LEWISTON — Debra York became passionate about substance use disorder after the disease took a toll on her family.

First, she and her husband became foster parents to five kids after her sister started struggling with addiction. Then, her son became addicted, and she ultimately lost him.

“He went from the dean’s list at the (University of Southern Maine) while working full time, to dropping out of school and barely being able to work,” she said.

In 2017, York founded An Angel’s Wing to help people struggling with the disease begin the recovery process, something that is increasingly difficult due to high costs and a shortage of beds and treatment options in Maine.

Through the organization’s store on Lisbon Street, a 3,500-square-foot space at Gridiron Plaza, York and the nonprofit have been able to raise money through reselling donated goods — enough to offer discounts and other incentives to clients entering recovery.

For the past four years, York has been working full time at her family business, Remco Radiator & Auto Care in Auburn, all while serving as volunteer executive director of the nonprofit. But, she said, the family recently sold the business, and York plans to concentrate fully on An Angel’s Wing.

Until just recently, the group has been all volunteer-led, starting with York, but the store has given the organization the ability to make some employee hires. York said she has four employees and a few volunteers. An Angel’s Wing also has a baker who works from the Lisbon Street location.

“I put in a lot of hours between the two, but somebody has to. It’s for a good cause,” she said.

York grew up in California, but raised her children in West Paris. The family moved to the Lewiston-Auburn area about five years ago to be closer to the Auburn business.

York had a hand in Lewiston’s recent “Rally for Recovery,” which brought a few hundred people together downtown to raise awareness of the issue as well as highlight local organizations.

She said the Lewiston-Auburn community has “come a long way” in its acknowledgement and support of substance use recovery. It wasn’t too long ago that the cities pretended it wasn’t an issue, she said.

Over the past four years, the need for treatment and recovery services has only grown. Maine is on track to see its deadliest year for opioid overdose deaths, averaging 40 per month.

York said she’s been making calls for a client, and the soonest she could find availability for an inpatient program was six months.

When her son was ready for rehabilitation, she contacted every organization she could find. She even reached out to a reality television show on substance use disorder. Either nothing was available, she said, or the asking price was astronomical.

“When someone’s ready for help, you have a short window of time before they go back to what they were doing,” she said.

In 2017, York came up with the idea of opening the store, but it started in her garage. When she found the Lisbon Street space, she said she walked in and “had a panic attack” thinking about filling the space.

“But, within a couple months it was full. The community was great,” she said. “They’re still great.”

An Angel’s Wing hosted its annual fundraiser over the weekend at Auburn’s Hilton Garden Inn, complete with live entertainment, raffles and more. Earlier in the week, the event had reached max capacity.

Lewiston City Councilor Stephanie Gelinas, who serves on the nonprofit’s board, said York has been driven in her efforts.

“Debra has worked tirelessly to address the significant issue of substance use disorder by both her passion of educating others about the disease and by finding help for those who reach out ready to make a change in their life,” she said.

Those who are in need of help or know someone who is are invited to call 207-513-6051.

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.

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