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 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Recovery Takes Time, Take It From A Recovering Addict

Jeff Nash was a resident in this program. Now he’s the executive director of Habilitat. He knows first hand how hard it is to overcome addiction. His insights help him to more effectively help others who are following behind.

Habilitat is a unique rehabilitation program that is funded entirely by enterprises run by the residents to generate the funds to run the programs, including Oahu’s largest Christmas Tree farm. Work not only provides needed funding and makes the program affordable even for those who can’t pay, it also provides an essential element of the recovery program.

Interview with Jeff Nash, the Executive Director of Habilitat “The Place of Change”.

The following is the pre-interview with Jeff Nash. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.

What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?

We solve the problems associated with addiction with a common sense approach in a safe environment. We solve addiction problems by addressing the underlying issues that created addiction. Our program is typically a 28-30 month live in experience which provides 6-9 months of intensive residential treatment, 12-18 months of intensive vocational training, then finally several months of transition planning. 100% of Habilitat’s graduates are employed and in stable housing upon completion. We help reduce recidivism and the states costs for incarcerating drug offenders buy teaching people the skills necessary to get out of the system and become contributing members of the community. Our program is adaptable to the individual’s needs, going far beyond the typical 30 day addiction treatment. We teach people to live beyond their addictions by first helping them heal from their past, then finding each person’s strengths to helping them to focus on creating a new future.

More media coverage:  http://www.hawaiiqualityoflife.org/success-stories/one-way/

More about Habilitat “The Place of Change”:

Twitter: @Habilitat

Facebook: facebook.com/Habilitat

Website: https://www.habilitat.com/

Habilitat is a licensed, long-term residential substance abuse treatment and vocational program. The program is a non-profit 501c3

For-profit/Nonprofit: 501(c)3 Nonprofit

Revenue model: Habilitat is self-sustaining through its vocational programs revenues. We also do two large scale fundraisers each year which include Christmas tree sales and the state’s largest annual luau, auction and benefit concert on the first weekend in June. The program accepts grants and in kind donations.

Scale: Habilitat currently operates on a 4 million dollar budget. We have 20 paid staff, we are licensed to treat 150 people at a time though we keep the population at around 100 for quality of care purposes. The model is scalable and sustainable without accepting insurance or government funds.

Jeff Nash

Jeff Nash’s bio:

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/habilitat/

Jeff grew up in Texas in a middle class family. He began to have behavioral problems in grade school. At the age of 12 he began to experiment with drugs. After several brushed with the law his parents paced him in short term treatment programs, one after another. Nothing seemed to work. By the age of 18 he was a full blown junkie. He seemed to be on a path of self destruction.

His parents learned of a long term program in Hawaii called Habilitat “The Place of Change.” He entered the program in April of 1986. He ran away after 3 days. His parents were terrified of the direction he was headed and decided not to bring him home. They told him to go back to the program. Alone and with no place to go he returned to the program. He spent the next 24 months learning how to grow up. He graduated from the program with the intent to go to college and get an education. The future looked bright. Good grades, perfect attendance, he was living the life the Habilitat taught him.

A year in he decided he was done with Hawaii. The program directors warned him against going home. He ignored their advice and moved back to Texas where he enrolled in a North Texas University.  It started off great. He got a job, attended class and it seemed life would happen for him. He began running into old friends.  He got into a relationship with a girl who broke his heart. The family dynamic began to unravel all he had learned at Habilitat.

Within a year of returning to Texas he began drinking alcohol. One night while intoxicated he snorted some cocaine. Within a few months he had dropped out of school, lost the job and was using heroin daily. He tried to clean up numerous times, entering programs for a month at a time. He always went back to the drugs. Overdoses, drug arrests, street violence, he fell back down to a place much worse than before.

In the winter of 2003 his father succumb to AIDS. Jeff was devastated. His father’s death, the family shame, the implications of his illness, Jeff completely went off the deep end. He just didn’t know how to cope. Drugs became the only way he could deal with the pain he had created for himself.

After several overdoses, several felony arrests, a short stint in jail, his attorney advised him to get out of Dallas.  His father had told him so many times, “you can always go back to “Habilitat!” He finally resigned himself to try it again. They were willing to accept him only after he detoxed from the methadone. He flew back to Hawaii and checked himself in to a hospital for detox with the intention of going directly back to Habilitat. He spent a month going through the agonizing withdrawals from the methadone and heroin. By the time he had detoxed he decided he didn’t need Habilitat. He was going to try on his own.

