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Volunteer works tirelessly for drug treatment center


Ask Robert Hartge why he's devoted so much of his time to helping alcohol and drug addicts regain some of their lost hope, and he explains by example.

Several years ago, Mr. Hartge befriended a patient. The two went to gospel shows, religious services and even to Mr. Hartge's house for lunch.

Today, the reformed addict is a pastor at a Calvert County parish.

Such success stories help explain why Mr. Hartge is so dedicated to the cause.

"I try to analyze why I'm this way, why I need to help," he said, with tears in his eyes. "I guess I do it for attention and for the satisfaction of hearing the addict say they've finally recovered."

That's why, 10 years ago, Mr. Hartge helped create the Hope House in Crownsville, a treatment center for addicts. He has remained a vital part of its volunteer effort.

An active church-goer, Mr. Hartge, 71, said his volunteer work is part of his own missionary program to spread the word and will of God -- not by mouth, but by actions.

"For some people, the Hope House is their last hope," he said. "If they hadn't come here, they might be dead now."

In 1983, Mr. Hartge and a group of volunteers set out to establish a drug treatment center specifically for indigent addicts. Realizing the community would not allow a center in the neighborhood, Mr. Hartge sought state land.

Several months later, the Hope House was established at Crownsville Hospital, in space leased for $1 a year. Mr. Hartge helped rehabilitate the building, which houses more than 40 patients.

But the Galesville resident, president of the board of trustees at Hope House for the past nine years, said he learned that first year just how hypocritical society can be.

"It made me angry and still makes me angry when I hear people say, 'I don't want these alcoholics around me,' when we have them all around us and among us all the time," Mr. Hartge said. "They're our next-door neighbors and they're us."

He stresses that places such as Hope House keep these addicts under control, while in the community, they are free to do as they please.

Two years ago, he lobbied legislators tirelessly to keep the house open. When a new budget reduction package was enacted, several community houses were closed, but Hope House remained open.

Last year, at Mr. Hartge's prompting, the state awarded Hope House $1 million for renovations.

William Rufenacht, director of Hope House, has worked with the man he calls Mr. Volunteer for six years. "You never have to worry where Bob is. He's always there to support you, whether it's dealing with funding issues or something as mundane as fixing a leak on the roof," Mr. Rufenacht said.

"He's got a heart like you just don't find," he said. "He understands pain and loss, and is a very caring, Christian person."

Mr. Hartge does know pain and loss. Two years ago, he discovered his brother was, at 65, sitting in a detoxification center, battling alcoholism. "When you really look around, there's an addict in every family," he said.

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