Jeanne McAlister knows about the demons of addiction. The 81–year-old battled that demon for nearly a decade. And won.
Now 56 years clean and sober, she is helping adolescents and young adults steer away from the rocky path she once traveled.
“I personally was a teenage drinker and drug user,” she said.
In 1977 McAlister founded the first McAlister Institute in San Diego.
Today, McAlister Institute has seven teen recovery centers throughout the county, with a location in Eastlake at 2429 Fenton St., and a satellite campus that is just over a year old at 629 Third Ave., in Chula Vista.
McAlister Institute is a not-for-profit organization that provides professional services that heal the lives of individuals and families while improving the quality of life in communities through the miracle of recovery.
“What we do is work with adolescents that are using, misusing dugs or alcohol,” said program manager Robert Perez.
“We try to turn them into productive members of society, that is pretty much what our goal is.”
Perez oversees both Chula Vista campuses. He, like McAlister, is a recovering addict. About 90 percent of McAlister’s staff are ex-addicts, Perez said.
McAlister Institute not only helps teens and adolescents recover, there are also several adult centers throughout San Diego and one in Napa Valley.
McAlister said the teen recovery centers are built on a foundation of support, something she said she needed in her journey to sobriety.
“I know what a struggle (addiction) is without support because when I got clean, there was very little support,” McAlister said.
The majority of the patients at the center are between the ages of 12 and 17, most are sent to the institute by the court or their probation officers. Others come from hospitals or voluntarily check themselves in, Perez said.
Once checked in to one of the facilities, patients undergo an intense three to six month curriculum that’s formulated off of the patients’ situations.
Perez said the curriculum is designed to equip patients with proper life skills to overcome addiction.
Perez, who is seven years clean, shares his story of drug abuse as a testament of what could happen to a patient if they continue to use.
“I try to show them, ‘Hey this is what happened to me, this is what could happen to you,’” he said.
Part of every curriculum is to teach patients how to fill-out job applications and how to properly interview for a job, Perez said. Perez said the teen centers also helps patients with their homework.
Once patients complete the curriculum, they get to graduate, which Perez said is important because most patients feel they’ve never accomplished anything before.
McAlister said being a former addict helps her relate to the patients seeking treatment.
“It helps me understand and not judge them,” she said.
Perez said patients who check-in to the McAlister institute must understand that no matter how many years clean and sober individuals are; the recovering addict label never comes off.
“Once an addict, always an addict,” Perez said.
Perez said he is in the process of adding another McAlister satellite campus in Chula Vista. He said he is currently looking at Palomar High School as the next location.