The Coast News Group
The staff of the McAlister Institute and non-profit FOCUS tour the daycare center which FOCUS helped make a reality. From left Marisa Varond, Lynda Willkie, Embrie Tapia, Bettina Rausa, Ethel Kallsen and Lorna Perez-Caster.
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North County treatment center helps mothers get sober

SAN MARCOS — After only five months, the McAlister Institute is helping more than 30 women in North County get sober, most who are mothers or pregnant.

Many of the institute’s patients are teen mothers, said McAlister Program Manager Embrie Tapia.

The six-to-nine month program is funded by San Diego County, she said, although the drug treatment program was still in need once they began accepting patients.

“We opened and had very little notice from the county about when we were supposed to start services and then we opened and we had nothing for our women,” said McAlister Institute Director of Development Marisa Varond. “Women were bringing in their own high chairs to lend to other women while they were in treatment.”

That’s where nonprofit FOCUS stepped in. FOCUS members, which stands for

The Friends of Children United Society, answered a plea from McAlister for new daycare furniture.

When McAlister got the first donation from FOCUS, she said, she and Bettina Rausa were in tears.

“The fact that we had such responsive funders step up and be there right when we needed them was just incredible,” Varond said.

FOCUS donated all of the highchairs, toys, cribs and children furniture to McAlister.

According to FOCUS Committee Chairperson Ethel Kallsen, the nonprofit doesn’t give out cash, but instead donates actual items.

She said this cuts down on administrative costs because the organizations receiving the donations don’t have to use staff hours to go shopping.

It also helps FOCUS members ensure the money stays locally in San Diego.

The daycare at McAlister gives women a safe place for their children to be watched while they receive outpatient treatment.

Tapia said volunteering at the daycare is also part of the women’s treatment.

They are taught parenting skills and practice them at the daycare. After volunteering at the daycare for a week, the women are given a Lead Teacher certificate, Tapia said.

For women who are separated from their children, it can be a useful step towards getting their kids back.

“They can show their social worker that they’re participating in child care. They’re making progress and practicing what they’re learning,” said Tapia.

Currently McAlister is serving 37 women in the North County area but has the capacity to help up to 90, said Tapia.

She said it’s inspiring to watch the life transformation the women in the program make.

Varond said she was thankful to have advocates at FOCUS.

“Members of FOCUS have so much passion and want to hear about what children are going through,” said 3rd Vice President of Projects at FOCUS Lorna Perez-Caster. “Everybody just wants to jump in and help.”

Perez-Caster said it’s easy for them to help out quickly because donations under $250 just need board approval instead of larger donations which require a vote from all of the members, which total more than 200.

FOCUS members pay dues and also hold fundraisers for their philanthropic efforts.

Tapia said the drug treatment institute is always accepting donations, including cash, goods or volunteer hours.

McAlister has 27 treatment centers and has been operating for nearly 40 years in San Diego.