The Chance to Be a Kid Again, and an Era of Wonderment, Healing and Love

Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery Podcast
Two superheroes are ready to save the world from evil and tyranny.

The Children's Program is a delicate balancing act: it has to respect the gravity of addiction, but it also needs to be a safe space for healing—for having fun and being a kid again. That balancing act was perfected through the years by director Jerry Moe. And now that he’s retiring, he reflects on the program's importance with host William C. Moyers, sharing some of his fondest memories that he and those children will cherish forever, and making room for the next generation of hope and healing.

The easy moments is when everybody's simply being a kid.

Jerry Moe

0:00:13 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, our award-winning podcast series produced and delivered to you by Hazelden Betty Ford. I'm your host, William C. Moyers. And over the years, I've been fortunate to interview many colleagues and experts and fellow travelers all of whom are committed to helping people overcome addiction to alcohol and other drugs. What a lineup we've had. But among them all, there's nobody quite like Jerry Moe, my guest today. Jerry is the National Director of the Children's Program at Hazelden Betty Ford. Which means that over the course of his long and inspiring career, Jerry has touched the hearts and souls of thousands of girls and boys whose parents and families have been harmed by substance use and misuse. Jerry joins me today at an important milestone in his journey. Welcome, Jerry Moe.

0:01:05 Jerry Moe
Always good to be with you, William. Thanks for having me.

0:01:07 William Moyers
Thanks for being here. Big milepost for you. What is it?

0:01:10 Jerry Moe

0:01:11 William Moyers
Retirement. Did you ever think you'd say that word and mean it? [grins]

0:01:15 Jerry Moe
Absolutely not. [Moyers chuckles] No! The talk at the Betty Ford Center is they were just gonna take me out back of Fisher Hall and that would be it right there, so.

0:01:24 William Moyers
[chuckles softly] How do you retire when somebody has the passion that you've had for children? You can't turn it off.

0:01:30 Jerry Moe
Well I don't think you retire in the classic sense of retiring.

0:01:34 William Moyers

0:01:34 Jerry Moe
I mean, my heart is always with this work. With the mission of Hazelden Betty Ford. And so it's gonna be a matter of me being able to channel that in new ways.

0:01:45 William Moyers

0:01:45 Jerry Moe
While I balance my life a little bit more with family and grandkids—

0:01:48 William Moyers
Yeah. Yeah.

0:01:49 Jerry Moe
—And some fun pursuits.

0:01:50 William Moyers
Let's talk about your investment in children over the decades. How long have you been doing this kind of work? Helping people?

0:02:00 Jerry Moe
Well if you include the time that I worked in the Redwood City School District, it's been over 44 years.

0:02:06 William Moyers
Mmm. Mmm. Why children? Why young people?

0:02:09 Jerry Moe
I think part of it is because I never grew up.

0:02:13 William Moyers
What do you mean?

0:02:13 Jerry Moe
I just never grew up. I'm not an adult. [Moyers chuckles] I'm really just a little kid in an adult body. And kids have told me this many, many times. So, it's just a love for children.

0:02:22 William Moyers
Mmm. Mmm-hmm.

0:02:23 Jerry Moe
They need safety and they need protection.

0:02:25 William Moyers

0:02:26 Jerry Moe
They need love and education and understanding. And William, as you know all so well, sometimes this disease gets in the way of providing those things to boys and girls.

0:02:35 William Moyers
And you knew that personally, didn't you?

0:02:38 Jerry Moe
I knew it personally. I knew it personally not only in my growing up and how I got affected by the alcoholism in my family, but just watching my mom and dad who both grew up in painful families where there was addiction.

0:02:53 William Moyers

0:02:53 Jerry Moe
And as children they never got help. Now they got help when they were adults, which was wonderful. But there was still that child part inside that had yearned—from things that they just never got. Not because they weren't loved, not because they weren't cherished. But this insidious disease gets in the way of the love that people have for each other getting expressed consistently. And so I could see that in them. I could see it in my brother and sister.

0:03:20 William Moyers
And you brought that passion, you brought that personal expertise, and that professional acumen. You brought it to the Betty Ford Center—what year was that?