He moved in to a sober living home and got a good job.  Jeff had always cleaned up pretty nice. He worked in Honolulu for a large condominium association right in the middle of the drug infested streets of Hawaii. Within a few months he was doing heroin on the weekends. The weekends turned to a few days a week, then eventually a daily habit. He lost the job, lost the safe housing and moved into the park downtown. Things had become worse than he had ever experienced before. Strung out, homeless and broke, it had gotten worse than ever before.

He gave up on life. He lived in parks and doorways downtown, scamming his mother out of money, selling drugs to survive and eating in the soup kitchens. He had made his home on skid row. The arrests continued in Hawaii. He contracted Hep C then MRSA, a very nasty form of staff infection which required IV antibiotics for a couple of weeks. While in the hospital the doctors offered him placement in yet another 30 day program which he declined. He continued his destructive path until a hard nosed probation officer refused to let him out of jail. Strung out worse than ever before, he kicked his habit on the floor of the jail. It was a miserable experience.

After 4 weeks of incarceration he began to get better physically.  At some point during the withdrawals he prayed to God. Sincerely, he asked for deliverance to a God he had all but ignored for decades. While sitting at the inmate phone area he saw the number for Habilitat posted on the wall. He picked up the phone and made the call. Two weeks later, on Halloween eve, he was released to Habilitat’s custody with the stipulation he finish the program and stay clean.

Going back to Habilitat was difficult.  He was ashamed. In his heart he knew it was the only way.  He worked hard at Habilitat, grateful for the opportunity. He was off the street, out of jail and getting 3 squares a day. The program founder, Vinny Marino and his wife Vickie took a liking to him. They began to teach him again and made it clear he was to listen this time.  At 11 months in, he went to court for one of the drug charges and was faced with yet another major hurdle.

Texas had an extradition warrant. They were going to take him back to Texas for crimes he had skipped out of several years prior. It seemed that his earnest effort was all for nothing. He was taken in to custody to await extradition. On the 13th day, the Texas Marshall service arrived in Hawaii to transport him back to Dallas. He was facing an 18 year term in the Texas penitentiary system. They held him without bail as a flight risk. What he didn’t know is that Habilitat was going to fight for him. Two days later a Habilitat Staff Member arrived in Dallas to negotiate his release and was told not to return without him. Vinny Marino, Habilitat’s founder, had called the judge himself. Several of Habilitat’s staff wrote letters to the court. The Judge was impressed with all the interest the case. He couldn’t believe someone flew all the way from Hawaii. He placed Jeff on a very long and highly supervised probation and allowed for transfer to Hawaii’s judiciary. The judge looked Jeff in the eye and said “Mr. Nash, I’m giving you this last chance. If I ever see you in a Texas court again you will be spending many years in prison.” Jeff wept. His family wept. The Habilitat official wept.  

They caught the next flight out a day later.  He returned to Habilitat The Place of Change.” Jeff had already decided if they could get him out of the mess he would stay for a while.  He decided “if you can’t beat ’em, join’ em.” Shortly after his return Jeff was placed in training to become a clinician. He was trained by the larger than life Vinny Marino and his wife Vickie. He soon learned he had a knack for helping people get through tough times. He had finally found a place where he felt like he fit in. They were tough on him. They wouldn’t accept anything but his best. They pushed him until he found out what he was made of.

In 2000, Vinny passed away from liver cancer.  He had contracted Hep C and it had run it’s course, destroying his liver. The fearless, larger than life leader, the founder of Habilitat, the very man who had saved him when everyone else had given up, he was gone. His wife took the helm of the organization. Jeff spent two extra years training to become a staff member. She hired him soon after Vinny’s death. She spent countless hours preparing Jeff for a leadership position.  Then, in 2001, just a year after Vinny’s passing, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She fought it with every fiber of her being. Round and round of chemo, she eventually went into remission. Jeff’s training continued. He became the program director after 54 months of treatment and training.

In 2002 the cancer returned in her brain.  Vickie had fought a good fight but she seemed tired.  She scummed to cancer on Thanksgiving Day 2002. It was a devastating blow.  She had become like a second mother to Jeff. Another long time staff member named Danny took the helm as Executive Director and Jeff remained the Program Director for the next 16 years. In 2015, Danny retired after many years of faithful service. Jeff was promoted to Executive Director.  

Today, Jeff has been with Habilitat for twenty one years.  His years of experience as an addict and years of training at Habilitat uniquely qualify him for the position.  His passion for helping people learn to help themselves is evident in the tireless hours he spends at Habilitat The Place of Change and the numerous successful graduates from the program.  Through the years, Habilitat has saved thousands of people who society had given up on. Jeff continues to uphold the legacy of Vinny Marino’s Habilitat by keeping the program true to it’s roots. Working with people from all over the country, Habilitat continues its mission of motivating the unmotivated, teaching people to take responsibility for their lives, and learning to live beyond their addictions.    


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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

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