RYAN House in Saugerties Offers Giant Steps in Recovery | Health | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

In 2011, we had 14 overdose deaths per 100,000 mid-Hudson residents, and by 2020, the number had reached 35. In 2021, Ulster County alone lost 48 citizens to opioid overdose, for a rate of 26.8 per 100,000.

Those were the ones we lost. That same year, 1,200 Ulster County residents were admitted to certified substance abuse disorder treatment programs—taking a step on a road to recovery that, as anyone familiar with the problem realizes, is a complex and perilous path.

It's a problem that defies simple solutions, requiring a spectrum of community resources to foster healing. With the creation of RYAN House in Saugerties, one local organization is expanding those often-stretched resources with a dedicated, elegant home for 12-step meetings, and will soon add affordable, safe, supportive housing for men in recovery.

RYAN (Raising Your Awareness about Narcotics) got its start in 2015, when the Kelder family lost their son Ryan a month before his 25th birthday. His struggle had begun with a Xanax prescription for anxiety, then a prescription for painkillers after an injury, sparking a dependency that led him to turn to other pills and ultimately to heroin. The 2008 Kingston High School grad, a sweet soul who loved to skateboard and snowboard, came home to Ulster County with a raging addiction.

The family—dad Vince, mom Carole, and sister Randi—helped as best they could through rounds of insurance hassles and struggles to find the right care. Ryan checked into rehab at Samaritan Village in Ellenville in late 2014 and spent 10 months there. "We mean no blame to anyone—people do their best—but it's a state agency and even then they were overwhelmed," says Randi. "He met with a counselor once a month while he was there, and there wasn't real aftercare. Maybe a little more help could have created a better outcome."

In August 2018, he was discharged and placed in an Ellenville apartment by the Department of Social Services. Barely over two weeks later, he was dead.

click to enlarge RYAN House in Saugerties Offers Giant Steps in Recovery
Photo by Tim Freccia
RYAN House’s recovery model is based on Alcoholic’s Anonymous’s 12-step principles.

"Ryan had called me (on) Tuesday, August 18, and had told me he was having a hard time," wrote Randi in a September 2015 Facebook post. "I spoke to him for some time and reassured him that he was okay and he told me he was. He told me thanks for talking to him and that he knew what he had to do to keep his sobriety and make something of himself. He was truly determined. The phone call ended with him replying 'I love you, too.' My brother and I were very close, we loved each other and protected one another. I didn't know that that would be the last time I would speak to my brother until I got a phone call on Saturday, August 22."

Making Strides

Some families would have folded under the weight, but not the Kelders. In spite of stigma, they insisted on telling the community the whole truth. "When we came out and said, 'Ryan died of a heroin overdose,' people could have looked at us and said, 'I don't want to be around those people.' You know what I mean?" says Randi. The grieving sister, determined to commemorate her brother's life in a way that was true to his spirit, set about organizing a 5K run in his name—and was heartened and astonished when over 300 people came out. "We realized, wow, people actually do want to have this conversation," Randi says.

The organization has been active ever since that first run, just two months after the Kelder family's catastrophe, holding youth rallies and vigils, becoming a familiar presence at all sorts of community gatherings. In 2020, RYAN gained official nonprofit status. And in 2021, the dream found a home—the Knights of Columbus Hall at the corner of Route 9W and Burt Street in Saugerties, over 11,000 square feet with a commercial kitchen and plenty of parking.

The Knights, suffering from declining membership, like most fraternal organizations, and faltering after COVID decimated their own fundraising, could undoubtedly have found someone to pay more than $350,000 in pandemic boom times. According to Hudson Valley One, the September meeting of the Saugerties planning board that year was about evenly split between supporters and opponents of RYAN's plan. One of the opponents said the Knights of Columbus had had offers from restaurants, a commercial landlord, a preschool, and other endeavors he felt better suited to the neighborhood. Neither property values nor quality of life seem to have collapsed as the Kelders steadily reinvent the space as a lifesaving force. "Drug dealers have no need, whatsoever, to attempt to sell drugs at a sober house," Saugerties resident Jo Galante Cicale pointed out in an October 21 letter to the Kingston Daily Freeman. "There is plenty of business as usual within their own turf. And people in recovery are very much less likely to commit crime."

As of spring 2023, the stately 1920 Greek revival manse where knights of old caroused (and plotted charitable doings) hosts 35 12-step meetings a week; organizers are trying to find schedule slots for more, to meet demand. Vince Kelder, Randi says, is a regular at the 6:45am. "Dad will have 27 years this July, and 12-step recovery gave him that, so that's our model. We're renovating the upstairs so we can offer safe, supportive living space for men in recovery who are committed to that model. We want to make it really beautiful, a place where they feel part of something, and we hope to have it up and running by next winter."

Since the pandemic, RYAN has organized a youth board with members ranging in age from sixth grade through high school. Youth board members organize fundraising and awareness events on-site. Their Easter craft fair raised $1,000.

"That first run," says Randi, "people came out, we had sponsors, politicians came out, and we raised $8,000 that we gave to the Boys and Girls Club. When the energy kept growing, we decided to do something with it that was specifically about recovery." This year's 5K run/walk will happen in October. The Drive Fore Recovery golf tournament is held each July.

click to enlarge RYAN House in Saugerties Offers Giant Steps in Recovery
Photo by Tim Freccia

"We'd love to someday get another building and have housing for women too," says Randi. "For right now, we're focused on doing this part right." This fall, she's reviving the Youth Rally that brought together every 9th grader in Ulster County before COVID paused it. "These days, it should probably be a message they hear even younger, but the logistics are hard with younger grades. It's even more urgent now that fentanyl's in the mix. I've spoken in lots of schools, and I tell them how my mom always told me that you never know what drug you're actually getting, and I'd scoff. But nowadays, that is 100 percent true and terrifying."

On May 6, Orange County runners will step off for that community's First Annual RYAN's 5K/10K, happening at Chadwick Lake Park in Newburgh. They'll sport the group's eye-catching scarlet-and-gold, Superman-style diamond with an R in place of an S, a design that Carole Kelder has tattooed on the inside of her wrist.

"We were always close, but you know how brothers and sisters are," says Randi. "We'd squabble, call each other names, and he'd come back at me with, 'You're wrong—I'm gonna be famous someday.' Well, I'd still rather have him here, famous or not—but clearly, he didn't lie. We're making his name a beacon."

Anne Pyburn Craig

Anne's been writing a wide variety of Chronogram stories for over two decades. A Hudson Valley native, she takes enormous joy in helping to craft this first draft of the region's cultural history and communicating with the endless variety of individuals making it happen.
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