0:03:29 Jerry Moe
I laugh, it's so long ago. [laughs]

0:03:32 William Moyers
Yeah, '98. And you came there. What'd you come there to do?

0:03:36 Jerry Moe
I came there to really do a couple of things. One is to revamp the entire program. And so basically to make it much more child-friendly. To—to work with the family members, whether it was a Mom or a Dad or a Grandparent. To make it engaging so they would allow their children to participate. 'Cause unfortunately, the way laws are written, we can't help kids without guardian consent.

0:03:59 William Moyers

0:03:59 Jerry Moe
And also to take advantage of all of the wonderful things that were available at the Center. Such as a swimming pool and an auditorium that we turned into a playground where we play hide-and-seek in the dark. And ghosts in the graveyard and zombies. Among other things.

0:04:16 William Moyers
But how do you balance the seriousness of the issue with the need to heal children, and still have fun?

0:04:24 Jerry Moe
The word's right in the question. It's the balance part of it all. It's how to take a serious subject, where little boys and girls are taught we don't talk about this, we don't trust other people, we don't feel. And yet to do so, in a playful kind of way. So for example, when we want children to begin to see all the baggage we carry around, have 'em carry a bag of rocks.

0:04:48 William Moyers

0:04:48 Jerry Moe
We talk about this awful disease—have someone personify the disease. So it's engaging and it's fun and it's heartbreaking in the same moment. William, there will be times in group where a boy or a girl will go from laughing in one moment and crying in the next. And I think the other piece which really sets the Hazelden Betty Ford Children's Program apart from any other children's program that I know of anywhere in the world is it's four days, it's 25 hours. So we really have an opportunity to build a relationship with boys and girls. It's not we'll see you for an hour, we'll see you for an hour and a half, then we'll see you next week. No. We eat with them, we swim with them, we play with them, we do group with them, we cry with them sometimes.

0:05:34 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. [nods]

0:05:35 Jerry Moe
And so it's balancing, they're children. And so, to engage them it must be done in a playful way. And I'm amazed because my favorite day in the whole program, people ask me this all the time, is the second morning. Is when kids come back and what they say and what their parents say. They say, 'This is like camp!' [Moyers laughs] 'This is like camp!' Where else would you go—

0:05:58 William Moyers

0:05:58 Jerry Moe
—When you're dealing with a potentially fatal disease that your mom or your dad or your brother or sister have. And yet you come away saying, you know, 'This is like a camp.' So the balance is the key.

0:06:11 William Moyers

0:06:11 Jerry Moe
Right there.

0:06:12 William Moyers
The balance is the key.

0:06:13 Jerry Moe
Balance is the key.

0:06:15 William Moyers
Where did you get the idea for the Bag of Rocks?

0:06:19 Jerry Moe
Every one of these activities has evolved through the years. [grins]

0:06:23 William Moyers
Huh. [chuckles]

0:06:24 Jerry Moe
And it has seriously—and sometimes I'll look back and say, what was I thinking? So the Bag of Rocks actually started out as the Bag of Potatoes. [Moyers laughs] You now when you go to store and you buy produce, you put 'em in the little bags?

0:06:38 William Moyers
Sure. [grins]

0:06:39 Jerry Moe
So I had all these potatoes on the floor. [Moyers chuckles] And kids would come and put 'em in one of those produce bags. And they'd lock their elbow and they'd walk around and feel the feelings of it. [raises arm up high to demonstrate]

0:06:49 William Moyers
Mmm. Hmm. [smiles]

0:06:49 Jerry Moe
And I was one time doing a program with migrant farm workers. In Central California. 'Cause remember I'm a Northern California guy originally. And I could see that I had offended them. That I'd done something that was culturally inappropriate.

0:07:06 William Moyers

0:07:06 Jerry Moe
But because I was coming from a really kind and caring place, they didn't tell me 'til the end. [Moyers chuckles] And they said, food is sacred. It's a great activity—you can't use food. You gotta find something else.

