Fight against substance abuse has demanding requirements

At a time when most education facilities are still welcoming students, one just celebrated its annual graduation. But then, San Francisco’s best-known rehabilitation center is not like other places, as its commencement ceremony at the Palace of Fine Arts showed Tuesday.

For 39 years, Walden House has been helping alcoholics and drug addicts get on the road to recovery. Nearly 200 “graduates” were honored this week for achieving extended sobriety at Walden House’s five San Francisco residential-treatment facilities — and there were enough rock-bottom stories and tearful tributes to fill a weeklong segment on “Oprah.”

These are heady times for Walden House, which celebrated the reopening of its flagship facility in San Francisco’s Upper Haight neighborhood earlier this month. The substance-abuse treatment organization was rewarded with one of the largest contracts from the state Department of Corrections to help parolees and it is considered a national leader in helping addicts recover.

A few years ago, Walden House turned to a former Bank of America executive, Rod Libbey, to help steer its financial future.

“At Walden House, every day is a good day because you’re always helping somebody,” said Libbey, the nonprofit’s president and CEO.

Libby told a touching story of Yolanda Escalante, whose son couldn’t meet Walden House’s demanding requirements; he ultimately dropped out and died on the streets. Escalante sent the organization a letter thanking it for trying — along with a $1,000 check.

Trying goes a long way at Walden House, each step of the way.

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