JEANNE MCALISTER, Founder/CEO McAlister Institute As a 79-year-old grandmother of two, one would expect Jeanne McAlister to be relishing the down time that we only reach in our twilight years; relaxing in a rocking chair on the front porch, relishing the perfection of the southern California sunshine. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The San Diego native has been offering the chance at a better life to thousands of alcoholics, drug addicts and the homeless since she founded the McAlister Institute in 1977.
McAlister Institute’s mission is to provide high quality, low cost substance abuse services to those who need a way out of the vicious cycle of addiction. The Institute has earned recognition as one of San Diego County leading resources for the compassionate care and treatment of individuals and families suffering from addiction and homelessness.
Presently, McAlister Institute serves more than 2,500 men, women, children and teens each month in San Diego County with inpatient and outpatient services and vocational training. They have numerous programs, one specifically helping mothers and children, known as Kiva Women and Children’s Learning Center. The program is a long-term residential program (6 to 12 months) for substance-abusing women and their children. Services include assessment, educational workshops in topics such as life skills,
vocational training, health, and relapse prevention, as well as treatment planning, individual and group counseling, and parenting instruction.
Jeanne herself knows what it’s like to feel helpless and hopeless however, her weaknesses became her strengths. She has just hit 55 years sober. Her drinking began at the age of 14, two years after she ran away from her home and dysfunctional family. At 15 she returned to San Diego, met a boy in school and married him. Her daughter was born when she was just 16. Jeanne and her husband divorced shortly after.
Ultimately, she entered Alcoholics Anonymous after her alcohol abuse spiraled out of control. It wasn’t until she had been sober for 15 years that she entered therapy and suddenly had the epiphany of her ability to help others.
On top of founding McAlister Institute, Jeanne has received numerous awards, most recently the 2010 Mental Health Person of the Year Award from the county’s Mental Health Recognition Committee. Jeanne’s story is a perfect inspirational story on second chances and the potential of taking your toughest struggles and turning them into your greatest legacy.
It is very unfortunate how common and relevant the topic of drugs and alcohol is in our youth and today’s society, but luckily Jeanne has a strong voice advocating sobriety.
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Taking an extreme difficulty in one’s own life, and turning it into a positive world-changing triumph is very hard to do. What a great choice for an honoree!