JOHNSON — Before Jenna Tatro, 26, died of an opioid overdose in 2019, she called home from a treatment center with a wish to pay it forward.
“We’re going to help someone when I get out,” his family recalled.
That’s why after Jenna relapsed, her parents used her life insurance money to buy an old Johnson church where their daughter was baptized and received her first communion. Hoping to support a network of community recovery services, the Tatros created the non-profit organization Jenna’s Promise.
Three years later, he continues to deliver.
Jenna’s Promise has transformed the former St. John’s Catholic Church into a community hub for activities ranging from AA meetings to yoga classes, as well as satellite offices of Lamoille County’s North Central Vermont Recovery Center.
The nonprofit has also purchased other Johnson buildings, ranging from an empty downtown storefront to the former Parker & Stearns Building Supply Center, which recently closed after 128 years. They collectively house the state’s first supervised recovery residence, two lower levels of sober housing, a fundraising coffee roasting business, a surplus store and, soon, a cafe.
“We try to rehabilitate people – and also our community,” said Jenna’s brother, Gregory Tatro.
For more than half a century, locals have known the family for its three-generation business, GW Tatro Construction. Its late founder, Gerald Warren Tatro, was part of the D-Day invasion of WWII before an injury left him with only half a lung, sending him home to buy a bulldozer and build the first tracks. skiing at nearby Smugglers’ Notch Resort.
Gerald’s son, Greg (the shorter name differentiates him from his own son, Gregory), grew up to join the company, marry his wife, Dawn, and raise two children. His daughter Jenna was pursuing a pre-medical degree focused on psychology when, hospitalized with bruises, she was prescribed opioid painkillers for 30 days.
Jenna continued to struggle with addiction for six years.
The non-profit organization that bears his name strives to provide a circle of care – not only with a network of treatment options, but also businesses that provide jobs and money to pay for 17 beds of modest accommodation.
“We hope to show that this can be a model that can be replicated across the state and across the country,” Gregory Tatro said.
Recognized by Governor Phil Scott in his 2020 State of the State address, Jenna’s Promise also aims to educate people unfamiliar with Vermont which has reported nearly as many overdose deaths during the pandemic as it has from Covid- 19.
The organization recently held a town hall on the issue with two congressional candidates, Senate Pro Tempore Speaker Becca Balint and Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray. There, a man asked why he had to stop working as a recovery trainer due to low pay and lack of benefits, while a woman asked why the dealer who sold his daughter a lethal dose of fentanyl had been released on $500 bail.
The answers, they learned, are not simple. But Jenna’s family and friends said they were ready to do the job.
“The last time we gathered here for her was during her funeral reception,” Gregory Tatro told the old church. “We talked about how she was like a stone thrown into a lake – her form disappearing, but her impact reverberating ever further. I think we have a chance to turn momentum into momentum.
(Editor’s note: VTDigger reporter Kevin O’Connor hosted the town hall mentioned in this article.)
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