Rarely does the phrase “hidden gem” get used when describing a non-profit organization, but in the case of Step 1, a non-profit for recovering adult men, the descriptor is accurate.
“There’s a spiritual magic here. There’s just something different [here] than from other programs,” said Harold Michael, a senior resident manager and former resident of Step 1. “As soon as you walk through the door you feel like you’re at home, it’s just, it ain’t got that hospital vibe. It’s actually like a home, and there’s a fellowship in the house…Tons of acceptance. Tons of guys helping each other out,” he said.
Michael said that when he arrived at Step 1 for treatment there was no one looking out for him. He was alone and anxious — afraid of a future he could not imagine. As soon as he stepped through the door, though, his fears abated.
A long history and humble beginnings
Step 1 began in the 1950s when recovering alcoholic Eli Maritano opened his garage as a meeting place and transitional facility for men overcoming addiction. When his home could no longer provide enough space or resources for those seeking help, he moved the operation into the former Antioch House, a Christian-based home near UNR. When the program gained non-profit status in 1993, board members decided to call it Step 1, a reference to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Today, the non-profit is located on North Sierra Street and offers a 90-day program for up to 20 men. The program includes temporary housing, counseling, food and nutrition classes, as well as other services that prepare clients for a sober and productive life.
Dani Doehring, Step 1’s executive director and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, acknowledges that even though Step 1 fills a need in Reno’s community for men navigating addiction, it is relatively unknown to the average community member.
“This program has been around for a very long time, and we’re the best-kept secret there is. People in the recovery community…and treatment centers know of us, but the general public doesn’t know of us…because we’re very quiet, we’re very respectful; we’re here to make the community a better place to live,” she said.
We believe [that] everyone will have that opportunity to get sober. All they have to do is apply themselves.”
Hope, confidence and accountability
Doehr also emphasized the men who take part in the program work for everything they earn.
“We have a high level of accountability here and everything that the clients have here they earn…They have to walk to find work. And they have blisters on their feet in some cases and guess what; they remember that…I like to help people help themselves. And when you see that change, there’s a shift that happens in their psyche when they take on a whole different attitude about life and their part in that and being responsible and accountable,” she said.
Within two weeks of being admitted to Step 1, residents are required to find full-time work. Doehring said residents fill out 10 job applications a day, and through the program, they regain their dignity, a sense of purpose and integrity.
Roy Street, a former resident and current chef as well as Sunday resident manager for the non-profit, had nearly given up on himself by the time he got to Step 1. The organization, however, gave him the hope and confidence necessary to continue living.
“They encouraged me, giving me positive affirmations, ‘you can do this,’ and it worked out for the better for me. Today I’ve been clean and sober for nine years from coming into this program,” Street said, adding, “Step 1 definitely believes in its clients that come here. We believe [that] everyone will have that opportunity to get sober. All they have to do is apply themselves. And that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help them out.”
Although success surrounding substance abuse programs is difficult to measure, Doehring reports Step 1’s annual recidivism rate shows positive results. Only 5 percent of clients who go through Step 1 return to prison after their first year of completing or leaving the program. Step 1 said this saves taxpayers approximately $2.2 million annually.
Currently, grants from the State of Nevada’s substance abuse prevention and treatment agency, as well as the Office of Criminal Justice Assistance, provide funding for the program. Along with these grants, Step 1 also hosts two major fundraisers — a black-tie anniversary dinner in March and a golf tournament in October.
Doehring acknowledged the difficulty of finding funding and donations for programs like Step 1.
“We serve a unique population, which is the adult male population, and they’re not warm and fuzzy like children and women and babies and puppies, so it’s a tough population to get funding for because people expect that adult men should take care of themselves,” she said.
To donate or volunteer, reach out to the administrative office at (775) 329-9830. The nonprofit is always looking for toiletries, silverware, bath towels, paper products, such as toilet paper or paper towels, cleaning supplies, and laundry hampers, among other household items.