After months of work, the new PORT Health Services site is on the brink of opening, and the folks behind the massive effort to bring expanded mental health facilities to Hatteras village are planning two events to make a grand introduction to the community.
The new PORT Health services site stemmed from a grassroots movement which was spearheaded by a Hatteras local, Wendy Stowe Sisler. Wendy lost her 31-year-old son, Cory, in December of 2017 after a long struggle with substance abuse, and she has worked tirelessly ever since to bring expanded and more convenient mental health services to Hatteras Island.
And it worked.
Dare County, which owns the former and previously vacant Hatters Medical Center in Hatteras village partnered with PORT Health earlier in 2018 to transform the abandoned building into a stand-alone mental health services center. Before this initiative, residents in need of help had to either head to the small shared PORT Health office in Frisco, or more commonly, drive all the way to Nags Head or even Virginia to get the support they needed.
But after extensive renovations and planning, the PORT Health site is in the final stages of being ready to officially open, and the primary parties involved in the process – Wendy and Michelle Hawbaker from PORT Health – credit the local community for the new facilities’ inevitable success.
“The right help has always come at the right time,” said Michelle, who added that local residents stepped in to assist with all aspects of the major renovation process, from painting to replacing cabinets. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s heartwarming how much the community has cared about this [project.]”
“The support of the community has really been overwhelming,” said Wendy. “As a small village, we’re really lucky to be able to do this, and that’s all thanks to the people who helped.”
Both Wendy and Michelle may credit the community, (as well as each other), for the new mental health center coming to fruition, but an outside observer would recognize immediately that if it wasn’t for the hard work of these dedicated women, the new PORT Health would have never existed.
That is because for the majority of 2018, and especially in the past few weeks during the extensive renovations, the two have been working tirelessly to transform the old medical office building into a welcoming site with an array of local services.
“It’s really coming together,” said Michelle. “The building originally had stark white walls and floors – it was very clinical. We wanted it to be nice and welcoming instead – a place where people would feel comfortable.”
“This disease is a horrible one,” said Wendy. “If people can come into a warm spot and feel safe, it’s a big deal.”
Starting with a basically blank canvas, Wendy and Michelle teamed up to install both practical and personal touches, from new bookshelves and IT equipment, to local artworks that were donated by the generous island community.
They found ample opportunities along the way to cut costs and fund the project, too. Michelle of PORT Health saved several thousand dollars on repainting the interior by simply doing it herself, while Wendy raised an estimated $21,500 by sharing her personal story, and asking the community for donations.
When the new PORT Health Services in Hatteras opens, it will offer individual therapy, group therapy, and telemedicine services for patients. However, plans are already in the works through potential grants to boost these service in the future. Ideally, Michelle sees adding a staff nurse to the team, as well as a Peer Support Specialist – a person who is in recovery and who has special training and inherent insight to assist others in need of support.
In the meantime, everyone in the community is invited to the two upcoming events on November 24 and November 28 to take a peek and see what their hard work, donations, and other contributions have created.
The first event is on Saturday, November 24, and is a Hatteras Island Community Celebration in memory of Cory Sisler, which will feature a tour or the new PORT office location, live music by Rory Kelleher, and a pig pickin’ for everyone who wants to stop by.
“The party on Saturday is just that – a party for the people in the community,” said Michelle. “There’s no way this would have happened without Wendy, and without the community support.”
“This event is so the community can find out what we’re all about and what we’re doing, and the services we offer,” said Wendy. “This is for our village.”
The second event is on Wednesday, November 28, and will likely feature a ribbon cutting ceremony, as well as an opportunity for the public to both tour the facilities, and meet the staff and PORT team members.
There are still a few finishing touches to be completed before PORT Health can officially open, but thanks to Wendy, Michelle, and the community as a whole, both Hatteras and Ocracoke islanders now have a convenient and central location to get help if they need it – without an hours’ long ferry ride, or long drive off the island.
And that development, as well as the community’s assistance in mitigating a stigma that used to accompany substance abuse issues, is a huge accomplishment that has the potential to help countless island residents across the board.
“This is a great community, because the people here want to help – they want people to have access to [these services], and to get better,” said Michelle. “If we’re willing to talk about it without the stigma, people will get help and will get better, and will be even more willing to talk and spread the word.”
“Essentially, it becomes a positive cycle instead of a vicious cycle,” she added, “and we hope this will turn into a positive cycle of healing for the community.”
How to Attend
The Hatteras Island Community Celebration in Memory of Cory Sisler will be held on Saturday, November 24, from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. at the new PORT Health services at 57635 Highway 12, Hatteras village.
The Open House and Meet & Greet will be held on Wednesday, November 28 from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the new PORT Health Services. For questions about attending either event, call 252-441-2324
How to Help
Monetary donations as well as donated local artworks are still needed for the new Port Health Services office!
Web page donations can be accepted through www.porthealth.org . Click “About Donations” or mail a donation to: PHS PO Box 565, Nags Head 27959
*Please note: It is very important that you notate Cory Sisler on your donation for these funds to be earmarked to fund Hatteras Island Mental Health and Addiction Services.
PORT is a 501(c)3 and donations are tax deductible.