Many women are known to shoulder the burden of addiction in shame and silence — often making the hardest struggle in their life also their loneliest.
This hidden conflict requires them to conceal their internal battle and confront the world with a mask to fulfill their multifaceted roles, some as a mother, wife or caretaker in their personal life and in their professional one as an attorney, educator or executive.
Since its founding in 1967, Casa Treatment Center — a 24-hour, non-medical substance abuse treatment program — has been welcoming women from all walks of life to reach their goal of becoming alcohol and drug free, without judgment.
Casa is the first recovery home in Pasadena to cater to the unique needs of women struggling with substance dependence, offering 18-year-olds and emancipated minors a safe, compassionate environment to find sobriety and continue on that path.
The San Marino Junior Alliance has made it their core mission since 1979 to support the center, formally known as Casa de las Amigas. Since 1993, SMJA President Jackie Ficht said her group, which originally formed in 1942, has donated nearly $760,000 and is on track to $800,000 next year. The SMJA nonprofit is dedicated to the purpose Casa serves, saving lives and families.
Executive Director/CEO Nely Meza-Andrade told the Tribune the physiology of men and women are different and so is the impact drugs can have on their bodies, noting that women tend to experience a different level of trauma due to environmental elements, issues of esteem, dependence on others and lack of empowerment. An array of social factors, including stigma surrounding addiction, are prevalent among women and contribute to their delayed treatment, preventing them from sharing their substance abuse problem with their primary doctor.
To combat this, Casa Treatment Center provides women with a space where they can feel secure and supported to address the challenges of their substance abuse, and also the different realities that come with being female seen as an additional layer on the path to sobriety, Meza-Andrade said.
Women are assessed through an admission coordinator and consultation with a clinical and medical director. Then, they are approved to come in, usually within 24 hours, and are admitted to one of Casa’s programs, such as its Residential Program, Outpatient Program, Sober Living Program, Family Program and Aftercare Program. Casa’s treatment programming includes addiction education, co-occurring disorder education and treatment benefits and relapse prevention.
Director of Development Hillary Schenk recalls a teacher whose parents sought the help of Casa for her. Although she wasn’t happy to be in-treatment initially, Schenk said the teacher felt at home and was able to do what she was unable to do at other treatments in the past: heal.
“While talking about her own story, she talks about feeling broken and at her end and not knowing what to do with all of her feelings and her struggles with substance abuse, coming to Casa and knowing that it was OK to feel that way and having the permission to be tired, to be angry, to be sad — to be whatever she needed to be in that moment, because she knew that the staff here at Casa had her,” Schenk told the Tribune.
“It was a place she could take off those personas that we, as women, wear every single day. We go into work and put on our outside face. No one necessarily knows what’s happening underneath that mask, and at Casa, she felt like she could shed those layers and work to regain her sobriety and make the connections that are going to serve her for the rest of her life.”
The teacher, who is almost two years sober, went through Casa’s Residential Program, its continuum of care, intensive Outpatient Program and then the Sober Living Program. She is now pursuing her master’s degree and stays in touch with the women she met through Casa, embracing the true sisterhood that exists there.
Casa’s Aftercare Program supports women through the challenges that arise post treatment — free of charge, for the rest of their lives. The center also has an Alumnae Program that continues to foster friendships and bridge supportive bonds. There are traditional weekly meetings, as well as social gatherings they call “sober fun.”
“As women, we really need a support system, whether it’s to be able to pick up the phone or go out for coffee or whatever it is to keep us engaged, because, as women, we generally are the caregivers in our families and so that level of support is something Casa does so well,” Schenk said.
Being able to witness a woman overcome their addiction and become who they want to be at Casa is life-changing, not only for the client, but for the people that work with them, Meza-Andrade said.
“What’s incredibly rewarding is seeing the transformation of these women as they complete their program — you can see the relationships they’ve made and the hope we’ve instilled in them, simply for the level of connection we offer here,” she said.
“We always say they give us more than we give them, because they really do change our lives each time we see someone beat the addiction.”
Schenk agrees with her colleague, acknowledging the gratification she feels when someone comes through Casa a better version of herself.
“There’s no straight line through recovery — it’s a lifelong process, but to see the spark come back in each of their eyes to me — on the periphery, from the ground — that means everything, knowing they will take that spark with them wherever they go — to their families, their immediate communities, their workplace — and it will continue to change lives,” Schenk said.
Casa’s capacity at any given time is 80 women throughout its programming, including its Aftercare Program, serving more than 300 women and their families each year. Meza-Andrade attributes the quality of care its clients receive to Casa’s board of directors and staff.
