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Port News

Are you in crisis?

Stepping Stone: 40 years of Saving Souls

Posted 05-31-2017

By Terry Reilly / StarNews correspondent

Sometimes staying sober for a day at a time is too long. Tracking sobriety by the minute can be more empowering. For Roger, 28,260 minutes had passed. Each moment represented a tiny step toward recovery. The app on his smartphone rolled up the numbers: 471 hours or 19.64 days of drug free existence.

Roger, not his real name, is one of 15 men living at Stepping Stone Manor in downtown Wilmington. For 40 years, the addiction treatment center has supported men in a halfway house setting, providing outpatient care and counseling. Clients come from detox centers, drug courts and shelters. Some are walk-ins like Roger who is returning for the third time. A few come directly from jail with the help of a parole officer.

Just showing up does not guarantee admittance into the six-month program. Linda Baum-McGoldrick, Stepping Stone program director, said potential clients are assessed and interviewed by a clinician and doctor. If approved, clients must then agree to intensive outpatient treatment three times a week during the first three months.

Another condition, unique to Stepping Stone’s approach -- no outside work during the first 45 days.

“By starting to work too quickly, they lose their focus on sobriety -- and then they are gone,” said Baum-McGoldrick.

Stepping Stone Manor, managed by Port Human Services, is located at 416 Walnut St. in a large 1898 home marked by two massive Doric Greek columns. With 15 bedrooms and a large meeting area, residents have privacy but space for mandatory group meetings. More than 2,600 men have spent part of their lives here. About two-thirds completed the entire program.

Back when it was a funeral parlor, the building was a final step to eternity for many. Today, it’s a catalyst for new beginnings.

“We used to put souls to rest here but now we give them another chance to live,” said Vance Johnston, program coordinator.

Jay Bosworth was one of those lost souls. At 54, Bosworth finally hit bottom.

“Alcohol and drugs robbed my soul, taking everything I wanted to live for -- my drive, my relationships, my work,” he said.

Five years sober, Bosworth now works as a counselor at Stepping Stone, helping others and himself.

“It helps me to see the new guy come in and the shape they’re in,” he said. “And then watch as they grow and change each week -- like a flower opening up. It also reminds me of where I don’t want to be again.”

Life at Stepping Stone is all about structure. Days start at 5:30 a.m. with private meditation. At 7, a bus leaves for a full morning of outpatient treatment.

Afternoons are spent meeting with a sponsor, doing home maintenance, or pursuing a GED. Many work on one of the “Twelve Steps” created by Alcoholics Anonymous. Evenings are spent attending mandatory in-house AA or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Joey Williams believes Stepping Stone’s tightly organized days allowed him to go from addict to counselor within a year.

“The structure of the program allowed me to focus on recovery,” he said.

Going headfirst into drugs and alcohol at age 17, it took Williams 16 years to reverse his downward spiral. For the last five years, he has parlayed his harrowing experiences into helping others at Stepping Stone.

Roger hopes to follow Williams’ path. “I want to make the house proud and come back and tell my story and become a sponsor someday,” Rogers said.

The 30-year-old knows time is running out for both his spirit and body. The former 190-pound strapping landscaper had shriveled to 145 pounds when he arrived. In three weeks, he has gained 15 pounds. More importantly, Roger has found new insight and a commitment to change.

“After leaving last time, I got too complacent. I started smoking marijuana for about a year and then ‘progressed’ back to crack cocaine,” he said. “It was confined to weekends but then spun out of control.”

At 14, Roger overcame a mother who abandoned him, a father in prison and life in an orphanage to become an outstanding baseball player. Pitching no-hitters for the high school JV team, he was being scouted for college scholarships. A few months later he plunged into the world of drugs and alcohol.

“Looking back it hurts that I did not take advantage of things,” he said.

For his wife and two young children, Roger is resolute to make it this time.

Johnston has witnessed the metamorphosis of men like Roger. “Jay Bosworth’s recovery was a miracle,” he said. “Miracles happen in this house.”

Transforming lives takes money and Stepping Stone is dependent on state funds for survival.

“This year has been very challenging,” said Baum-McGoldrick. “Alcohol and drugs touches most people, through a friend, family member or neighbor. If more people knew we were here, maybe people would see that this is a great cause.”

With approximately 23 million Americans addicted to drugs or alcohol, Wilmington is a magnet for many addicts.

“Like Asheville, Wilmington has a huge recovery base. To beat addiction, people need to make a geographic change,” said Baum-McGoldrick. “They love our beach and Wilmington’s support network.”

That network is reflected by the 120 AA/NA meetings held in Wilmington each week. Stepping Stone Manor will have a special meeting on Nov. 19 to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Contact the community news desk at 910-343-2364 or