Alumni Assoctiation

Family is everything.

Bill Hood, the founder of Cornerstone of Recovery, knew that all too well, and his vision of a family bound by recovery instead of blood endures 30 years after he first opened the East Tennessee-based drug and alcohol treatment center for business in September 1989.

From the beginning, the founders of Cornerstone believed that recovery entails more than just putting down the drugs and alcohol. It involves discovering a new way of life, and doing so alongside other recovering addicts and alcoholics traveling the same roads. Although the Cornerstone Alumni Association wasn’t officially founded until 2005, the principles upon which it was built were advocated by Bill shortly after the first group of patients successfully completed treatment.

“By 2005, the alumni community was very strong, and we started the Alumni Association out of an idea that Bill Hood had,” says Julie Hamlin, Director of Extended Care at Cornerstone of Recovery. “Bill believed that part of working a recovery program was connecting with others.”

And not just in meetings: Outside of meetings, Cornerstone’s founders felt, a fellowship of recovering people who enjoyed similar activities and shared common interests would strengthen both social and sober bonds. And so the Cornerstone Alumni Association was established in 2005, initially as a gathering of like-minded individuals who wanted to learn more, experience more and do more outside of the confines of a 12 Step meeting, Hamlin said.

“It was everything from fun and fellowship to etiquette classes,” says Hamlin, who joined the Cornerstone staff in September 2000. “We would even take trips together. I remember one time, we took an overnight trip to Bill’s childhood home in Ohio. The whole idea was to support one another and develop relationships.”

Hood, who got sober in 1979, found that fellowship helped him establish new routines in sobriety. As an avid golfer, he was uncertain how he would enjoy the sport without a cooler on the cart. In sobriety, he surrounded himself with other players who loved it as much as he did; together, they discovered that laughter and meaningful conversations on the links made golf more enjoyable than alcohol ever did.

Over time, the Alumni Association grew so strong that Polly Bales — affectionately referred to as “Ms. Polly” by the legions of patients and staff members to whom she was both a mentor and a mother figure — was named President of Alumni Affairs. Actively involved in Cornerstone’s Aftercare meetings, she emphasized the need for community and involvement as part of the recovery process.

“She used to say that treatment was discovery; what you do when you get out of here is recovery,” Hamlin says. “That was when it became important to have a community of people who supported you and held you accountable.”

Volunteer Coordinator Bob McClain was another foundation stone for the Alumni Association; he found projects and organizations to which he could direct Cornerstone alumni to give back — a hallmark of 12 Step programs that encourage participants to “keep what they have by giving it away.” Today, through the Alumni Association, former Cornerstone clients can make the same connections and find the same sense of purpose that so many who came before them have done.

“It’s an investment in the future,” Hamlin says. “Cornerstone invests in them, and we want them to keep coming back. Once you’re part of Cornerstone, you’re family. It’s important that they understand that they’ll always have support here, and we want them and their families to use that.”

For that reason alone, Hamlin helped establish the Parents Empowered Recovery Group in 2001, specifically for the parents of addicts and alcoholics in treatment. It’s one of several Aftercare meetings that provide a link between the outside world and the place where so many alumni find a new way to live, and it’s a way of staying connected that’s emphasized throughout the treatment process.

One of those who found it invaluable is Chris Brewster, who came to Cornerstone in June 2005, staying for 13 months. In July 2006, he came to work at Cornerstone, where he now serves as the Assistant Director of Extended Care.

“When I was in treatment, somebody was always talking about the importance of Aftercare,” Brewster says. “When I started it, I got connected with people who lived here locally through it, and it was comforting. You develop these relationships with people, and they become family. You go to their weddings, and sometimes you go to their funerals.”

For years, the Alumni Association organized the annual Cornerstone Reunion Weekend, during which time former patients from across the country return to East Tennessee to gather at the place where they were effectively reborn. Local alumni continue to volunteer for various community events and activities, from local trick-or-treating events at a nearby scenic attraction to organizing a float for the downtown Knoxville Christmas parade. By getting involved away from the Cornerstone campus, those patients are, in many ways, the face of Cornerstone: responsible, productive members of society who demonstrate that life on the other side of addiction and alcoholism can be rewarding, peaceful and joyous.

And there’s always room for more. Cornerstone alumni are always invited to return to the facility to volunteer their services, or to get involved in future Alumni Association activities. For more information on the Cornerstone Alumni Association, or to volunteer at Cornerstone, contact Recovery Coach Chris Rowe at 865-970-7747, Ext. 3381, or at [email protected].

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