Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Dedication and Celebration, BCI Style (Complete with Water Guns)

BCI staff past and present, and our friends outside the organization, gathered June 24, 2009 for a twofold purpose. We dedicated our Outreach Center in honor of our first Outreach Director Linda DeShields, and we took time to pay tribute to our retiring Executive Director Sally Allshouse. In true BCI fashion, it was an afternoon of fellowship, recovery, and fun.

The afternoon began with a proclamation by Board President David Oppold dedicating the Linda DeShields Outreach Center. To the sounds of cheers, the ribbon was cut and a plaque was unveiled inside. Lunch was served, including dishes home cooked by staff, and tours were given of the renovated facility. Guest speakers then reminisced about Linda and honored her legacy.

James Harrison shared the story of how Linda recruited him as the first BCI employee to be previously a consumer on the methadone program. He also tells the story here. James recalled Linda’s work ethic, how she didn’t have a watch, or understand the concept of 8 hours and you were done. He recalled Linda sending him into a crack house to find a person. “I can’t go in there, I’m a recovering addict,” he said. Linda answered, “That’s why I hired you, go in there and get ‘em!” So James went in, because you don’t say no to Linda DeShields, and that person is doing well in treatment today.

Jack Booker, Linda’s oldest son, noted her unconditional love for her children. “When I think of my mom, I think about God, and to me, God is loving, caring, sharing, and helping.” In an emotional tribute, he thanked her for giving him the skills to be successful in life and for never giving up on her family. Her legacy includes daughter Rochelle who’s following in her footsteps as supervisor of the Needle Exchange.

Laurie Dyer, a past employee of BCI, recalled running a women’s group with Linda, and getting them makeovers at Wannamaker’s. Another time, they attended a workshop on African American heritage that ended with Linda initiating Laurie as an African American woman. “I was honored! I came back and told everyone, ‘I’m a black woman!’ and I am proud to say that today!” Finally, she recollected what it was like to take a trip with Linda as your backseat driver, pretending to be asleep, but somehow awakening at the moment you start to talk about her.

Shay Lipshitz said she is forever indebted to Linda, who hired her at BCI. Having been called away for a presentation and nearly missing today’s event, Shay recalled Linda’s words, “You always have to give something back to the house, and I hope I did that today.”

Sally Allshouse told of meeting Linda on her second day at work. “She looked at me, looked me up and down, and said, ‘Time will tell.’ She was the most amazing, strong, black woman. She loved her family, she loved God, and she loved working. She knew by giving back to her community, she would be rewarded. She adopted us. She would go eat anywhere. Every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, if she knew where you lived, she would show up. She was a Delawarean, she knew what it meant to live in Wilmington, to be raised in Wilmington, to have trouble in Wilmington, but she believed in Wilmington.”

Rochelle Booker, Linda’s daughter, thanked everyone for coming to celebrate her mom. She then introduced Sally and informed her this was a surprise going away party. (Actually it was not that surprising, as Sally found out a day before.) Rochelle noted that it was Sally who gave her her start. “I know when she saw my application, she probably said uh-uh. Another Booker? When you’re introducing someone this good, you can’t write nothin’ down. All I can say is thank you from my heart and I love you.”

Rochelle presented Sally with a baton to symbolically pass the torch to her successor, Lynn Fahey. Sally, in turn, brought some gifts for her staff. Explaining she was cleaning out her office and returning confiscated materials, she presented each manager with a toy water gun, to much laughter and applause. “If you know my staff, they can be a little raucous, and some of them have criminal histories!”

But this was only the beginning, as more toys were bestowed upon Lynn. Juggling balls, which every Executive Director needs. Punching bags for the days you get really angry. “Character In a Jar” for dealing with funding agencies who never play fair. “Whack a Mole” for dealing with all the BCI sites. “There's Alpha! There's Outreach! There's Lancaster! There's Newark! They keep poppin’ up!” “Grow a Therapist.” (Self-explanatory.) A foam sword to cut through the bull. Last but not least, the biggest water gun of all, because “When you have staff who are criminals, you need a really big gun. This thing will squirt, and Lynn, you’re gonna need to squirt!” All joking aside, Sally said she’s had the best 21 years at BCI, and 39 years in the addiction field, and it’s been a moment of joy every single day because she gets to see miracles.

Lynn Fahey thanked Sally for her caring over the years, for the opportunities and the life lessons, saying, “I will be doing everything in my power to continue what you’ve created and built.” She then presented gifts to Sally from the staff, reading a letter of gratitude for her leadership and dedication. Since Sally would not allow us to buy her anything, the staff made a donation of $600 to Brandywine Counseling in her name. Lynn also announced we will rededicate the Sara Allshouse Tree of Excellence, noting the tree trunk is a fitting symbol of her stable and strong leadership that enabled BCI to achieve such growth. Sally was also presented with a real, potted tree.

David Oppold read a letter from Senator Carper’s office thanking Sally for her dedication that has touched thousands of lives. The floor was then opened up to all the guests to share their stories, thoughts, and gratitude.

Steve Burns was given his start at BCI by both Linda and Sally. He recalled working as a counselor in Riverside, and one day Linda came and got everyone to go do outreach. Steve said, “I’m a counselor, not an outreach worker.” Linda replied, “Everybody’s an outreach worker today. Get your a** outside!” Steve thanked Sally for encouraging him to go back to school, and for her longtime support of the 1212 Club.

James Harrison described Sally as someone “to take a nobody and say you’re a somebody.” He also remembered spiritual experiences, like the time a Joint Commission challenge resolved itself not even an hour after Sally’s words, “Let’s pray!” Marge Flynn gave thanks for Sally’s support after her relapse after years of recovery, and eventually rehiring her. “That’s love! That’s recovery!” Laurie Dyer recalled how Sally made work pleasurable to come to every day, complete with pranks at the office and staff retreats.

Former staff member Joanne Coston noted Linda’s and Sally’s personal influence on her and on how she raised her kids. Consultant Dorothy Dillard presented Sally with the “Nth Chance Award,” after all those she gave a first, second, 50th, and 100th chance. Sally thanked us all and left us with these words: “If you don’t believe in recovery, and if you don’t believe people get better, then get out of the tent, because this tent is about recovery!”

What a day it was. Many more of us could have spoken yesterday if time permitted. Since I did not get my chance, I’ll do so now. It’s well known that Sally took a chance in hiring people new to recovery. But she also took a chance in hiring me to be her assistant. I came in with no non-profit experience, some grant writing ability, and a degree in chemical engineering, of all things. I knew nothing of addiction, and was dead set against working with “those addicts.” So much so, that I even turned down my second interview at first. But something stuck with me and eventually made me change my mind. I had interviewed at many non-profits, but this one was different. BCI was more rough around the edges, but behind that I saw passion, potential, and a refreshing frankness. Without meeting any other staff, I knew this attitude came from Sally, and I decided I wanted to work for her. And so it was that I got my big break in the non-profit sector, and also learned to open my mind to the unfamiliar and the exciting.

As yesterday’s celebration shows, that spirit is still here at Brandywine. It started with Linda DeShields and with Sally Allshouse, but will remain even after they’ve left. Thanks Linda, and thanks Sally.

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