The historic California Craftsman three-story dwelling on El Molino Avenue once boarded Pasadena Playhouse actors. For its current crop of residents, however, there is no more pretending.

For Nathan K., a U.S. Marine, the Gooden Center “is just this magical place” where he rediscovered the camaraderie he thought he’d left behind after being wounded in Iraq. During a two-year hospital recovery from battlefield injuries he became addicted to painkillers.

For Rob K., who said he woke up in jail after he and his brother overdosed on heroin, “it’s the place that saved my life. It means life to me.”

This year, the Gooden Center, an institution of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is celebrating a half-century of helping “to show men and their families a way out of the debilitating and deadly cycle of alcoholism and drug addiction,” according to the mission statement on the center’s website.

Over time, the comfortable gray and white residence has served thousands of men “but multiply that times 50 years doing this,” said the Rev. Bud Williams, executive director for the past 20 years. “Think of all the people loose in society with all the principles of recovery and honesty and integrity and accountability that come with that.

“Their lives are beginning a transformation process that hopefully will last them for the rest of their lives and impact so many people around them and generations after them.”

Or, as board chair Greg Giesler describes the center’s mission in an anniversary video posted on the center website, “We’re giving families back their fathers, their sons, their brothers that they totally lost.”

Established in 1962 by then Bishop Suffragan Robert B. Gooden, the center draws residents from Southern California and across the country, mostly 30-somethings, mostly addicted to prescription and nonprescription drugs. At 19 beds the center usually is at capacity for the most intense residential treatment, Williams said.
The center has treated a fair number of clergy, too, he said.

Focused on a 12-step model, the nonprofit agency operates on about a $3 million annual budget and treats about 300 people yearly, Williams said. Additional levels of care are offered in several locations within walking distance from the flagship residence, including intensive outpatient treatment and sober living cottages that also house residents. Fees can range anywhere from $40 to $290 per day depending on the level of treatment. Accredited by the nationally recognized Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, the average length of stay for participants is between two and three months.

Affordable treatment, family care a rarity

The center is something of a rarity in offering quality, affordable care as well as services to families of the center’s guests, Williams said. The Gooden Center also accepts insurance, he added. “There are 35 addiction treatment centers in Malibu and not one takes insurance.” Residents must be between the ages of 18 and 65; about 15 to 20 percent receive some form of scholarship assistance.

In recent years, a surprising trend has been that residents are younger, and suffer from multiple addictions. About 60 percent of guests arrive addicted to prescription painkillers and other drugs; about 40 percent are addicted to alcohol.

Still, substance abuse often goes underreported, Williams believes. “It is the nation’s number-one health problem,” he says. “Research says that 40 percent of people in the hospital have developed drug-related illnesses, even though addiction isn’t the presenting issue. It’s a huge cost to society.”

On a recent day Williams, seated on a cranberry-red couch in the center’s comfortable parlor, interprets a painting above the fireplace as encapsulating the center’s core values of giving others a hand, but not a handout. “We will walk with you,” he said, “but you have to do this” for yourself, said Williams, who has announced his intention to retire in 2013.

A 50th anniversary celebration held at the Gamble House in Pasadena, drew about 300 people and helped to raise $80,000, according to Damian Geddry, treasurer of the center’s board.

Geddry, a marketing specialist, said that “despite the center’s professionalism, it manages to have a heart that’s discernible when you walk in the door.”

“I work with a lot of nonprofit agencies but I’m there because the moment I walked in the place I got a sense that it was very focused on recovery. I got a sense it was a very ethically and professionally run institution, and institution is absolutely the wrong word to use about the Gooden Center. It doesn’t feel like an institution, it feels like a home. When I walked in, I thought, wow, this is different.”

Filling the God-sized hole

That feeling of being home, and treating families is “absolutely crucial” to recovery, acknowledged the Rev. Charleen Crean, a social worker and deacon who serves at All Saints, Pasadena and whose son sought treatment at the center in 2003.

“Those moments of getting honest as a family are what heals them,” said Crean, who serves on the center’s board. “The beauty of family work is that you get it out in the open and once you have honesty you know what to do with yourself. It’s key because if families don’t have some understanding of the disease process and of the course of addiction and of what it takes for a person to recover, then helping them isn’t really helping.”
She added that: “We don’t realize how fragile young men are. They are fragile in ways you couldn’t even imagine because they look so unfragile.”

But, she added that community support will be essential as resources decline and affordable quality treatment becomes even less accessible than current levels.

Williams, who has 27 years’ sobriety, said he absolutely believes that, “on a spiritual level, the dynamic process of addiction and recovery is the Gospel story.

“This is one of the few diseases treated primarily through spirituality. People have a God-sized hole they are trying to fill.”

Treatment is akin to salvation, he added. “For me, addiction is a pit, the dark side that, once we get caught up in it, we can’t break free without God’s assistance.”

For Nathan K., the Gooden Center feels like home. “We all had drug addictions we were trying to battle with. What saved me was I want to be in recovery because I want to do this,” said Nathan, who now manages one of the sober living cottages.

“Before, it was a fear that, I have to do this because I’ll drink. But today, I want to do this. I feel that this is where God wants me. It feels like freedom to me, wanting to do the things you ought to do.”

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