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Washtenaw Alano Club: Oral History Interviews

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 9:10am


  • [00:00:00.15] SPEAKER 1: In this compilation of interviews with four members of the Washtenaw Alano Club, Kathy, Jess, Mark, and Nan talk about their experiences as volunteers and board members of the club.
  • [00:00:09.72] SPEAKER 2: We hear about their involvement in club activities, events, and fundraising efforts throughout the year, and we learn about the club's history as it's grown over the past 50 years to become the most diverse county organization for 12-step recovery meetings.
  • [00:00:24.57] We're here to talk about the Alano Club, but I'm wondering if you could set the stage a little bit before 1969 and what sort of organizations and what sort of places were available prior to the club's existence, both nationally and in this area, specifically in this area.
  • [00:00:45.25] MARK: Well, for the recovering community, if you look back through the history of it, they had, I think it was approximately nine to 11 meetings that they had where they met per week. And usually it was just like one meeting a day, and then on the weekends there was a couple meetings. There were a few of the mainstay ones, which was at the Ann Arbor Y, which met on Wednesday night. And then one of the other ones I recall was at the Calvary Church, which we have an address here, but that was on Miller. And then there was a couple other ones around town. I think there was one at the Dunbar Building or something at that point, or the Ann Arbor Community Center. I can't remember if that's exactly in that period.
  • [00:01:47.16] SPEAKER 2: OK.
  • [00:01:48.36] SPEAKER 1: So then how was the decision made that there needed to be something more to support the local recovery community?
  • [00:01:56.13] MARK: In the history of the recovery community, it started in Akron, Ohio. And then one of the two original members, Bill Wilson, lived in New York City. And New York City had a club, I can't recall exactly the name of that club, but it was like the 49th Street Club. And that club was the first original club. And, of course, they knew about that club through newsletters, the grapevine, newsletters, and they talked about it. And I think the framework for the Washtenaw Alano Club came from that club, where it was open at 9:00 in the morning, or 10:00 in the morning, and closed at 10:00 at night. And actually Bill and Lois Wilson lived in that club in one of the back rooms for a couple of years during the Depression. The thought was for the Washtenaw Alano Club that no one would live in it, but it would be a place where people could come in recovery and be able to have something to eat. They wanted to have a pool table and a couple pinball machines, a place to socialize that was for the recovering community.
  • [00:03:24.54] NAN: My involvement with the Washtenaw Alano Club really started back in 1981 when I first went into recovery for my addiction. And the club was there. I don't really know how I'd heard about it. It wasn't on State Street at that time. And I went there and got the help I needed and I've been involved with the club now off and on ever since then.
  • [00:03:57.16] I was sober a couple of years. And both of my sisters came into the program. My husband came into the program. My brother was in the program. So it was really a family deal. And we were all coming to meetings at the club, and we loved the place. I think, you know, there was a time in my family when we talked about Murphy's Tavern. Well, this was our spot. This was our club, and we loved it. And we wanted to make sure that it flourished and grew, and there were lots and lots of young people coming into the program at that time.
  • [00:04:40.92] JESS: It was 1991, in the late summer. I, you know, long story of alcoholism-- I went to treatment, which was an outpatient treatment. And Mike, who was a really cool therapist counselor guy, he said, you know, this is just getting you a head start. You're going to need to make a home at the Alano Club in Ann Arbor. And I'd never seen it before. Cause I grew up like on the north side of Ann Arbor and that was on the west side.
  • [00:05:12.02] SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
  • [00:05:12.72] JESS: Never went by there for any reason. So I went there. And they have meetings every weekday at noon and 5:30. So it was like I wasn't working, I went to the noon meetings and met people and loved most of the people that went there. And it's been my home base ever since, as far as where I go to meet people.
  • [00:05:42.88] And there's a really beautiful outside area. One of the first sit-down meetings I went to was at a picnic table out in the lawn where you squeezed in on the bench. And the squirrels dropped nuts on your head. And bugs crawled up your leg.
  • [00:06:05.02] So I moved away a couple of years and came back and still went there. And I'm a paid member now, which I never did before because I thought, eh, you know? I have a little more excess income now that I'm older, so it's easier to pay.
  • [00:06:23.50] KATHY: Well, I got involved because I was a patron of the club. And then in the last, I'd say, six or eight years, I've been working as a volunteer over there doing financial management. I'm the treasurer at the board, so I'm kind of overseeing that.
  • [00:06:41.71] And then I go in once or twice a week just to check. We have a new club manager who's been there just three years now. Make sure that things are going OK. And that we're accomplishing our mission. That we're making sure that there is a place for people to go for recovery.