“We have an incredible board of directors that are absolutely committed to this mission and really spend much of their free time helping us and collaborating with us to share the message of recovery,” Meza-Andrade said. “We also have an amazing team of clinicians, medical directors, counselors and administrative support that are fully dedicated to the women, their families and to breaking the cycle of addiction.”
While wearing her name tag in the community, Schenk said she was recently approached by two Pasadena Police Department officers who let her know that Casa saved the lives of their loved ones.
“I don’t do it for that, but, gosh, it certainly feels good to have that positive moment and know that I’m working for an organization that makes that kind of difference,” she said.
SAN MARINO JUNIOR ALLIANCE
At the annual San Marino Junior Alliance benefit, its most fruitful event in April, the nonprofit raised funds for Casa with their “Spirit of Ohana” theme, of which Ficht was the co-chair. For the occasion, the women of SMJA made over the San Gabriel Country Club, transforming it into a tropical paradise, complete with a hand-built tiki bar, hula dancers from the San Marino Dance Academy and a Hawaiian buffet prepared by a country club chef from the Big Island.
“Ohana means family, and family cares about each other in difficult times, so my co-chair and I thought it was the perfect theme, because it described our relationship with Casa and the women of Casa,” Ficht told the Tribune. “We are all one human family, and we need to support one another.”
Throughout the year, SMJA hosts two smaller benefits. The first being the “Jolly Good Fundraiser” located at Hodgepodge, a gift shop in San Marino, where SMJA members buy gifts for the women at Casa, as well as for the group’s own Christmas party, and family and friends. For the occasion, Hodgepodge owner Alison Hodgkiss donates 20% of all sales to Casa. All purchases made in the shop on Nov. 11 and 12 will be included, and SMJA encourages the community to shop on those days, knowing that their purchases will help support Casa. The second is “Make It, Bake It, Take It,” which involves members bringing something they made, baked or bought to SMJA’s February meeting, where a silent auction takes place, with proceeds being donated to Casa.
SMJA will be presenting a $50,000 check to Casa at the nonprofit’s Oct. 20 meeting, held at the treatment center. The total is a compilation of the year’s fundraising efforts.
As one of the sponsors for the Colleen Williams Charity Golf Tournament benefiting Casa each year, SMJA plans to gift their $5,000 contribution for the 27th installment of the event in June of 2024.
As a fundraising arm for Casa, SMJA also helps provide scholarships, among other resources, allowing some of the most vulnerable women to receive the treatment they need to get to a better chapter in their lives. They also engage with the women undergoing treatment in fun and meaningful ways on their journey. One example is the holiday party SMJA puts on for the women at Casa each year, which includes members helping staff decorate for the season.
On Oct. 21, SMJA will be attending a graduation ceremony at Casa to cheer on and celebrate the women who will be graduating from their program, a cherished milestone for the graduate and the sisters who stand in her corner.
Ficht joined the nonprofit about three years ago. She said making that decision was an easy choice.
“As a nurse practitioner, my nursing career has always been under the umbrella of maternal and child health and, certainly, addiction for women comes under the umbrella of women’s health, so for me, joining the San Marino Junior Alliance was a no-brainer,” she said.
Ficht said she remembers learning the story of a nurse struggling with addiction through an emotional testimonial that both broke her heart and gave her hope.
“To hear her talk about her journey just hit me as a nurse, because addiction can happen to anyone,” Ficht said. “But Casa can save their lives.”
Stories like that one are common, Ficht said, making the work that SMJA does in the background to uplift the women of Casa all the more motivating.
“It is my honor to dedicate my time to lead SMJA and support Casa,” Ficht said. “What has made the greatest impression on me are the women’s testimonials speaking of their lives before, most of which are heartbreaking, and since coming to Casa.
“Addiction is a disease and is treated as such by Casa. As a nurse practitioner, what could be more rewarding than supporting a facility that helps women restore, or create, a healthy, productive life?”
SMJA and Casa’s bond is treasured, a relationship that is appreciated on both ends.
“The San Marino Junior Alliance — what a gift,” Schenk said. “They really wrap their arms around the women here, and I have never seen a group like them.”
Meza-Andrade added: “We absolutely love them and appreciate them dearly. They have been a wonderful partner and the true definition of sisterhood.”
Casa Treatment Center is located at 160 N. El Molino Ave. To learn more, visit casatreatmentcenter.org. For admissions call (855) 954-2272.
First published in the Oct.12 issue of the San Marino Tribune