HOPE in the Face of Addiction

There is an organization in Kelowna that has been in the business of offering hope for the last fifty years. It is called The Bridge, and it’s had a dramatic impact on the lives of thousands who have turned there for help in tough times.

The Bridge has helped youth and adults in detox from both drugs and alcohol. It offers long term care for recovery and healing. The Bridge provides prevention, intervention and treatment programs. It has brought hope to many people suffering from alcohol or drug misuse and it offers family services; children and youth services; parenting education and support, and caregiver support.

Left to Right Leslie Grenier, Brenda Epp, Jody Monk, Laurie Gaal, Michelle Wanstall, Sam McKenzie, Jamie McGregor and John Yarschenko

The overdose crisis and drug misuse continues to shatter lives month after month, and the headlines are terrifying and the outlook bleak. Families and friends of addicts are overwhelmed when they begin to understand the severity of addiction, and at the same time they have no idea where to turn. That’s where The Bridge comes in. While it cannot help absolutely everyone, they work exceedingly hard to touch the lives of as many people as possible. Like everyone on the front lines of the opioid crisis, people at The Bridge deal with the harsh realities every day, including a lack of facilities at some times. But they never give up and their greatest joy is to offer help to those who need it most.

Celine Thompson, Executive Director of The Bridge, says that in spite of the increasing challenges, there have been glimmers of hope.

“Recovery is not impossible. We see it every day,” she says. “Part of the renewal process is talking to people about that success.

The Bridge has been operating for 50 years now, and as Celine says, “it has become a touchstone for the most vulnerable families in the community.”

Fifty years ago, the focus was primarily on kids and family counselling, foster parent support, working with kids in care and marginalized young people. In response to the changing world, and especially in the last six years, recovery and addiction programs are now half of the work they do.

In a much-need attempt to provide people with a segue to talk about the issues, she points out that in the last year, 600 people went through their withdrawal management (detox) program.

Like any organization, The Bridge faces issues regarding the incredible volume of people who need their help. Usually there is a minimum two to three week wait for detox, although sometimes it is faster. Prospective clients go through an extensive triage program so they can deal with the highest risk individuals as soon as possible.

“It is crucial that when people are feeling a strong desire and commitment to change, we can respond to them at that moment of courage. When they are finished their program, we try to keep in contact every day,” Celine explains.

After detox comes treatment. Their 20-bed facility rotates every six weeks between men and women. The downside to this is that if a man cannot get into a program right now, they must wait until the men’s program is complete and then a 6 week lapse as women go through the process, leaving that man waiting up to three months for access. They do their very best to respond quickly to the needs of the individuals, balancing need with available access.

Looking to the future, The Bridge is working very hard

to develop a youth recovery house.

“It would be a state of the art facility for 16 people under 19 who are in recovery. The length of their stay would be based on the achievement of their objectives. That could result in a stay of up to six months. It’s going to be their second home,” Celine said.

Kelly Paley, Director of Fund Development, points out another important fact in the treatment of youth.

“Kids’ brains are still developing. We will be able to provide an opportunity to have a long term impact, giving them skills and strategies to handle personal crisis,” says Kelly.

John Yarschenko, responsible for overseeing recovery and addiction services, agrees with Kelly.

“When it comes to substance abuse, it often involves a long period of negative behaviour. We need to get to these young people earlier,” he says.

Response to The Bridge’s plan for youth services has been both encouraging and inspiring. Much of their adult and youth programs surrounding withdrawal can be very trying times.

In terms of withdrawal, alcohol is the most dangerous substance from which to detox. Opioid withdrawal is very painful, with physical pain often reaching extreme levels.

“But hope is at the root of all of it,” says Celine. “As pervasive as the problems have become, people are beginning to understand that they need to look at a different path. People are slowly beginning to realize that they can’t just sweep it under the rug. They seem willing to have some dialogue, and that is where change starts. Sitting through a graduation after someone has spent six weeks in the Bridgeway Treatment Program is extremely gratifying.”

As John points out, The Bridge recognizes that they need individual treatments, not ‘one stop fits all.’ Their plan is to develop an approach that can be tapped throughout a person’s lifetime, whenever they need it.

“We hear from addicts, parents and families and they are all telling us ‘I want this. I need this.’ The overall retention rate is about 90 per cent, so they really do want it!”

Also, she adds, there are currently a mere 45 (funded) beds in all of BC for people under 19.

During a personal visit to their two sites, I was introduced to many dedicated health professionals from all areas of who are all committed to their work. I experienced a true sense of commitment and fellowship.

Programs are working well but The Bridge won’t rest on its’ laurels. After all, there is much more work to be done.

For more information contact:

Celine Thompson

Executive Director of The Bridge

Phone 250 763 0456


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