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Friendship in recovery: Center makes hiring decision reflecting philosophy

December 9, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A Colorado treatment organization that emphasizes to its young male patients the importance of establishing strong friendships in early recovery is taking an administrative step that brings that same philosophy to life.

Carbondale-based Jaywalker Lodge has announced that Dirk Eldredge will officially become the organization's “chief recovery officer” (a title that founder and CEO Bob Ferguson would like to see catch on in the field) in January. Eldredge was beginning his career as an interventionist around the same time that Jaywalker Lodge was opening its doors nearly 10 years ago, and he and Ferguson began a business relationship that grew into a lasting friendship. The two men's perspectives on treatment have striking similarities.

“The centerpiece for Jaywalker Lodge is that they look at themselves as a recovery community, as opposed to a clinical treatment center,” says Eldredge.

He arrives at a pivotal time in which Jaywalker Lodge is striving to demonstrate that its emphasis on community integration through building relationships and engaging in service projects results in improved client outcomes.

“We embrace the idea that making friends for life and having a lot of fun is directly connected to long- term sober outcomes,” says Ferguson. “We treat men in their early 20s, and their biggest fear isn't that they're going to die from their substance use. They are much more frightened that they're going to become irrelevant and invisible in their own sobriety.”

Job functions

As chief recovery officer, Eldredge will oversee marketing, admissions and alumni relations, and will take charge of Jaywalker Lodge's growth initiatives. Ferguson says the organization seeks to grow but will not hand its new administrator a specific growth plan to execute, looking instead for Eldredge to influence the path it takes. Ferguson says he wants to drive Jaywalker's continuum of care deeper into long-term recovery and to look for like-minded partners in this effort.

Both men are in their 50s, and Ferguson says Eldredge's arrival will allow Ferguson time to explore unaddressed issues such as a succession plan to identify the next generation of leaders in the organization. He adds that the move also will free him to continue to pursue other local and national interests, including his work as a foundation board member at Colorado Mountain College (where many Jaywalker clients enroll) and his leadership efforts at the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), where he chairs the association's ethics committee.

“I had way underestimated the time and energy demands of the NAATP role, which is extremely compelling,” says Ferguson.

Eldredge, who has been in recovery for 12 years, has never before worked in a treatment center setting, but has become well acquainted with treatment operations in his years as an interventionist and certified alcohol and drug counselor. “This is a natural progression for me,” he says. “Providing treatment is where my heart is.”

Work with athletes

In a rather uncommon component of his career in the field, Eldredge served for four years as 'life coach” for the Seattle Seahawks professional football franchise. The path toward that role began when then-University of Southern California (USC) head coach Pete Carroll asked Eldredge to conduct an intervention for an individual affiliated with the football program there. Carroll, who Eldredge considers an out-of-the-box thinker among his coaching brethren, would eventually hire Eldredge in a consulting role when he returned to the NFL to coach the Seahawks.

Eldredge's work with the franchise involved problem-solving with players on a number of fronts, including problematic alcohol and drug use. The overall approach was one of “prevention rather than reaction,” he says. Working in this environment involves trying to make inroads with a difficult-to-reach population.

“Any public figure is going to be slower to trust, because they're used to anybody who approaches them wanting something from them,” Eldredge says. He adds, “Professional athletes are far removed from what mental health opportunities are out there.”

Eldredge, who calls Ed Storti and Keith Fierman his mentors in intervention, strongly espouses the 12-Step recovery model that also guides Jaywalker Lodge's programming. The gifts of recovery showered over him earlier this year when he found himself celebrating on the field moments after the Seahawks' championship victory. All the former printing company owner could think of was, 'How the hell did I end up here?” he recalls.

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