All About Gratitude
Treatment Program Alums Give Back
Eye on LSSI, Spring 2005 ( Download PDF of entire publication)
The lessons learned at the Men’s Residence West, a program of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), are not just simply about sobriety, but about giving back. And that’s where the “alumni” step in.
The Men’s Residence West, located in an unassuming red brick building in Elgin, is a safe environment for men coming out of a substance abuse program. This 16-bed halfway house includes a professional staff, but more than that, it is supported by a corps of alumni/volunteers.
After successfully completing a 28-day inpatient program for substance abuse, the men have an opportunity to nurture their sobriety by transitioning back to regular life while living at the residence.
“The Men’s Residence West is part of the continuum of care,” says Veronica Wittenbrink, clinical supervisor. “There’s a greater recovery outcome in a supportive and caring environment.”
The men are asked to give a verbal commitment to stay 90 days at the residence as they continue to strengthen their sobriety and shift into post-treatment life.
“The house is only as strong as its alumni,” Wittenbrink explains. “There is a dynamic group of men willing to serve as alumni and that helps current clients with their recovery process.”
“It’s a gift,” says Dean L., an alumnus of the residence who is now a volunteer. “I cannot thank LSSI enough. They saved my life.”
Dean has been sober for nearly a year. After completing an inpatient program, he lived at the Men’s Residence West. Now, he has come full circle and is a dedicated alumnus, which he says helps him as much as the current clients.
“It’s all about gratitude,” Dean says. “I’m thankful for what I have and what was given to me. Now, I’m here to help in the same way.”
One of the core principles of the residence is support. The clients and alumni have a common network to draw strength and guidance from one another and a common accountability as they work toward the same goals.
“There is a real sense of community here,” Wittenbrink says. “The ultimate goal is independent living, and the relationships built here help make that easier.”
Wittenbrink says there is a strict schedule at the residence regarding dinner at 5:30 p.m., daily chores, and a regime of therapy and group meetings. But, with alumni participation there is time for socializing and bonding on a group and individual level. The positive and welcoming atmosphere at the residence allows the clients to come together to discuss issues in the house, personal struggles and triumphs, and to have a sense of community.
Dean says that sense of community has continued from his time as a resident to his current alumnus status.
“I can go to meetings and attend functions that help me, but I’m also able to give back by helping new members,” he says. “I’m a phone call away and am ready to give examples of how certain steps work to the newer clients. I try to be a ‘big brother’ but am also here for rides to job interviews or other daily life tasks.”
Wittenbrink, who has been with LSSI for 11 years, the last eight at the Men’s Residence West, says the alumni network is a major factor that contributes to the success of most clients.
“It’s important to teach clients dignity,” she says. “Outpatient care is the next step before returning to independent living, and we allow for that in a comfortable, safe setting.”
There is a fundraising component of the alumni group as well. Currently, Dean is in charge of the candy sales, with the profits used to support the residence. He says the money raised can go toward anything from buying a vacuum cleaner or television for the house to funding activities such as bowling or retreats for the current residents and alumni.
Another volunteer alumni member, Tom H., says something he’s especially looking forward to this year is a two-night camping trip to Starved Rock in Utica. Last year, he attended the camping trip as a client of the Men’s Residence West; this year, he is attending the outing as one of the alumni organizers.
Tom says he feels a deep connection to both current clients and alumni based on the constant support, both when he was a resident and now as an alumnus.
“You develop a common bond with other men suffering from the same disease,” he says. “Once you leave, you’ve created a peer group with a built-in support system, which also teaches you to rely on yourself.”
Tom also said that the weekly meetings he attends at the Men’s Residence West seem like a reunion — a chance to reconnect with a new group of sober friends.
“It comes naturally to become an alumni volunteer,” Tom says. “You’re excited about the fact that you feel so good about yourself and your recovery that you want to help someone else.”
For more information, contact Veronica Wittenbrink at 847/741-2600.