FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Stacey Petersen
April 25, 2017
Alcohol. Drugs. Addiction. Recovery.
These are day-to-day words in the life of social workers – and families of people whose lives are a mess. These words are woven throughout lives, families, businesses and communities – and ours in Calgary are no different than anywhere else, but this story is about an exception – an exceptionally successful program (scroll this page to see their stats), its leader and strong proponent – Stacey Petersen, Executive Director of Fresh Start Recovery Centre.
He didn’t start it, but when he took it over in 2004 – after a clean sweep of people – it needed a rebuilding, restaffing, reconstituting what it was and whom it served with a commitment to comprehensive engagement of people who wanted to turn their lives around, their families and their employers. Hold it … I’m getting ahead of myself.
Stacey says, “there is an alcoholic on every branch of my family tree”. He’s one of those branches and comes by his role, and the route to his role through that family and has done the work on his own road to recovery.
Life began in Calgary. Mom from Winnipeg, dad from Olds – they met in Calgary, both alcoholics. Mom, a social worker, dad a hotel manager, then AGT, then Shaw. Sober 20 years when he died. Stacey, middle child of three, did his schooling in Cochrane and Calgary – high school at Lord Beaverbrook. Along the way, parents split up when Stacey was 11, kids went with mom through a series of residential moves in Calgary. Drinking began at nine. “We found an escape from our angry lives. I felt abandoned inside – disconnected, disjointed – mourning the loss of what never was. I was drinking and doing drugs every day”.
Music has been, and remains, an important part of his life – he’s been playing drums since age 11. He dropped out of school in Grade 11. “I asked a friend of my mother’s – Jane, for help. She took me to a 12-step program. I got sober at 18 – October 25, 1987, returned to school and had a great Grade 12 year, did well in school and enjoyed it.”
Stacey went on to Mount Royal College for a semester – then went working on pipelines. His girlfriend relationship failed – but he has a son, now 27, with whom he enjoys a continuing relationship. Work in the oil patch and construction followed, then a return to Mount Royal for a two year diploma program in Social Work. He’s been an R.S.W. since 1999. Along the way, a marriage, three children (10,12,14), divorce/shared custody, and a new relationship. “We live 10 minutes apart – I see my kids every day, and drive them to school”.
Back to the career: work at Simon House, Child Welfare, back to Simon House – became CEO, got sidetracked on a business adventure that didn’t work, then recruited by a Fresh Start board member in 2004. At that time, 10 staff, 23 clients – and he cleaned house, began rebuilding because, as he says, “it was a mess”. Fast-forward 13 years: 50-bed facility and outreach programs, 24 more, and 46 under construction right now, 35 staff and a budget of $2.5 million/year. “Our goal is to provide exemplary treatment at an affordable price. We look for cost recovery – and for those who can’t afford, we have a sliding-scale and help them too.” The cost is $160/man per day, way below the cost of many programs – and the results are astounding.
Well, you’ve done all of this – what’s next? “We have some future plans in development – not ready to publish them yet, but stay tuned! What we’ve done is part luck, part science – I want to continue to be here, to have a place where I want to go to work every day. We’re a family to these guys.”
Why are you successful? “I don’t forget gratitude. Because I’ve been given so many gifts. I feel successful in all areas of my life – and yet, in every area of my life, there is room for improvement. Because I choose love over fear. It feels so much better to be selfless than selfish. The level of my happiness contributes to so much good because of my relief from self.”
What has held you back? “In earlier times, my own self-importance.”
How do you see your business – addiction treatment – going forward over the next quarter?
… we have over 100 people on our wait-list because we are about long-term recovery. We need more detox beds. We aren’t warm and bubbly – we move people, we aren’t just about a bottom line.
And over the next five years?
… we will be doing things nationally, mostly through associations with and influencing other organizations to adopt our methods. I’d like to see us a household name. More focus on healing childhood trauma – moving people forward in love, not fear. Influencing others in our field to move to a more compassionate model of care.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I listen for an interest and thought, and sound reasoning – they need to line up, to make sense. It matters to me whether people make decisions based on fear, or love. There is great value in having a team make a decision.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Stacey Petersen, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… they like how they feel when they are with me. I’m in the business of success in recovery – real, sustainable. And at the heart of it is knowing, and teaching, that addiction is a chronic brain disorder …
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… let me preface that with this: I am a perfectionist, I like detail. I believe in empowerment and ownership. I encourage people to love what they do and love who they are. I don’t take credit for someone else’s work – and I strive to give credit to them.
… I think I do. I get a lot of enjoyment spending time with my kids – one in hockey, one in gymnastics, one in dance … so it gets busy.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… about my kids, about money – but I try to disconnect from worry, because it is so G.D. unproductive.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Bill Purves-Smith, one of my profs – gave me a second chance, to go back to Mount Royal. He changed my life. Denis Lenihan, former Exedutive Director @ Simon House – he taught me how to keep meticulous books and records. My dad. We got really close – and he taught me a lot by the way he was. My mom too …
… riding motorcycles, snowboarding, time at the lake – our RV place at Koocanusa, BC
What do you read?
… I love the work of Emmett Fox, and motivational books (Good to Great, Servant Leadership, It’s Your Ship).
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