  • [00:07:00.89] SPEAKER 1: What do you see as the benefit of the Alano Club, specifically for people in recovery?
  • [00:07:08.17] KATHY: It is a community. That is the benefit. It's a place where they can go. It's safe. It's clean. They can find like-minded people. There are people that come and kind of hang out during the day looking for something to do or some place to go where they're not exposed to the same people that they've been exposed to when they've been actively in their addiction.
  • [00:07:34.05] And then we offer the meetings. So they can go to a meeting. They can learn about the program, the 12 step programs that are related to them. And they can find new contacts, new friends to talk to.
  • [00:07:47.13] NAN: What is the right size for the club? I think, you know, our main mission, besides social, a nice social atmosphere, is to provide space for meetings. You know? Most meetings, many meetings, I should say, are held in the basement of churches, which is wonderful. Very grateful to the churches for that.
  • [00:08:13.27] But the club provides a place not only for meetings, but where people feel that they belong. You know, they join the club. They're part of the club. They have a voice in who's being elected to the board and what kind of projects we are prioritizing.
  • [00:08:32.05] And so that's why it will take the general membership, as well as the board of directors, to decide if they want to expand at all. I think if they did, it would be for the purpose of being able to have larger meetings, primarily.
  • [00:08:50.82] JESS: And so having an actual physical place to go that so far has not disappeared, you know, that is awesome. Because other meetings I've gone to that I've loved they get, like the church board will change up and make different rules for the meeting, or the attendance will get so small that it can't afford to stay going anymore. And they'll change.
  • [00:09:19.29] And so in comparison to the other meetings around, it's been more consistent. And so as a home base, it's very sturdy. And I mean, the faces change, but that's OK.
  • [00:09:32.99] SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
  • [00:09:34.43] SPEAKER 1: Alano But just that stability has a big impact, knowing that it's there.
  • [00:09:38.24] JESS: Right. And also that the name Alano Club is used worldwide really in a lot of ways. I mean, might be different in different languages, but I've been to meetings across the US and in one in Luxembourg, which was really cool. They had a thin little door with the Alamo club triangle inside the circle. And went up the stairs, and they had the coffee and a table full of drunks. And was like, you just need those two things, and you've got an Alano club. And flyers on the door or on the wall.
  • [00:10:15.14] SPEAKER 2: I mean, so coffee is a staple?
  • [00:10:19.16] JESS: Coffee. And while it used to be Styrofoam cups that you could like scratch into nervously during the shares. But now, you know, it's paper or recyclable stuff that breaks down. Yeah.
  • [00:10:35.17] SPEAKER 1: So apart from cups, what other changes have you seen over the couple of decades that you've been--
  • [00:10:40.51] [INTERPOSING VOICES]
  • [00:10:40.72] JESS: Tons. Well, they moved rooms around. Well, the biggest change has been smoking was allowed in places. And so there was a smoking side and a non-smoking side.
  • [00:10:53.71] And when they took that away, I kept going to the non-smoking side even though everything was non-smoking. And so, you know, and the hallway was always smoky. I mean, it was a minority to be a non-smoker really. So that's changed.
  • [00:11:11.80] They've done more and more upkeep. They still have not increased the woman's room to more than one stall, which that just causes a backup. What else? The stuff they offer at the counter has changed and moved around. They offered cigarettes when there was smoking. Now, there's candy, Tootsie Pops.
  • [00:11:40.86] SPEAKER 1: So what do we know about that the founders of the organization? Cause it's a pretty big leap to go from, boy, I wish we had a place where we didn't just have to come and have a meeting and then get booted out again seven times a week. What do we know about the people who actually made that into a reality? Because that involves finding a space and finding funding. And that's a pretty large undertaking.
  • [00:12:05.09] MARK: Yeah, I think there was a few of the beginning members in the community that say, for example, the ones that I can remember. I mean, I grew up in that community. And I can recall some of the individuals. I don't recall all of them.
  • [00:12:29.15] But one, for example, would be Jimmy Fondren. And Jimmy Fondren was around for a long time affiliated with the Dunbar building and Ann Arbor Community Center. And he was one of the individuals in the beginning I'm sure that they went to have guidance on what to do and how to get things started in the beginning.
  • [00:13:02.43] One of the other ones that happened to be his sponsee was my step-mom who was Grace Guessly at the time. And from some of the documents we've looked at earlier today, she was everything from a secretary for the club in the beginning to, I think, she was treasurer. I think she penned a couple of the first meeting-- the newsletters. So that would be another individual.
  • [00:13:38.99] Another person that was a friend of our community was Judge Sandy Elden. He was a member of the judicial system in Ann Arbor. And he was involved quite a bit with trying to help individuals. And I'm sure he had some involvement.
