ORLEANS — For almost two decades, Skip Norgeot engaged in hand-to-hand combat with addiction.
From his big chair not far from the door of Pause A While, the meeting space for a variety of 12-step recovery programs, Norgeot, “a big man with white hair, would literally reach out his hands... Skip had big, powerful hands... and shake hands with incredibly welcoming smiles,” said Paul Dart, president of Pause A While's board of directors.
People's “eyes would light up when they saw that at the very beginning” of their recovery efforts, he said. “Having that person at the same location gave people a great degree of comfort. He was very encouraging to people, especially people that were new and struggling.”
The role of host came naturally to Norgeot. After all, he owned the building, a former summer camp dining hall that he had moved to 26 Giddiah Hill Rd. and used as a hunting and fishing shop. When he learned around 2000 that two organizations who provided meeting space for 12-step programs had to move, he offered his location.
The warmth of the big, open room with its wood paneling, rafters, and many windows impresses newcomers immediately. “You can see the charm of it,” Dart said. “There's nothing really like this on the Cape for hosting recovery meetings...A lot of miracles happen in this room. People who are completely lost and for whatever reasons can't get sober finally walk into this room and change their lives. They stay around long enough so they ultimately get sober and rebuild their lives. It's an incredibly powerful place for recovery.”
Communities that form at the meetings are in it for the long haul. “People will go to any lengths to keep a person in meeting,” Dart said. “We put up with a lot. People change. If anything is an example of redemption, it's what happens in this room over time. I've seen some of the roughest, toughest men on Cape Cod become the most compassionate, most generous, most loving people in recovery.”
Norgeot, who grew up in Orleans, was the town's harbormaster and shellfish warden at 24 and went on to found Anchor Marine. Brother Marc Norgeot guessed that his inclination to look out for others may have come from their mother, who was a member of the school committee and the finance committee. She was also a bartender at the Southward Inn, and their uncle Gaston, a selectman, owned the Captain Linnell House and the Cleaver restaurant.
“At a young age, Skip was assisting people who had too much to drink,” Marc said. “Most of the troubles that came seemed to have something to do with over-consumption, something he fell into himself.”
Skip Norgeot, who died on June 22, wanted to ensure that 26 Giddiah Hill Rd. would continue to welcome the fellowships of recovery after his passing. His obituary noted his desire that Pause A While “acquire this important property” and requested memorial donations be sent to the organization.
The current property management agreement, which runs through December 2022, gives Pause A While the option to buy either the front or back lots, or both. With no room in the schedule for more meetings, and with no space to hold more than one meeting at a time or to provide additional services such as child care, nutrition programs, and talks, the organization is working toward buying the property and raising a new building twice the size of the existing one. The elements of the beloved main meeting hall would be preserved in the new structure.
“I can't tell you how much the emphasis is on preserving what we're in,” Dart said. “The new facility would have space for 90 people or more in this room. We have a single bathroom here we can barely turn sideways in. Our kitchen is a refrigerator and a sink. We need space for smaller meetings, and private space where sponsors can meet with sponsees. That's where the knowledge transfer takes place, people in recovery transferring that experience to people who are new by coaching them on what they're going through. They've had that personal experience. That lessens the weight of shame.” Twelve-step meetings would continue during construction, which could begin in the second half of the next decade.
An advisory board chaired by attorney Bruce Bierhans has been organized with representation from the banking, insurance, housing, public safety, real estate, recovery, media, and arts communities. “That group has been formed to help us buy the property and to expand the building,” Dart said, “and help us also to tie in other aspects of the community, the other programs and adjacent services we need.”
In 2018, Pause A While approached Cape Cod Healthcare and Gosnold for their support. “We really weren't known to them,” Dart said. “They quickly donated, and that gave us the credibility to go to the major banks.” Within the first three months of putting up a website, he said, donations totaling $10,000 from individuals had been received.
“People have been reading about the crisis on the Cape, especially with opioids and youth,” Dart said. “My guess is people are frustrated they couldn't do something, that there wasn't an immediate way to participate. Now Pause A While has come along.”
Marc Norgeot said his brother “would be very proud to see it carried on. He would love to see the new building replicate this one and to see the warmth and conviviality remain much the same. He was a very uncomplicated guy. He kind of embraced you in the way he embraced this program. I think he passed on that passion, certainly to me, and he has encouraged his kids to encourage the dream. We have every reason to believe that we're right on course.”
A funeral Mass for Skip Norgeot will be offered Friday, Aug. 23, at 10 a.m. at St. Joan of Arc on Canal Road in Orleans. Memorial donations may be made via pauseawhile.org or by mail to Pause A While, Inc., PO Box 554, Orleans MA 02653. The website also offers a list of meetings.