August 10, 2008
Exec Leaving Job That Began With Ad
By Melissa Evans
Newly divorced with two kids to support, Betty Batenburg circled a help wanted ad in the local newspaper for a 37-hour-a-week position as an administrative assistant.She got the job and, as it turned out, the organization looking for help - the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - would open the door to a new career and calling for the single mom.
More than three decades after answering the ad, Batenburg will end an illustrious career with the independent recovery organization, including the founding of three centers for alcoholics and drug addicts, an expansion of services and fundraising dollars and some key public policy victories.
"It's time to turn this over to new blood," said Batenburg, 69. "The field is changing, and we need new people with new ideas and energy."
At the end of this month, Batenburg will officially step down after 34 years - 22 of which she spent as executive director - with the Torrance-based nonprofit. A retirement celebration is planned for September.
In the meantime, she is working with the organization's new top administrator, Michael Ballue, to help with the transition and position the organization to deal with changes in the recovery movement and new strategies to combat addiction.
When she started as an administrative assistant in 1974, a year after it opened its doors, the agency served solely as a hub of information and referral services for alcoholics who wanted help.
"We see a lot more young people now," she said. "A lot more are addicted to methamphetamine and prescription drugs."
As the demographics of those addicted widened, Batenburg worked to expand the role of NCADD by securing county grants and raising about $1.3 million in donations.
In 1986, Batenburg spearheaded the opening of the Flossie Lewis Center in Long Beach, a residential recovery home for women, including those who are pregnant or have children. Two years later, a sober living house opened at the Flossie Lewis Center.
In 1992, she opened Building Blocks, a housing facility for pregnant or parenting women who attend the outpatient recovery program at County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance.
The Torrance facility on Post Avenue, which employs more than 50 staff members and social workers, also provides counseling, outpatient services, consultations and family therapy. The center administers the court-ordered Proposition 36 program, the state- funded rehabilitation program for nonviolent drug offenders.
The goal of all these services is to bring "people's bottoms up," said Batenburg, referring to the notion that people have to "hit bottom" before they get help. "They don't have to go as low as they used to," she said.
She and others involved in the center concede that success rates - at least on paper - are seemingly low; less than 20 percent of people stay sober or clean on their first try at recovery, statistics show.
But seeking help from a variety of sources - such as counseling, involvement in 12-step programs or court-mandated outpatient treatment - are part of a long and bumpy process that can eventually lead to sobriety.
"It's a lot of work to change your lifestyle and get fully away from dependence," Batenburg said.
She and the organization's new executive director say conceptions of treatment are changing, too. Years ago, the thinking was that people needed information about their addiction, combined with testimonials from formerly addicted people who had changed their lives. Now more focus is being paid to prevention, such as educating the whole family and the community-at-large about the impacts of addiction, they said.
They are taking cues from the success of the anti-smoking movement, which took root when society as a whole changed its perception of the dangers of tobacco. The first step, however, is making people aware that it is a problem.
"People don't want drug addicts and alcoholics in the community, living next door," said Ballue, a South Bay resident who worked for a recovery home in Newport Beach before taking the helm at NCADD. "Guess what? They're already here. They've been here. We need to put resources into treating them."
Batenburg, who earned certification in social work and counseling during her early years at NCADD, said the work has been difficult at times, particularly when people don't stay sober.
"But then you see such wonderful changes in others," she said. "You do see people fail, but I truly believe that not one minute of our time is lost. All of the investment we do is going to pay off in some way. I know that."
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