THE NORTHEAST GROUP of companies, founded by Herb Carpenter, has been serving the North Country since the early 1980’s. Begun as a small printing company, it expanded into mailing and publishing. In 1999 a second-generation Carpenter joined the family business and helped drive a further expansion of services into fulfillment and distribution. But that growth, in what company president Mike Carpenter calls, “Our day business!” was never the end of his ambition. Motivated by his own experiences, his goal was to “pay it forward” by offering the kind of support services for people in recovery he benefited from more than 30 years ago.
When Clinton Community College moved to divest itself of three dormitories and a dining hall on the former PAFB the Carpenter family saw an opportunity. A private partnership was created and the MHAB Life Skills Campus was born. (The acronym is made up of the first initials of the partners – Mike, Mary, Herb, AJ and Betsy), but it is also a play on words. “We’re not Rehab, we’re MHAB,” Carpenter explained.
Today the MHAB Life Skills Campus and Conference Center operates under the direction of Executive Director Ken Parkinson whose 25-years of law enforcement experience taught him firsthand about the community’s needs. “The battle we are waging against the ravages of addiction is not something we can ‘arrest’ our way out of,” he explained. “While accountability is important, supporting individuals who are ready to make changes in their lives is more effective long term.” He added, “Our residents may be battling addiction or mental health issues, and they may have made bad choices, but they aren’t bad people.”
At MHAB, residents find a safe, secure and sober environment with opportunities to nourish their body, mind and spirit while they take the time and prepare for the next stage of their lives. There is a gym open to residents in good standing 24 hours a day and a bicycle share program that encourages exercise. Transportation throughout the area is available through the Clinton County CART bus system.
Betsy Vicencio, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the Northeast Group observed, “We are grateful to our community partners and local businesses. Anyone living at MHAB who wants a job, has a job. Financial partners offer on-site counseling and GED classes are available.
In addition to what MHAB has to offer, residents can also benefit from recovery support services offered at the Champlain Valley Family Center’s All Ways to Recovery Community Center located on the MHAB campus. The drop-in location is staffed by peer recovery advocates. Regular recovery meetings, art and music therapy, a library and yoga classes are available to anyone in the community. You do not need to be a resident of MHAB to participate in the Center’s programs.
The people at MHAB are proud of the buzz about their Conference Center, a full-service meeting space available to host your next business, service club or personal event. The audio and video technology at the Center is amazing and the kitchen stands ready to offer everything from complete meals for breakfast, lunch or dinner or appetizers and beverage service. MHAB has hosted in-person and facilitated virtual community meetings and is happy to grow its roster of regular events.
The man at the helm of the MHAB kitchen is Trevor Laughlin who is well known in the North Country for his culinary skills and his out-sized personality. When asked to bring his talents to the MHAB kitchen, Laughlin was ready to sharpen his knives and get to work. Celebrating 18 years in recovery he is enjoying being in a commercial kitchen again.
MHAB Fresh, a convenience store located in the conference center, is open to all area residents. Its focus is on healthy choices — from snacks and drinks to Grab & Go meals — in addition to lunch specials available Monday- Friday. You will find homemade soups, Trevor’s famous chili, salads, and creatively named sandwiches such as Three Little Pigs, Bad to the Bone, Horsey Cow, and the Johnny Appleseed. The menu, which changes daily and seasonally, is emailed to residents and the community at large every morning and is posted on social media. Drop in, curbside pick-up and delivery are all available.
To meet the produce needs of the kitchen MHAB constructed a greenhouse and created raised beds around the property. Residents are invited to tend the plants in the Community Garden. Don’t know anything about gardens? A supportive volunteer will teach you.
The MHAB Conference Center, its kitchen and MHAB Fresh create an opportunity for staff to work with residents who may be lacking the skills to be successful— like teamwork, attendance and customer service skills.
According to Parkinson, “It’s great to see residents using MHAB as it was intended — getting their lives moving in a more positive direction. In two years, in one dorm alone, 50 people have successfully transitioned through our program. Vicencio echoed Parkinson’s enthusiasm, “Since MHAB opened in 2019 calls to the area homeless hotline have dropped by more than 70%. That’s huge for the North Country.”
MHAB is the result of Mike Carpenter’s dream to extend the life saving support he received when he needed it most. The effort continues to evolve to meet the needs of an underserved population and offers residents opportunities for a new beginning.
MHAB Life Skills Campus
14 Dormitory Drive
Plattsburgh, NY 12903