Volunteers help members change for better lives

Caring Community: Among those attending the Bay Area ADRP Annual Coordinators Training in November were (L-R) John Castanho, Northern CA Representative Hunny Powell, Eric Linker, Eric Bowden, Ernie Aguayo, Sally Bowden, Bill Aviles, Shirley Aviles, Eric Sanchez, James Curtis, Henry Pellom, Herbert Burnley, Benefits Plan Office Manager Mario Perez, Tyrice C. Powell, Geoffrey Simpson, and Norman McLeod, (not shown but participating were Timothy Hughes, Stanley Scott, Steve Antunez and Larry Thomas.)

Each year, volunteers from different West Coast regions gather and receive a “thank you” for donating their time and effort to help fellow union members who are struggling to be free from alcohol and drug abuse. The volunteers all participate in the Alcoholism and Drug Recovery Program (ADRP) supported by the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

This year’s Bay Area event featured a wide range of guest speakers and discussions that covered addiction, medical research, treatment programs and more.

Most of the volunteers have firsthand experience with what it takes to kick a life-destroying habit, and they’re willing to talk openly about their struggles to stop using substances and behaving in ways that cause problems at home and work. They say it’s all part of being honest about who they are, and a good way to help connect with others who are suffering from the same problem they once had.

“I’ve been clean and sober for 29 years, but it was a struggle to quit then and it requires a constant effort to stay clean,” said Norman McLeod, who’s now retired but remains active in the Bay Area Pensioner’s Club in addition to his ADRP volunteering. “I want to help everyone, especially young people, avoid some of the mistakes we made by getting into drinking and drugs.”

Coast Benefits Specialist John Castanho offered some historical perspective that received nods of agreement from many in the room. “Earlier generations of longshore workers, including some in my family, thought that alcoholism was just a normal part of work.

That’s changing, thanks in large part to the work done by the ADRP Coordinators and volunteers like you.”

The ADRP program resulted from steady membership pressure that built over the years, beginning in 1956 when the issue was first debated openly at a Longshore Caucus meeting. The PMA and ILWU started a trial program in 1964 after arbitrator Sam Kagal asked the union and management what they were doing to help workers with addiction problems. Some locals, including 10, 13 and 21 had experimented with their own programs, but it wasn’t until 1980 that the ADRP was formally established to provide intensive help for all members.

“We’re the best place to get help and information without feeling judged or jeopardizing your job,” said Hunny Powell, who now coordinates the Bay Area ADRP and was once a substance user herself. “Back then I called George Cobbs for help and it changed my life,” she said, referring to the former ADRP leader who passed away in July, 2017.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Cobbs, Bill Ward, Ed Torres, Chick Loveridge and many others, the ADRP today helps hundreds of people get clean and sober each year up and down the coast. Mario Perez from the ILWU-PMA Benefit Plans Office reported that 247 claims for alcohol or drug treatment were processed by his office last year. Most of those involved first-time treatments, but members who need a second, third or even fourth chance to enroll in a high-quality residential treatment program are able to get help to recover.

In addition to the formal treatment programs, ADRP volunteers provide a daily lifeline of support and encouragement for dozens of co-workers who they contact each week.

“We have an impressive network of people who are trained and ready to help around the clock,” said Powell. “Our program is based on people who have been there, done that, and know what it takes to put the problem behind you – one day at a time. It starts with a phone call, and I look forward to hearing from more people who want help.”

  • “My dad had a drug problem until he got clean in ‘83. I was using when I was 18 and joined the Army in ’79 because the recruiter convinced the D.A. to dismiss charges against me, but I just took my problem into the military. I had a wife and two sons but still kept using. My company commander urged me to try a program that helped me stay clean for 100 days, but I used again and was discharged in ’87. My dad helped me finally get clean after I saw him work with addicts
    of all kinds, in our union and on the streets of the Tenderloin. Now I’ve been clean since ’88. I’ve been visiting the jail and San Quentin for 27 years to help others with their recovery, and volunteering to help members of our union for the past 25 years. In order to keep what we have, we must give it away, and continue to stay on the path.”
    Henry Pellom III, “Gloveman”
    26 years at Local 10; joined Local 34 in 2015

  • “My mom was single and just 16 when she had me. I lived at 20 places in San Francisco by the time I was 12. I was exposed to drugs early and experimented recreationally, then eventually became addicted. It makes you feel so isolated.
    The world shrinks and you stop becoming social. I needed substances to cover up deficiencies. I always worked as a kid and became a Teamster, but almost lost my job after getting a DUI and using more drugs. My boss helped me get me
    into a program and I went to meetings for a year. I relapsed once in ’88 but finally realized this was no way to be, so I got clean for good in ’91. Now I enjoy doing service in the trenches that doesn’t require a title.”
    Eric Sanchez
    Local 10 member

  • “I was raised to think you could make problems go away just by ignoring them. I watched my father-in-law die of alcoholism. Now my own son struggles with the same disease, so I know what’s involved. I’ve been volunteering with the ADRP program for almost 8 years because I really like helping people. This program has taught me how to be more open, honest and able to express my feelings. I’ve got tools to help people, but they have to be ready to help themselves. I’m concerned, ready and willing to help – but no longer blame myself or keep asking ‘what did I do wrong?’”
    Sally Bowden
    Local 75 Executive & Safety Board

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