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Creating Freedom from Addiction

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Laura van der VeerSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Laura van der Veer

What does recovery look like? It could be finding stable, substance-free housing after years of living on the streets. Or rebuilding broken relationships with loved ones. Or even acceptance into law school. For each individual who seeks a better future at De Paul Treatment Centers, the success he or she walks away with can be described with one word: freedom.

De Paul Treatment Centers, with three locations in the Portland Metro Area, was founded as an independent nonprofit in 1977, originally with just one residence for late-term alcoholic men. With its mission to bring freedom from addiction to individuals throughout the Pacific Northwest, De Paul has continued to evolve over the years in response to a growing need for diverse, affordable addiction treatment options. Now almost forty years later, De Paul offers the full continuum of care for men, women, youth and families. From detox to residential, day treatment to outpatient, and group to family therapy, an individual can move through each level of care to gain stability under just one roof. This continuity of care may be the reason De Paul is able to boast completion rates higher than the national averages for both youth (53% vs. 47%) and adults (63% vs. 44%). The benefit of these high program completion rates is tremendous for both clients and the greater community. More individuals who find freedom through recovery are able to change the course of their lives for a positive future.

De Paul Article ImageEvidence Based Practices

Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction at De Paul is developed based on proven and effective strategies. In 2001, De Paul was the first Portland Metro Area organization to obtain accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and continues to meet CARF’s highest quality standards for each of its treatment programs. In 2002, De Paul became licensed to administer mental health services for clients with co-occurring mental health disorders. This commitment to finding the most effective and comprehensive methods to treat drug and alcohol addiction positively impacts the 2,400 individuals De Paul serves each year.

De Paul staff approach treatment with the belief that all individuals have within them innate health and the capacity to recover. De Paul’s CEO Maree Wacker explains that chemical dependency is “a chronic, treatable disease that develops within the context of an individual’s heredity and environment.” Clients walk through De Paul’s doors from all areas of society—the organization has learned that addiction does not discriminate based on gender, race, income, age, or any other characteristic. Although each individual who seeks treatment at De Paul arrives with very different circumstances, for all of De Paul’s clients the goal is the same: physical, mental, and spiritual recovery. De Paul’s addictions counselors, who work one-on-one with each client, help develop the emotional, interpersonal, and practical skills that allow clients to build their recovery. Ms. Wacker explains that this is De Paul’s model for successful treatment. “We meet clients where they are. We engage clients in the treatment process. We help clients develop positive choices and we support those choices. We provide the skills clients need to rebuild their lives and become productive members of their community.”

Focus on Youth De Paul Article Image 2

While De Paul’s early years were primarily adult-focused, the organization has recently worked to expand its services for youth. In 2004, the De Paul Youth & Family Center was officially opened as a separate treatment facility for youth ages 13-17. This specialized youth facility offers the full continuum of care and emphasizes the importance of family involvement in the treatment process. De Paul finds that youth clients are much more likely to succeed when their families are actively engaged, especially through participation in family therapy.

Client stays at the Youth & Family Center for residential treatment range from 30 to 90 days, a period of time during which youth clients are away from the schools they ordinarily attend. De Paul ensures clients stay engaged in learning by maintaining a fully accredited school, the De Paul Alternative School. Each client follows an individualized learning plan to stay on track to finish his or her grade level or even obtain a GED. Youth Program Director Erin DeVet reflects that “De Paul’s school provides the added focus that our kids need to succeed in treatment. We see so many young people come to De Paul falling further and further behind their peers because of addiction to alcohol or drugs. By working with their counselors and getting that individualized academic leg-up, these kids go back home with the desire to keep working hard in school and in recovery.”

Working on Prevention

Even with a mission focused on treatment, De Paul recognizes a community need for preventative outreach and education related to drug and alcohol addiction. This fall, the organization is embarking on a new drug and alcohol prevention initiative for youth. Two outreach staff will provide education and training to students, parents, and community groups throughout the Portland Metro Area. The passage of legislation to legalize marijuana in Oregon has been the catalyst for this new program. De Paul looks at Colorado, with similar legislation passed in 2013, as an example of what to expect in Oregon as recreational marijuana becomes widely available. Colorado has seen a 21% increase in reported drug use in middle schools since 2013. De Paul hopes to use this prevention initiative to strengthen the health and well-being of the community by educating local youth and families about the risks associated with marijuana and other drugs.


Laura van der Veer joins De Paul Treatment Centers as a Hatfield Resident Fellow through Portland State University’s Center for Public Service. She graduated in May 2015 with a Master’s in Public Affairs from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. After two years of AmeriCorps service and graduate studies concentrating on nonprofit management, Laura is dedicated to a career with nonprofits that give back to the community.

The mission of De Paul Treatment Centers is to work with individuals, families and communities seeking freedom from drug and alcohol addiction.

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