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Ventura County Perspective | MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Couple Make Recovery a Reality

The Goldbergs of Westlake Village have turned a dream into a rapidly growing drug treatment facility.

January 04, 1998|BEVERLY KELLEY | Beverly Kelley is on sabbatical as chair of the communication arts department at Cal Lutheran University. She hosts "Local Talk" on National Public Radio affiliate KCLU, 88.3 FM

For Keith Wallace, this certainly wasn't your typical intervention. Three-year-old Brandon clambered over the seat of his father's Toyota clutching a marijuana-filled Ziploc in his starfish-shaped mitt.

"Here, b-a-a-a-d," the toddler of few words informed the Oxnard police officer as he forked over his daddy's secreted stash.

The level of gratitude an average pot smoker might feel at the prospect of fathering a neophyte narc is currently unavailable in my research base. Keith Wallace, however, chose to interpret his arrest as an "act of God" and appears to have undergone an attitude transplant as a result. In fact, Wallace has opted for clean and sober.

Three of Len and Debbie Goldberg's chemically dependent offspring have yet to trek the recovery trajectory, according to the Westlake Village couple. However, the founders of the 3-year-old nonprofit organization Visions for Recovery refuse to allow any vexing detail such as this to deter them from raising funds for education, prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse in Ventura County.

How significant is our substance abuse problem? According to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, 4,626 residents were admitted to Ventura County treatment facilities in 1997. Nearly 60,000 chemically dependent workers in the county figure in the annual $60-billion loss in national productivity. A far steeper expenditure is calculated in terms of the 273 alcohol-related county deaths chalked up during 1997.

Visions for Recovery started with a startling statistic: The Goldbergs learned during an Oxnard College lecture that addiction is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Unlike No. 1 cancer and No. 2 heart disease, few telethons, benefits or fund-raisers provide financial assistance of community-based nonprofits engaged in recovery.

Initially, Len and Debbie merely seemed to be spinning their wheels. They worked seven-day weeks, evaporated their life savings and choked down countless rubber chicken dinners. The pair slapped stamps on stacks of literature, networked with a vengeance and hounded Hollywood for a celebrity spokesperson.

Everyone considered the plan grand; nobody gave them a dime.

That's when Len and Debbie started thinking outside the box. Anticipating shrinking public health dollars, the Goldbergs started investigating private foundations. Their dream, price-tagged at $15 million, seemed destined for the circular file. Contribution-challenged folk around these parts have learned to limit their expectations to five figures. However, instead of preparing modest requests of every Tom, Dick and Harry Philanthropist, the Goldbergs are talking grant providers into working together to pick up the tab--now, that's my kind of chutzpah.

With respect to space, the single public treatment center in Ventura County accommodates only six adolescents--make that six female adolescents. Instead of drafting plans to construct a new facility, the Goldbergs noted that local hospital vacancy rates hover between 42% and 53% and partnered with administrators by promising to fill beds. OK, so all their patients wouldn't bunk in the same building, but intensive case management and uniform program standards could render that fact irrelevant.

There's also a picturesque 17 1/2-acre parcel in the Lucerne Valley, a projected sober grad house program, a letter from Larry Hagman lending his name to the cause and a planned mentor program involving the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. and the Economic Development Collaborative. You have to hand it to the Goldbergs: They envision BIG.

As for Keith Wallace, a family treatment program is not in the cards for an unemployed construction worker. Wallaces, allow me to introduce the Goldbergs. When flush, their proposal will pay for the treatment of 400 to 600 indigent and underinsured Ventura County participants. I don't know if that qualifies as an "act of God," but at least it could be an answer to prayer.

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