0:07:18 William Moyers
Ha ha! [smiles, chuckles]

0:07:18 Jerry Moe
So it evolved. And then I'm at Sierra Tucson, in the desert, what do they have in the desert? Rocks! [Moyers nods] And then I go to my Native American friends wanting to make sure is this culturally appropriate? You know what the response was? 'Yes, for two reasons. There's nothing that's been on this Mother Earth longer than rocks have been. And rocks have sacred healing in them.'

0:07:42 William Moyers

0:07:43 Jerry Moe
And so, you start out with something and then you know what, you let the kids be the judges. They are always teaching me. They have taught me a million times more things than I'll teach them. [Moyers chuckles] And they are brutal. They do not know how to be tactful. [Moyers laughs] 'That sucks.' 'This is really awful.' 'Don't do that to us again, Jerry Moe. No, no, no, no, no.' And so, you know gosh, they give the seal of approval. But it's always with a challenge. How do we make programs fit children? And families? And not make children and families fit—

0:08:15 William Moyers

0:08:15 Jerry Moe
—The program. And Hazelden Betty Ford's Children's Program has done that forever.

0:08:19 William Moyers
Do you remember any of the—I mean surely you must remember some specific children along the way, some of the specific cases, their names, things like that?

0:08:27 Jerry Moe
I'll tell you. That I got a call. It would have been the Fourth of July a year ago.

0:08:34 William Moyers

0:08:35 Jerry Moe
You know, I—at this point in my life, with no children at home but grandchildren lurking nearby, but they have their own parents!

0:08:40 William Moyers

0:08:41 Jerry Moe
I'm not the parent. I'll work holidays so my staff can be—and we have a staff with a lot of little ones. I'm working Fourth of July. 2020. And I get a call. And it's from a gentleman calling me. He tells me his first name. No clue. Just got his 37-year medallion. First treatment center that I worked at, Redwood City, California. And we talked for a little bit. And he said my daughter, you know Sarah, she was in your program. She was ten years old at the time. And I'm quickly doing the math, I'm using my fingers. [Moyers laughs] Checking out the toes. It was—she's 47 years old.

0:09:22 William Moyers

0:09:23 Jerry Moe
And so she says—and she's right here. And he hands her the phone. And she's not ready for that, I can tell. [chuckles] She feels embarrassed and awkward. So we talk, she's got three kids. She is a teacher. She's had this brilliant career. We talked for a few minutes. And then I asked her, 'What do you remember about the Children's Program?'

0:09:43 William Moyers

0:09:43 Jerry Moe
She said three things, William. That number one, the bag. It wasn't rocks then; it was potatoes. [Moyers chuckles] The bag. She just calls it the bag. She said, 'I remember you playing the disease. And how scary that was. And to watch the disease grab ahold of someone I love. And that he couldn't get away. And I couldn't make him better.'

0:10:02 William Moyers
Hmm. [shakes head]

0:10:03 Jerry Moe
And I said, 'Is there anything else?' And this was the one that got me. She goes, 'Yeah. Third thing I remember—how much you loved us.' [tears up]

0:10:10 William Moyers
Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.

0:10:12 Jerry Moe
How much you cared about all of us.

0:10:14 William Moyers
Yeah. Yeah. And she could remember that all these years, decades later.

0:10:20 Jerry Moe
37 years later!

0:10:22 William Moyers
Yeah. Love. Love seems to take a backseat when addiction is driving.

0:10:27 Jerry Moe
Oh it just—it gets lost. Because the disease is so big and so selfish.

0:10:32 William Moyers

0:10:33 Jerry Moe
And so powerful.

0:10:34 William Moyers
And during the opioid epidemic, you must have been particularly keen to the fact that a lot of these children were losing, literally losing, their parents. Either through the grip of addiction or they were dying from the illness. I'm—I mean there's never an easy moment in the Children's Program. Is there?

0:10:54 Jerry Moe
The easy moments is when everybody's simply being a kid. And that includes the staff as well. [Moyers chuckles] It's well I'll tell you. And thank goodness I had this opportunity. So it was January last year. January 2020. And I got to do a Children's Program in Center City.

0:11:13 William Moyers

0:11:14 Jerry Moe

0:11:14 William Moyers
Main campus.

