Community members of Hatteras village gathered on a stormy Saturday afternoon to celebrate the upcoming opening of the new PORT Health Services site, which will provide substance abuse and mental health services on Hatteras Island.
Despite being relocated at the last minute to the Hatteras Village Community Center due to the rough weather, the celebration attracted more than 80 attendees who came to show their support for the completion of the months-long endeavor to make mental health services more accessible to island residents.
The new PORT Health Services site will be housed within the former Hatteras Medical Center building in the heart of Hatteras village, and will initially provide group treatment, individual treatment, and doctor’s appointments several times per week, saving islanders in need of substance abuse help hours of travel time to obtain these services in Nags Head.
“When you need treatment, you need to [schedule] up to three to nine hours per week,” said Michelle Hawbaker, Program Supervisor at PORT Health Services at the Saturday gathering. “And when you add a three hour round trip on top of that, it’s like climbing Mount Everest.”
The opening of the new PORT Health center in Hatteras village was a group collaboration between PORT Health, the Dare County Board of Commissioners, County Manager Bobby Outten, and local resident Wendy Stowe Sisler, who lost her 31-year-old son, Cory, in December of 2017 after a long struggle with substance abuse.
“There has just been so much help along the way,” said Hawbaker.
The initiative to create a stand-alone mental health services site began when Hawbaker received feedback that the former small shared PORT Health office in Frisco was inadequate for the island’s needs. “The space was not suited for what we wanted,” said Hawbaker.
Working with Wendy, local volunteers, PORT staff, and the county, plans developed to utilize the empty Hatteras Medical Center as a new PORT Health office dedicated to local treatment.
“I want everyone in this room to understand how blessed we are to have our county commissioners,” said Hawbaker. “We didn’t have to explain why we needed it – they just [stepped up to the plate.]”
From there, months of work went into revitalizing the 60-year-old structure to make it conducive for its new purpose.
“The building was built in 1958, and it had amazing bones, but a number of things had to be done to make it welcoming,” said Hawbaker. “God directly sent me help in the form of the Sisler family – they used their grief to [make a difference.]”
The Sisler family raised an estimated $21,500 in pledges and donations, and Wendy herself helped with the interior design of the new site, enlisting assistance from local artists, carpenters, and other residents who were more than happy to assist with the renovation.
“As a community, Hatteras has responded to the call, and I can’t thank you enough,” said Hawbaker.
The official opening of the new PORT Health site is scheduled in the immediate future, after IT equipment is installed this week, and a “Meet and Greet” is planned at the site with county and PORT Health representatives on Wednesday, November 28.
But Saturday’s celebration was about the hard work that the village put into transforming the site, and attendees were thanked for their efforts via a massive meal that was generously provided by donations from Sea Country Homes OBX, Village Red and White, and Todd Balance.
Most prominently, the celebration was to honor Cory, whose story helped to launch the new center, and whose brother, Harley Sisler, spoke to the crowd at the event.
“The objective is super clear – to save lives. And it will take a village,” he said. “We’re all in this together, and we’ve all experienced this pain. It’s not just Cory, and it’s not just our family.”
“If we save one soul, it would have been worth it, and the center next door is dedicated in Cory’s memory.”