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Katie McQuaid's Scene in Manchester: Farnum Center: Blight to bright

November 10. 2013 9:27PM

The building atop the hill at 160 Queen City Ave. has come a long way. The former Queen City Motor Inn, where some once went to feed their drug addiction, is now The Farnum Center, a place where people can find freedom from substance abuse.

I don't know what it was like back in the day, but during its final years the inn was not the kind of place the average business traveler or vacationer would want to spend the night. In fact, Dr. Cheryl Wilkie said they considered having the demolition crews wear hazmat suits.

"The needles were coming out of walls and ceilings," said the Easter Seals senior vice president of substance abuse services, who oversees The Farnum Center. Wilkie gave me a tour last week, and I was amazed by the transformation completed in May.

I recall visiting the bar at the Queen City Motor Inn about a decade ago to support my friend Christopher Williams in a karaoke competition. Other than Williams' performance, the place was really gross and really sad. And it sounds like it only got worse in the years after that.

But when Wilkie and the Easter Seals leadership were looking for a new home for The Farnum Center, they saw past the building's dreary façade and bad reputation. The building fit their budget and had the plumbing to allow each room to have its own bathroom. Today, the building has gone from blight to bright adding to the south Elm Street revitalization started by businesses such as Elliot at River's Edge and Kriss Cosmetics.

Wilkie has been in charge of The Farnum Center since 2008. She said she had a hand in all the designs, from layout to upholstery. The result is a warm, inviting place where patients are able to complete the 30 days of residential treatment.

"We had a lot of fun designing this," she said.

The center offers the state's first medical detoxification unit. Wilkie said that some people are so sick during the first days of treatment they often leave to find more drugs to make the pain go away. With medication and proper nutrition, the success rate improves because patients find it easier to make it through the first difficult days.

I appreciate that the center was built to help our neighbors with substance abuse problems, but it also has financial benefits. Wilkie said many people with money and health insurance used to leave the state to seek treatment at nicer facilities that offered medical detoxification. Now these people can stay closer to their families and jobs. It means more money stays in New Hampshire and even more money comes into the state from people out-of-state now coming here for treatment.

"What we've been able to do is bring dignity to people in New Hampshire who want to get sober and clean in a humane atmosphere," Wilkie said.

People come to the center from all walks of life, and there are always beds available for people with money and/or insurance to cover the $12,000 cost of the 30-day residential treatment program. There are also 16 beds, paid for by the New Hampshire Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, available for indigent patients. Those beds have a 30- to 90-day waitlist.

"We have more beds, but we don't have the money," Wilkie said. Until a bed opens up, an indigent person is invited to participate in one of the outpatient programs also housed in the building.

For more information about The Farnum Center's programs, visit or call 622-3020.

Laughter is the best medicine

We laughed, we cried, and laughed some more at the Go Red for Women Luncheon to support the American Heart Association last week. The Radisson was filled with lovely ladies wearing red and I had the pleasure of sitting with several of them, including Union Leader Community Relations Manager Shannon Sullivan, WZID's Marga Bessette, and a duo from McLean Communications — Sharron McCarthy and Tricia Baker Schmitt.

There were several touching and heart-breaking stories from women whose lives were touched by heart disease, so we all needed the comic relief from emcee Heather Bishop. The WZID on-air personality has spent the last year getting fit and losing weight, even completing her first half-marathon. Deservedly, she was feeling pretty darn good about herself — until keynote speaker Dr. Patricia Furey approached the stage.

You could almost hear jaws dropping at the most stunning doctor we had ever seen, and I wondered aloud whether Furey was really a doctor, or just played one on television. Bishop was comically befuddled standing next to Furey, but managed to read through the doctor's impressive bio before handing over the podium. That's when we learned she manages to stay super fit while being a heart surgeon and a mother of four children.

I was too busy building a nice little inferiority complex for myself to retain any of the important information Furey had to share. But I did take away one important piece of heart health information. If this heart surgeon mother of four can find time to exercise, then I certainly can too.

Keller Williams cares

I didn't win anything, but I still had fun joining about 400 people at last Thursday's KW Cares auction and raffle at Fratello's. The annual event, organized by associates at Keller Williams Metropolitan in Bedford, raised more than $18,000 for local charities. I had a chance to chat with Keller Williams associate Joe Dion and his wife, RMS Mortgage loan officer Vreli Dion, as well as Realtor Kate Moran and her husband Matt Welch of the Manchester Monarchs organization.

NH365.ORG Event of the Week

Support The Majestic Theatre on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Chateau Event Center. Three separate auctions will be held to give you a chance to bid on unique items and take a chance at winning awesome raffle prizes including an iPad. This is a great opportunity to mingle with Majestic's murder-mystery characters and get a start on your holiday shopping. This event runs in conjunction with Majestic's dinner theater presentation of "The Curse of The Hopeless Diamond." Free daily bidding runs Friday and Saturday, 6-7 p.m. and Sunday 12:30-1:30 p.m. Those wishing to attend the dinner theater will need to make reservations. For more information, visit

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