0:11:15 Jerry Moe
And think about—main campus at Hazelden Betty Ford. Think of the history there.

0:11:18 William Moyers

0:11:19 Jerry Moe
Oh my gosh. I walk on that stage of Bigelow Hall—

0:11:21 William Moyers

0:11:21 Jerry Moe
—Where all the patients go for lecture, and think about all the iconic people who've been in the field.

0:11:24 William Moyers

0:11:26 Jerry Moe
And the moment we had—we had two little girls. We had one little girl about 11 and she was very adult-like. And then she had her six-and-a-half-year-old sister. And so, you know, and they were too serious. [Moyers chuckles] So I said, 'You know what we're gonna do? Come on, we're stopping group right now, we're gonna go play some ding dong ditch. And we're gonna go and I know where some of the staff are right now. And we're gonna knock on the door. And we're gonna run.' And that's exactly what we did. The Clinical Leadership Team was having a meeting. [Moyers laughs] We got 'em twice! Before they figured out who it was. And we would knock and we would all run. And they would squeal with delight. It's kids getting to be kids.

0:12:05 William Moyers
Yeah. [nods, smiles]

0:12:05 Jerry Moe
And building that relationship.

0:12:07 William Moyers
Yeah. Over the decades you've been doing that.

0:12:08 Jerry Moe
Over the decades.

0:12:09 William Moyers
Jerry, we've only got a couple minutes. But talk about another highlight among highlights: the relationship with Sesame Street. What did that mean to you, professionally and personally?

0:12:18 Jerry Moe
Oh it's amazing. I was—I was actually at the airport here in Minneapolis/St. Paul and I got a text. That people at Sesame Street wanted to talk to me. And I'm thinking—the first place I went, the first thought is, 'How cruel. Who is doing this to me? Come on. This is like bucket list kinda stuff.' [Moyers chuckles] How—how could this be? How could this be? And in talking with Sesame Street, my goodness, I watched Sesame Street with my three kids.

0:12:42 William Moyers

0:12:43 Jerry Moe
And they found an activity—they couldn't figure out who did it. Sis Wenger and NACoA helped with that.

0:12:49 William Moyers

0:12:49 Jerry Moe
But an activity called the Seven C's. And after all these years, they found it and they said, 'It's fun, it's engaging, it's simple. And we wanna use it.'

0:12:57 William Moyers

0:12:57 Jerry Moe
'And what's it gonna take?' And I said, 'It's yours. Are you kidding me? I love Sesame Street. I love Sesame Street stands for.' And so, and I had no clue at the beginning how big this was gonna be.

0:13:08 William Moyers
Right. [chuckles]

0:13:09 Jerry Moe
I had absolutely no clue. And then—and we went back and forth I think maybe the biggest thing they kept wanting to call it the substance abuse initiative. And I kept saying, 'No, no, it's not substance abuse. It's addiction.' Because Carly's mom's in treatment because she's got a disease—

0:13:28 William Moyers

0:13:28 Jerry Moe
—Where she can't stop. And so, don't call it substance abuse. Call it what it is: addiction. And they really listened. And then working on scripts and the digital storybook. And you know they came out and filmed.

0:13:42 William Moyers

0:13:42 Jerry Moe
You know they—this is how they said this. [chuckles] They said to me, you know, 'We want to find a provider to showcase in all of this and it's gonna be somebody that is passionate and is caring.' And they look at me—'And someone not as old as you, Jerry Moe.' [Moyers chuckles] And so I offered a couple of people. But with Cynthia Galaviz, they came out.

0:14:03 William Moyers

0:14:05 Jerry Moe
And I wasn't there! But there's Helene Photias's leadership again.

0:14:09 William Moyers

0:14:10 Jerry Moe
She got that whole thing organized. Sesame Street spent two days with us on campus. And loved it I am told. So, just a highlight of the career. And the biggest was being on set.

0:14:21 William Moyers
Yeah. Yeah.

0:14:21 Jerry Moe
You know, you go in there. You got through security. And I'm like a little kid on a field trip. [Moyers chuckles] And I have no adult supervision. So I'm running wild. And they—and they're showing me in and they go, 'To the left is Orange is the New Black. And to the right is Sesame Street.' [Both laugh] And I stood there for a couple seconds. I go, 'No, no, no, Sesame Street.'

