’re going

Please see ZACK'S/5

Louise Griffin of Lowell, mother of Zachary Gys, who died after a struggle with addiction in 2013, joins Bill Garr, executive director of Lowell House, at Zack’s House, a new Lowell home for young men in recovery. At top inset, a sign inside was made from license plates from throughout New England. Video at lowellsun.com.

SUN PHOTOS / JULIA MALAKIE

Zachary Gys


“The only way we’re going to get out of this epidemic is by embracing them and getting them back into the community.”

Louise Griffin of Lowell, mother of Zachary Gys, who died after a struggle with addiction in 2013

In Zack’s memory, a house of hope

ZACK'S/ From Page 1 to get out of this epidemic is by embracing them and getting them back into the community,” she said, adding “We need to acknowledge that there are those among us who have an illness, the illness is treatable, and it’s not contagious.”

Zack’s House, at 221 Pawtucket Blvd., is not quite a sober home, not quite a residential treatment program. The young men who will fill its rooms, must be in recovery when they enroll and can stay for up to two years.

Afull-time transitional case manager assigned to the house will assist the residents, aged 18 to 26, with finding work and rebuilding their relationships with family and friends.

“It’ll be kind of a stepping stone,” said Diana Newell, senior director of residential services at Lowell House. “It’s a very vulnerable age ... there’s the fear, when they’re coming out of the more structured settings, to be on their own.”

At Zack’s House, the recovery will never be done alone.

From the dream, to the remodeled kitchen, to the inspirational pictures hung the walls, the house was built by people like Griffin and Dean Jenkins, owner of general contractor Gjenco, who understand addiction.

It took several years for Lowell House and Griffin’s foundation, Zack’s Team, to find a suitable home and outfit it.

They were assisted by the previous owner, who donated some of the proceeds of the sale back to the project, and by MassHousing’s Center for Community Recover Initiatives, which covered much of the purchase price. While stigma about addiction remains one of the most obstinate barriers to accessing treatment, the increasing willingness of individuals and organizations to collaborate with treatment organizations has led to an expansion of programs in recent years.

In late 2015, the Megan House Foundation opened a a recovery home for women in Lowell funded entirely by community donations. Union workers took time on their days off to help with the construction.

And Lowell House is in the process of planning a a sober apartment complex on the site of its current Merrimack Street offices in collaboration with the Coalition for a Better Acre.

Zack’s House will be another piece in the effort to close the many gaps in the addiction treatment system.

“It’s a major problem we’ve had in the city and we don’t have enough resources,” Lowell House CEO Bill Garr said, Follow Todd Feathers on Twitter @ToddFeathers.

Bill Garr, executive director of Lowell House, center, shows Jon Kurland, chairman of the Board of Directors of Lowell House, the four 300-gallon water tanks that are part of a high-capacity sprinkler system at Zack’s House, a new Lowell home Pawtucket Boulevard for young men in recovery.

SUN PHOTOS / JULIA MALAKIE

Zack’s House, a newly renovated home on Pawtucket Boulevard in Lowell, will hold a grand opening on Thursday. At left, Louise Griffin, mother of Zachary Gys, who died after a struggle with addiction, visits the house with Diana Newell, senior director of residential services at Lowell House, and Frank Campos, the transitional case manager at Zack’s House.

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