A friendly gathering of more than 100 supporters met at the historic Santa Barbara Club last Saturday afternoon for the third annual “Celebrating Recovery!” luncheon marking Casa Serena’s 52nd year helping women recover from alcohol and drug addiction.
“Casa Serena is doing well, and we are seeing increases in applicants,” said Craig Belknap, executive director of Casa Serena. “And particularly in California and Santa Barbara we are keeping up, but we couldn’t do this without you.”
Mildred Pinheiro founded Casa Serena in 1959, and in 1973 the organization became an independent nonprofit with a mission to provide effective treatment services and a safe, sober living environment for women suffering from alcoholism or who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs using the 12-step process and philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous.
On Saturday, wait staff dressed in starched white shirts and black vests with matching slacks served appetizers and offered glasses of chilled iced tea and tart, pulpy lemonade to guests who surveyed an assortment of silent auction items on display. Many guests also mingled on the grounds adjacent to the estate building that were lush with vegetation despite the whispers of approaching fall weather.
Established in 1892, the Santa Barbara Club, at 1105 Chapala St., remains one of the oldest private clubs in California and an urban oasis for members with old world charm and a rich Santa Barbara history.
A large ivory canopy adorned with red paisley print provided by The Tent Merchant offered relief on the outdoor grounds from a beckoning sun and neatly complemented matching tablecloths with large baskets of red apples fashioned with wheat stacks and maple leaf centerpieces designed by event decorator John Daly.
As lunch was served, Belknap graciously thanked the crowd of diners for attending the event.
“Whether you are staff, volunteers, donors or someone who just cares about Casa, you have a stake in what happens and the success of the women who go through there,” he said.
Next, board member and President Mike Olson acknowledged other board members in attendance for allocating time, ideas and energy to help facilitate a well-rounded program.
An award presentation followed for individuals within the community who demonstrate the same commitment, dedication and compassion for women in recovery as did Casa founder Mildred Pinheiro.
The 2011 Pillar of Strength award was presented to new recipients Peggy Fletcher and Bruce Read by past award recipients Nan Schooley (2009) and Liz Hughey (2010) with former Casa Serena board member Kathy Sheffield.
Read served as vice president of finance for Casa Serena from 2005-06 and currently serves as clinical coordinator for Cottage Health System and pharmacist in charge at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital.
During his acceptance speech, Read noted that the recovery process for women is very complex.
“The analogy that I like to use is an iceberg where only 20 to 30 percent of what you see is above the surface and the other half of the iceberg is below the water in relation to women who deal with low self-esteem, family issues and sexual and identity issues,” Read said. “I think what Casa Serena does is better than any other organization to treat those types of issues and allow women to come to grips with them.”
Casa Serena operates three homes for women in various stages of recovery, including the Main House with a structured 90-day program and the Graduate House that offers long-term care up to nine months, plus the Oliver House whose primary mission is to assist pregnant women and those with children.
Kathy Sheffield presented another 2011 Pillar of Strength award to her best friend of 14 years, Fletcher, who served on the Casa board for six years and was acting president in 1999. Fletcher continues to work tirelessly in support of women in the program and still attends Thursday morning meetings at Casa Serena.
“What I can say for sure is that Peggy is truly a friend of Casa Serena because she loves, cares and encourages every woman she has ever met in that house,” Sheffield said. “She has been graced with the capacity of giving love to all whose life she touches.”
Before presenting Fletcher with the award, Sheffield tearfully recited a quote from Oprah Winfrey: “In every way and every day, you are showing people exactly who you are. You are letting your life speak for you.”
“Being a part of Casa is one of the proudest things that I have ever done in my life,” Fletcher said. “Casa is a heaven for those who get to stay there, and when I go there I feel the same way.”
Guest speaker Arielle Dewey, a graduate of Casa Serena in 2009 and Oliver House in 2011, shared an inspiring testimonial with guests. She is a recovering drug addict whose life was in shambles at the end of 2008 when she lived in a decrepit apartment while married to an abusive gang member and was three months pregnant and addicted to heroin.
“Sometimes a person can fall so low that they can’t get up without help,” Dewey said. “Casa Serena introduced me to the 12 steps, and that has kept my clean and sober to this day.”
Counseling services and outreach programs at Casa Serena also provided Dewey with legal, financial, health and employment assistance while she was in recovery.
“They walked me through the huge quantities of facing the wreckage of my past when I had closed doors everywhere I went,” Dewey said. “The counseling I received had a huge influence on my parenting skills because I probably would have repeated the pattern that I was parented with if they hadn’t been there for me.”
Dewey recently graduated from SBCC with 4.0 GPA and was a recipient of the WISP Scholarship for survivors of domestic violence. She is a co-founder of the nonprofit Women of Wellness, which provides health and wellness services for low-income women.
The luncheon concluded with closing remarks from Development Director Marisa Pasquni and a performance by vocalist Lois Mahalia, who was accompanied on guitar by Unity Shoppe Executive Director Tom Reed for a lovely rendition of “Celebrate Me Home.”
This year’s event was deemed another success with an estimated $70,000 raised for women recovery. Casa Serena has served more than 10,000 and is the only women’s treatment facility in Santa Barbara County that is licensed by the State of California.
“I’m not the same woman that I was when I walked through those doors,” Dewey said. “I learned from Casa Serena the joy of giving, and there is a debt that I owe that I’ll never be able to fully repay because it’s not only the gift of my life, but a life that was worth living. Casa gave me my life back.”
Casa Serena offers special thanks to the wonderful “Celebrate Recovery!” sponsors:
» 14 Karat Gold Sponsors: Susan E. Bower, John and Dinah Mason, Carole MacElhenny (in memory of Erin Elizabeth), Meredith McKittrick-Taylor, Steve Olsen, and Richard and Maryann Schall.