0:14:40 William Moyers
Oh, Jerry.

0:14:40 Jerry Moe
But to watch them film—

0:14:42 William Moyers

0:14:43 Jerry Moe
—A couple of the segments that—that I edited the scripts and was part of that. And then, to have them ask. And Sis Wenger was with me from NACoA to ask us what do you think. And, you know, all these incredible people. And say well, you know, maybe we need to do it again. And here's what we need to do. And for them to listen, so truly—truly a highlight. And you know one of my youngest granddaughters, Amelia Grace, is four. But she was two and a half when I showed her the picture of me with Elmo.

0:15:16 William Moyers
I remember.

0:15:17 Jerry Moe
And she just looked at it and looked at me and you could see that wheels are spinning and then asked me. She says, 'Papi, is Elmo ever gonna come over and play with you?' [Moyers chuckles] 'Could I play too?' So.

0:15:29 William Moyers
Jerry, we've only got a minute or so left. I'm talking to you here on the set in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It's the fall of '21. You'll be retiring as you announced soon. What do you think the legacy of the Children's Program will be in your absence over the years to come?

0:15:51 Jerry Moe
I think it will grow. I look at it in terms of evolution of healthy programs. William, you've been part of Hazelden for years—

0:16:01 William Moyers

0:16:01 Jerry Moe
—You've seen programs really continue to grow, to be evidence-based. To truly make a difference in people's lives. So I felt like in my time there I took Mrs. Ford's legacy and strengthened and built upon it. And laid a new foundation. And we built a couple of stories.

0:16:18 William Moyers

0:16:19 Jerry Moe
But I gotta tell ya, our new leader Helene Photias, she's gonna build a skyscraper! [Moyers chuckles] Because we're gonna serve more children than we've ever served before. Not only just in terms of, you know, come to Hazelden, come to Betty Ford Center, come to Colorado and we'll do a program. No, no, no. We're gonna reach more boys and girls by creating more products. So there might be, you know, a little girl somewhere in Kentucky who we can't get in a program. But now we can do it virtually.

0:16:50 William Moyers
Yeah. [smiles]

0:16:51 Jerry Moe
So, we're serving those boys and girls. And more books, more apps, for the Beamer character. So we're going to reach more and more people. And we're gonna get back to something we did a long time ago. We're gonna train more people how to do this work.

0:17:05 William Moyers

0:17:05 Jerry Moe
'Cause I don't understand why it isn't a requirement from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals—

0:17:11 William Moyers

0:17:12 Jerry Moe
—That every treatment center has a family and a children program. Or they don't get licensure.

0:17:19 William Moyers

0:17:19 Jerry Moe
That's what I hope for someday. So Helene's taken what we've created, she's been there, she's at the helm. Her leadership is stellar. I mean that's the easy part of me leaving.

0:17:30 William Moyers

0:17:30 Jerry Moe
I have absolutely no concern about the growth and the development of the program. That's taken care of. I will remain a donor—

0:17:37 William Moyers

0:17:38 Jerry Moe
—I will remain committed. To this work and what it means. And also allow Helene and her team to take it in some new and exciting ways.

0:17:48 William Moyers
In the spirit of what you just talked about, Jerry, thanks for all you've done for this organization, for the children of the past and the present. And the future. Jerry Moe, thanks for being with us today.

0:18:00 Jerry Moe
Thank you, William.

0:18:01 William Moyers
[turns to camera]It's a reminder that all things must pass. Many people have come to Hazelden Betty Ford to work. They do their best work, they help people, they too move on. But among them are those who become giants. Legendary in the organization. And in this field, Betty Ford, Dan Anderson, Dr. James West, Pat Butler, and now, Jerry Moe. [looks over at Jerry] Whose influence will be felt for generations to come. A generation of girls and boys who are freed from the onerous weight of their own Bag of Rocks. To grow up and to rise into resilient, healthy young adults, parents, and even grandparents. Thank you, Jerry, for all you have done for all of us. Take good care.

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