Longmont's A Way Forward celebrates two years of growth

Jan. 24—The yellow house at the corner of Terry Street and 6th Avenue in Longmont bears a sign on its front door: "Come as you are ... You can change inside." Through that door, guests can use the kitchen, shower and art studio. In the summer, the porch is a popular spot to socialize and relax.

"It's not a formal part of our program, but it's developed organically to really make yourself at home," said Debbie Platts, executive director of nonprofit A Way Forward.

Based in downtown Longmont at 600 Terry St., A Way Forward helps residents of the St. Vrain Valley work through substance use disorder and all forms of addiction. With entirely free services, it aims to dismantle financial barriers on the path to recovery.

"When a person is trying to get sober, there's a small window of opportunity to jump through," Platts said. "And when they're ready to jump through it, we want to be prepared for that."

The nonprofit reached two years of operation this month. It was established in the later half of 2020 to combat the isolating nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, but didn't formally open its doors until the following January.

"That lack of community was so damaging," Platts said. "We all feel strongly that there's a different dynamic to meeting in person."

Staff are available seven days a week, including holidays. Clients can join a variety of groups and classes, from family support counseling to a veterans' group to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Platts said most of the staff grew up in the area and all have dealt with the recovery process, either personally or through a loved one.

"We see this as such an important problem these days, so we want to be part of the solution," she said.

Platts said the number of client contacts in 2021 doubled to over 5,000 in 2022. Many clients, she added, eventually become volunteers and help lead recovery or wellness groups.

Myrtle, a client, attends the "Codependent No More" meetings on Saturdays, which she said always draw a big crowd.

"When I want to pick myself up, this is where I come," she said.

Diversity and inclusion are key tenets of A Way Forward. Alejandro Rodriguez, bilingual outreach specialist, said the nonprofit is making an effort to connect with local communities of color, but it's been a challenge.

"When I started my own journey with mental health, it became really important for me to be part of organizations like this," he said. "We want to make sure the Spanish-speaking community knows we're here to serve (them), regardless of citizenship status or health insurance."

Larry Rand, certified recovery coach and A Way Forward co-founder, said accessibility and one-on-one support have helped the nonprofit find success.

"We give people a safe place to land ... and learn to manage our issues together," he said.