One of the really great things about being a recovering alcoholic is that it inspires you to help others.
Even if you don’t particularly want to. Even if you’re kinda busy.
Doesn’t matter. You have to. It’s only fair. Because you know that people helped you when you needed it. So even the most self-absorbed, sorry-not-my-table kind of guy — me, for instance — talks to the messed-up drunk who phones out of the blue. Goes to lunch with the stranger who reaches out.
Or, in this case, drives the 99-mile round trip to sit in Kevin Lavin’s office at the Guildhaus in Blue Island to hear his bad news.
“Financially, we’re in a very serious position,” said Lavin, executive director of the South Side halfway house. “What happened was, we started the new DUI outpatient center, which was a drain. It hasn’t come to what we thought it would. That was part of it. Part of it was we started falling behind on our taxes. Now we’re upside down.”
Located in an old bottle factory across from the Cal-Sag Channel, the Guildhaus shelters 22 residents. Its addition, Guildhaus II, sleeps 26. Founded 30 years ago by retired Chicago firefighter Jack King, Guildhaus has helped 18,000 alcoholics and — increasingly — drug addicts salvage their lives. If each one dug into his pocket for a few bucks, Guildhaus’ problems would be solved.
Lavin was a commodities trader — you might remember his story from a couple Thanksgivings ago. After getting sober, he quit the world of finance and joined Guildhaus, which operates a residential, 12-step treatment program, requiring counselors and therapists, administrators and assistants. All that costs money. Every year, Guildhaus runs about a $200,000 operating deficit. Initially, he could cover that by hitting up his old pals.
Kevin Lavin, executive director of Guildhaus in Blue Island,
Kevin Lavin, executive director of Guildhaus, a halfway house helping addicts in Blue Island, said the facility now needs the public’s help to keep its doors open. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times
“The first year I did it was easy,” Lavin said. “The second year you go back to the same guys, it’s not so easy.”
While I was there, I ate dinner with the residents — chicken, creamed corn, bug juice. Hearty, but nobody stays here for the food.
“For me, it’s the blend — the people, the counselors, the family atmosphere,” said Mike.
“It was tough, but worth every minute of it,” said Fred.
When someone asks for money, you tend to look at them a little more closely. Prudence dictated I call around.
State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) is on the Guildhaus board.
“They provide a great service in helping people get through their addictions,” she said. “They’ve seen their population move from people with alcohol problems to people with opioid problems. The need is acute. To be in the community, close to where a lot of these guys grew up and live, so they still have family support, is really important at a low time in their lives. There are not a lot of places for people to get quality drug rehab and counseling; it’s important to keep centers like this open.”
To protect residents, the Guildhaus is unobtrusive. But that hurts when it comes to fund raising.
“Exactly,” said State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th).
“One of the reasons for its success is the place keeps a low profile. That’s important to people it traditionally serves, who come from law enforcement and other first-responder backgrounds. It was one of the few places where first-responders on the South Side felt comfortable going,” Cunningham said.
“There is a long-established sub-culture among first responders that does not lend itself to participate in recovery programs. It’s seen a a sign of weakness. A lot of cops and firefighters think that seeking help will be held against them. One of the real services that Guildhaus provides is, it’s a trusting environment. I know a lot of constituents who have taken advantage of it,” he added.
“His work out in Blue Island has been magnificent,” said Jim Sexton, mayor of Evergreen Park. “His work is very good, but it is challenging financially. The state and feds aren’t giving anybody anything, so you gotta figure out another way.”
That way is astonishingly easy. Go to the Guildhaus web page. Click the big green “Donate to GoFundMe” bar. When I went Thursday, I saw that they had raised $1,400 from eight people over the past month. A start, but not nearly good enough.
We can do better. I swallowed hard and kicked in $100. Anything you can give helps.
“All these guys that’ve been been through the house,” said Lavin. “If they see this in the paper and they see that we’re in trouble. We need help to keep this institution going. Because we save lives.