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38 Options Recovery Graduates Honored

By JOHN GELUARDI Special to the Planet
Tuesday December 09, 2003

Berkeley’s Options Recovery Services held a graduation ceremony on Friday for 38 clients who successfully completed a drug and alcohol treatment program designed for hardcore substance abusers who have no resources and nowhere else to go. 

About 300 friends, family members and city officials gathered in the cavernous Veterans Memorial Building theater to enjoy a tasty lunch and observe the ceremony that one council member called “a very moving experience.” 

The graduates, many who struggle with mental illness, homelessness and legal trouble, are often referred to the program by the Alameda County court system. By the time they arrive at Options Recovery Service, they are likely to have lost hope and been forsaken by social services, friends and family. 

“We want to help the people who have no other resources and have not been able to make it anywhere else,” said Dr. Davida Coady who founded ORS in 1996. 

Nearly all of Friday’s graduates described a sense of rebirth and all said they were grateful to ORS for taking a chance on them. 

“The program brought me out of the grave,” said Oakland resident David Stamper, an ex-convict who was homeless and struggling with a longtime addiction to drugs. “I was a walking dead man waiting to go back to prison or die.” Von Segerberg, who abused crack cocaine for 13 years, said her life has been renewed. “When I was using drugs, I was a loner. I was isolated probably because of shame,” Segerberg said. “Now I can really trust people again. I have friends, and I can work with others.”  

Coady has designed a comprehensive 12-step program that works closely with clients to fulfill a variety of their needs such as detoxification, healthcare, treatment for mental illness, court obligations, housing and literacy. Once those issues have been addressed, ORS clients can focus on their recovery. 

“We make every effort to start working with the clients right away,” Coady said. “Some only show up once and don’t come back, but of the ones who come a second day about 80 percent make it.” 

ORS takes in more than 1,000 clients annually and has had a high success rate with those who commit to the program. The program has an operating budget of nearly $1 million a year and relies mostly on contributions and government and foundation grants. 

The high success rate has earned the program widespread support from elected officials, churches, businesses and county health agencies. Among the local dignitaries attending the graduation were councilmembers Linda Maio and Betty Olds. The ceremony was also one of the last events attended by the late Father Bill O’Donnell of St. Joseph the Worker Church. 

“It’s amazing that they have such a high success rate with some of the hardest cases,” Olds said. “It’s always moving to come to these graduations.” 

ORS also enjoys a close relationship with the Berkeley Police Department. Chief Roy Meisner attended the graduation along with Capt. Bobby Miller, who is on ORS’s board of directors, volunteers as a drug counselor and conducts men’s group meetings. And Officer Tom Jeremiason, affectionately referred to as “Officer Tom” by ORS clients, made a special diploma presentation to Stamper. Just about a year ago, Jeremiason found Stamper in very bad shape and sleeping on the Veteran Memorial Building’s front stairs. He helped Stamper take the few remaining steps into the building where he joined the ORS program. Since then the two men have shared a special bond.  

“I’ve been a police officer for 24 years and police get used to seeing people at rock bottom and you can begin to forget they are human beings,” Jeremiason said during his introduction of Stamper. “Well I’m here to tell you that my name is Officer Tom and I’m a recovering cop.” 

Dr. Coady, who one client called the “mastermind of recovery,” said she sees the results of the ORS program whenever she goes shopping. “We have Options people working at stores all over Alameda County,” she said. “Every time I’m at Office Depot, Orchard Supply or Home Depot, I see someone who has graduated the program. Sometimes they come up and give me a hug.” 

For more information about Options Recovery Services and opportunities for contributing to the program, call 666-9552 ext. 21.