BERKELEY – The atmosphere in the room was thick with happiness and positivity. Everyone was dressed to the nines in full-on 1920’s fashion. Servers carried trays filled with decadent hors d’oeuvres. Attendees scanned the various silent auction prizes offered by the Oakland Athletics, San Jose Sharks, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. One might have thought this was some high society gala.
In fact, it was an anniversary fundraiser for an organization that has led the way in rethinking the treatment of addiction and mental illness, recognizing that addiction is a health problem, not a crime.
For more than 20 years, Options Recovery Services has helped interrupt the cycle of crime, broken families, and homelessness caused by addiction. Last month the organization held its “Roaring Into Our Twenties” themed gala at UC Berkeley’s International House to raise funds to continue its much needed work.
“There are not enough programs like Options,” Robert Watkins, 69, of Berkeley told gala attendees. He is celebrating 20 years of sobriety and now works as a counselor for the program. “We need more programs like this. It’s great to see dedicated visionaries do things like this, trying to make others’ lives better.”
It started with the vision of Davida Coady, Options’ founder and medical director. In 1996 she changed her medical specialty from pediatrics to substance abuse treatment and started to work with clients in the Berkeley courts to develop addiction treatment as an alternative to jail. She and Tom Gorham, Options’ executive director, grew the program to include a mental health clinic, addiction treatment at San Quentin Prison, clean and sober housing for 165 people, and a treatment facility in Oakland in addition to the Berkeley program.
Gorham was quick to credit the supporters who early on recognized the value of their approach.
“We are proud to honor (retired state senator) Loni Hancock, who sponsored legislation that mandates substance abuse treatment in the state prisons; (retired Berkeley mayor) Tom Bates, who helped repurpose unused space for treatment purposes; and Superior Court Supervising Judge Gregory Syren, who has guided hundreds of defendants into treatment and recovery instead of incarceration,” Gorham said.
Martin Sheen, actor and honorary board chair for Options offered his congratulations: “For 20 years, Options has successfully served more than 10,000 clients,” Sheen said.
Dan Becker, Options’ clinical director, and Mike Thomas, the lead of the program’s men’s group, said Options’ holistic approach is a key element in the recovery of their clients. In addition to the more traditional 12 steps recovery program, Options’ intensive outpatient regimen — three hours a day, five days a week — includes acupuncture, guided meditation, nonviolent communication, art therapy, yoga, and Chi Gong.
Options also has nine sober living facilities in Oakland and Berkeley.
“It’s a safe place to live. A sober place to live,” Becker said. “Clients have experienced so much trauma in their lives. In these facilities, they can focus on the mind/body connection. Clients aren’t using substances to treat their feelings.”
There is no waiting list for the housing; clients can get treatment and housing on the same day. And no one is turned away for lack of funds.
“Options helps anyone, no matter their inability to pay,” explained Wendy Jones, director of finance. “Clients can live in a safe living environment, there is no waiting list, they can get in a bed that night.”
Options offers career opportunities for those who have graduated from their treatment program. in November 2015, Yanira Aguirre starting working there as a women’s counselor. She participated in the offender mentor program while serving a 23-year sentence at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, California. Through the program, she became a certified drug and alcohol counselor.
She said by working at Options, she found a way to give back.
“Options encourages clients to change their lives,” Aguirre said. “It reminds them there is hope. They have never turned no one down. It gives women and men a second chance at life.”