Jenna’s Promise org. hopes to start addiction treatment programs


Ari Erlbaum

Greg Tatro

Jenna’s Promise is a new organization in Johnson seeking to provide services for people in opioid use recovery and fill some broader community needs.

Dawn and Greg Tatro are the founders of Jenna’s promise. They watched their daughter Jenna struggle with opioid addiction for six years.

“You’re scared all the time,” said Greg Tatro. “Jenna overdosed, I don’t know how many times, and then she’d get infections from shooting up…. It’s an awful, awful thing… I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

“The first time she ever went to rehab, she was gone for 30 days,” continued Tatro, “And then came back and we said, ‘Well, that was good. We got that fixed’…. Well, guess what, it doesn’t work that way.”
In the process of helping Jenna through her addiction, they saw gaps in the recovery systems. “Once people get out of an inpatient 30 day program…, they don’t have any place to go after that, so they end up right back in the same place that they just came out of,” said Tatro. “And then they’re going to relapse. So instead of… spending money on more and more inpatient rehab, we need a space for these folks to increase their odds of beating it after they get out of rehab.”

On Feb. 15 this year, Jenna overdosed on Fentanyl.

“We knew almost immediately when we lost Jenna that we wanted to help other people,” said Tatro. “Because, you know, she fought that addiction for six years…, and we were a part of it, so we know what people are going through.”

They started developing their vision. They knew early on that they wanted a community space, so they used Jenna’s life insurance money to buy the St. Johns Church in Johnson. The closed church was where they used to go to mass, and where they held Jenna’s funeral reception.

The church is now being renovated (in part through community in-kind donations) into a space called Jenna’s House. The Tatros plan to use and rent out the upstairs for community events, meetings, fundraisers, and presentations. They have offered the downstairs to North Central Vermont Recovery Center to bring resources and programs for people struggling with opioid use disorder. There has been talk about a gym, workforce training, and offices for psychiatrists to offer counseling.

The Tatros are also eyeing some properties to convert into sober housing for people after they’re released from rehab or incarceration. They have also bought the closed café on Main Street. They are applying for a block grant to renovate it and run it as a coffee shop staffed by people in recovery.

“The whole idea is to get people back into society, back into the community, and get so they can start work and feel good about themselves,” said Tatro. “So once we get them stabilized, our idea there is to put these people to work. So once we get them working, then their first 30 days in this sober home, we hope we can give it to them for free. And then the next month they start paying rent. So it’d be kind of like a revolving fund where the first people that come in, get chance to settle and then they start paying rent, and then it should sustain itself, we hope.”

Smugglers Notch has offered to provide jobs to the people in recovery after a few months of successfully working in the coffee shop, says Tatro.

Another aim of the coffee shop, says Tatro, is to raise public awareness and reduce stigma by having people in recovery interacting with the public. “One of the biggest goals is to say, you know, these people are just like you and me when they’re in recovery.… Just people who want to make a living, want to be in a community, want to want to live life.”

Another project on the horizon is a sliding-scale community health center in the parking lot of the church. “Our goal here is to make it a health clinic that everybody in the community can use, but it will also have the MAT team [Medically Assisted Treatment for opioid use disorder] there,” said Tatro.
While these projects have been getting off the ground, the Tatros are providing some interim financial assistance for a few people as they transition out of rehab or incarceration, using money from Jenna’s life insurance policy and some fundraising efforts. Dawn, who has been talking with local parents whose children are dealing with opioid use disorder, took a class to become a Family Recovery Coach.

Each of these projects seek to address a broader community need as well. Johnson has been without a doctor or a café, so the health clinic and the coffee shop look to fill those niches.
In addition to all the details of fundraising, renovating buildings, and providing what services they can immediately, the Tatros have been continuing to run their family construction business.

“Dawn and I are doers,” says Tatro. “We’ve always been that way.”

Tatro says that doing this work has been a way to grieve Jenna’s death. “I can think of Jenna in a better way when I know that I’m trying to help other people…. This is what’s kept me together.”

“People are coming in from the state and some of the other nonprofits and saying, ‘Wow, you guys are going so fast,’” says Tatro, “but I kind of feel like I got cement tied to my shoes, to be honest with you, because we lose lives every day. The race is to save that next person.”