Graduate School Alumni Launch Hazelden Betty Ford's First Spanish-Language Program in Minnesota

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The Latinx community is underserved. There are hardly any options for abstinence-based, 12 Step treatment programs for Spanish speakers.

Graduate School alumni Al Updike and Manuel Garcia recently answered a few questions about the new outpatient program for Spanish speakers in Minnesota, which they collaborated on and launched in February 2022.

Can you tell us about your backgrounds? You both graduated from the Graduate School, and you continue to work for Hazelden Betty Ford. What made you want to stay?

Manuel: I was born in Mexico City, Mexico. Due to various life circumstances, I became passionate about helping individuals and families who confront addiction. I joke that I was either going to become a rock star or pursue a career in mental health, and it's absolutely true. But helping others get well works much better with my new lifestyle.

Al: I was born in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico, where I lived until age 14. I have a bilingual and bicultural background—my dad was Dutch and my Mom was Mexican/Spanish. I moved to Minnesota to attend Carleton College, where I double-majored in Spanish and psychology in 1986. I worked in the hospitality industry for 20 years and owned my own catering business for a few years. After some bad decisions and big consequences, I turned my life around, sobered up and eventually decided to work in the recovery field.

I enrolled at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School in 2009 and received my masters and LADC. I worked as a counselor and supervisor for a few years, then I became the manager and director of Minnesota outpatient programs. What keeps me at Hazelden Betty Ford is our mission to expand access to care and help more people recover. I believe we offer top-notch treatment, and I want to be a part of the solution to this disease. Plus I get to work with a lot of fun and brilliant people.

What inspired you both to enroll in the Graduate School?

Manuel: I decided to get my psychology degree and license in Mexico with the sole purpose of one day applying to the Graduate School. I knew Hazelden Betty Ford was considered the leader in addiction treatment, and I had to do everything I could to be a part of this organization. In 2012, that dream became a reality when I was admitted into the program. I still remember the welcoming call from Jennifer Urciaga.

My dream came true and, once I was up here, I had an incredible experience! I thought Hazelden Betty Ford might call after I'd earned 35 years of experience, saying "you're finally ready to be a counselor for Hazelden Betty Ford." Thankfully it didn't take that long, and after one year in the Graduate School, the Maple Grove location offered me a job. What can I say? My only hope now is to work for this organization until retirement.

Al: The Latinx community is underserved. There are hardly any options for abstinence-based, 12 Step treatment programs for Spanish speakers. It's a growing population here in Minnesota, but all over the country there is a great need for recovery services across the continuum of care, and I wanted to be a part of launching this new program.  I am entrepreneurial, and I have always enjoyed new projects and ventures.

How did you two meet and start collaborating on this program?

Manuel: John Engebreth, the executive director of Minnesota outpatient services, approached me and said, "I'd like you to work with Al on a project to start serving the Spanish-speaking population of Minnesota." It was a dream come true, and I jumped on board right away.

Al: My former supervisor, John Engebreth, approached me with an idea from John Driscoll, stating that we were looking to start a Spanish-speaking outpatient program, and he wanted me to work with Manuel to get it started. I was thrilled at the prospect—something really new and much needed in our communities—and I saw this as a big move forward for our organization, providing access to people from marginalized communities.

Can you tell us a little more about the program itself?

Al: It's an intensive outpatient program for ages 18 and up, and the groups will be conducted in Spanish with a bilingual counselor. The program is culturally responsive to the Latinx community, with topics that are real and true to that community—including systemic trauma, fears of deportation and other topics.  There is a day where family members are invited to attend, and the group will discuss family roles and issues. It's a 12-week curriculum with patients "phasing down" as they meet recovery milestones—attending from four times a week down to one—with the goal being to sustain and thrive in recovery.

Manuel: The program is based on our Living in Balance curriculum, which was already available in Spanish, and it includes 12 Step facilitation, evidence-based practices that are tailored to the needs of the community, and most importantly, it incorporates culturally responsive material to address stigma, family roles, generational trauma and other population-specific topics.

When did the program officially launch?

Manuel: The Spanish Family Program launched in February, and it's free of cost. It will be held the last Wednesday of every month. Our Spanish outpatient programs launched in February and are currently scheduled to take place four days a week, Monday through Thursday, from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Are you hiring?

Manuel: Actually, yes! We are looking for an on-call, licensed LADC who is bilingual in English and Spanish. If you are interested, please reach out to me!

Anything else the reader might be interested to know?

Manuel: It has been an honor to work on this project and to collaborate with brilliant minds to design the curriculum for this program. I am very grateful that our organization is taking steps to address the disproportionate impact of addiction on communities of color. We need to be a force of healing for all who suffer from substance use disorders—not just a few.

Al: I just really appreciate the support and the energy, and we're open to having more conversations about this program and opening more doors to other programs for marginalized communities. This is an equal-opportunity disease, and we need to have equal opportunity to recover from it.

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