Joshua’s House in Owego reopening, helping youths avoid drug abuse

A teen center is reopening in the Village of Owego to help young people stay out of trouble, develop life skills and avoid the dangers of substance abuse.

“This is an effort to help teens stay off the street and not get involved with the wrong things,” said Deborah Smith, the founder of Joshua’s House.

Joshua’s House originally opened in 2009 under the name A Better Life Teen Center but closed after the COVID-19 pandemic started nearly two years ago. It reopened last month and is in the midst of a “slow open,” Smith said.

The center is a place where local youths can safely hang out without being exposed to the dangers of the streets, and drug and alcohol addiction, she said. They also can receive tutoring and mentoring at the center, as well as learn life skills such as cooking, gardening and playing musical instruments.

“It’s meant to give the kids something to do instead of hanging out on the corner and possibly getting in trouble,” Smith said.

Joshua’s House is named in memory of her son, Joshua Pursell, who died of a drug overdose eight years ago at the age of 24 after battling drug addiction for a year, she said.

“It was new to him, and it took his life fast,” she said.

Smith said she doesn’t want to see other young people lost to addiction.

“This will keep them from being in situations where they would be able to try it,” she said of the teen center.

Part of the program is faith-based, she said. Abide in the Vine, at Owego church, is partnering with Joshua House and helping with some expenses. The church will also hold a weekly Bible study there. Smith often says a prayer before special events such as teen nights.

“I think God made me start it in the first place,” she said of Joshua House. “He put it in my heart to do something for my community.”

Joshua Pursell hugs his mother, Deborah Smith.  Smith runs Joshua's House in Owego, which is named in memory of her son who died of a drug overdose in 2014.

Other parts of the program are not faith-based but are evidence-based, and run by local drug and alcohol addiction agencies such as Tioga County CASA-Trinity, located nearby on North Avenue. The Center for Addiction and Trauma in Endicott, a satellite office of the Addiction Center of Broome County, will offer the Moss program at Joshua’s House.

The Moss program is named after Rob Moss Jr., who also died of a drug overdose at the age of 24 a few weeks before Pursell died in January 2014. The two men were friends.

Marc Brainerd, a clinician for the Center for Addiction and Trauma, used to coach Moss when he was a child and was devastated by his passing.

“That’s part of the reason I got into the field,” he said. “That’s part of his legacy.”

Teenagers may not feel comfortable going to an office for formal counseling, Brainerd said. But they feel comfortable stopping by the teen center for a game of pool or ping pong and talking to counselors there.

“If it’s a recreational space where we’re just hanging out, they tend to talk a bit more,” he said. “It’s more informal and relaxed.”

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How to help or get help

Mail checks made out to Joshua’s House to Joshua’s House, C/O Deborah Smith, PO Box 105, Owego, NY 13827. Or donations can be sent through a link posted on Facebook at Joshua’s House | Facebook

Joshua’s House is at 57.5 North Ave., rear warehouse, in Owego.

If you need help with an addiction, call the Center for Addiction and Trauma Recovery at (607) 205-1396.

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