  • [00:14:09.09] Another person would be Dr. Russell Smith. Dr. Russell Smith was involved with quite a few things in Ann Arbor at the time and the surrounding community, the Washtenaw Council on Alcoholism. He was involved with that on a local level for the county and as well as the national level with Marni Mann. And that's a few of them I can think of.
  • [00:14:42.77] SPEAKER 2: In terms of the locations, you had mentioned that maybe Jimmy Fondren had some of the locations on North Main Street that might have been where the first club met. Can you talk a little bit about the different locations, where they were, and what characterized them before you got out to the-- what is it-- the 995 North Maple?
  • [00:15:09.26] MARK: Sure. And this is only speculation on my point. We tried looking through the material to come up with an address on North Main Street. Jimmy Fondren, I believe, owned three buildings, three that I was aware of, on North Main Street.
  • [00:15:29.66] And I suspect in the beginning that the first place that they-- and it would be just like a church. You know, they probably just had a room in one of the houses where they went in and say a meeting was going to start at noon. Someone be there 11:30 and to close up at 1:30. And that was where they started.
  • [00:15:55.49] And I'm only just guessing because it just seems logical knowing the fact that he did have those and we always hear about North Main Street. And I don't recall ever going to any of those personally, but, like I say, I was very young at that point. Then from there, like I talked earlier, my step-mom, Grace, was involved with Jimmy. And her church was the Calvary Church on Miller.
  • [00:16:35.12] And we've looked through some of the documents here. And then it says that the Washtenaw Alano Club moved to the Calvary Church out on Miller from North Main Street. So we were there quite a bit. I used to hunt with the pastor at that church because he was an avid hunter. And I worked on a farm at that point. And we had farm land. And he needed a place to hunt. So I did spend time around the Calvary Church quite a bit.
  • [00:17:07.46] I didn't know that the Washtenaw Alano Club actually moved there. That was just information we found in a newsletter that said that they had moved there. In that information, it said that they were looking for a place that better resembled the club that we talked about that was in Brooklyn. So they wanted a place that would be a place where it would open up at 9:00 in the morning and close at 10:00 at night.
  • [00:17:45.67] And then I believe they were fortunate enough to find a place on 4th Ave. The 4th Avenue place, I think I only recall going there once or twice. And I remember saying something about the adult book store across the street. And actually, there was a liquor store there too.
  • [00:18:07.61] And I don't recall them ever bringing me back around there after that. I think I was maybe, what, 12 or 13 at that point. So that would be my own only recollection of that era. Oh, one thing I should add about just the Calvary Church, which was I think it really was invaluable to the community itself. And one of the issues with the change there was just the fact that the meetings everybody smoked in back then.
  • [00:18:48.50] And the church itself was just inundated with smoke. I mean, it was one of the reasons that they had to move. And it was logical, really. I mean, even as a kid, that's what I remember as one of the key things was all the smoke.
  • [00:19:07.37] So then from the 4th Ave group they were on 4th Ave. And then they found a place on Packard, which we know. We have an address for. The Packard Street place, that facility I never went to really much at all. I can't recall in that era.
  • [00:19:29.36] SPEAKER 2: You said roughly 1985 to '87. And that was right in the period when you found the building, the old Fritz School. Can you talk a little bit about the building and how you went about obtaining it?
  • [00:19:43.06] NAN: Sure.
  • [00:19:43.35] SPEAKER 2: And a little bit about that.
  • [00:19:44.88] NAN: Sure. First of all, I should say that John is my ex-husband. But he came into the program shortly after I did. And he was the president of the board when we were at State Street. And we lost that lease.
  • [00:19:59.96] The building was owned by Bechtel. And they were going to level it and build something else. So they gave us some time to find a new building.
  • [00:20:09.56] John, at the time, he worked, his job was to do mortgage surveys and road surveys. He worked for Washtenaw Engineering. And so he was very active in Ann Arbor. And he knew the properties that were for sale, available.
  • [00:20:29.75] And he was good friends with a fellow named George R. And the two of them really got excited about this property. They saw it advertised in the Ann Arbor News. It was owned by the school board.
  • [00:20:45.01] And so John and George put together a really dynamic presentation for the school board. And they made a bid on the property. There were a couple of other, I don't know it was individuals or companies that had also bid on the property. So there was some competition at the time.
  • [00:21:04.24] But George and John and one of our female members, Sandy G, she was also involved in canvassing the neighborhood to let the neighbors know what we were about, who we were to alleviate any of their concerns or fears about having the recovering community move into their neighborhood. She did a fabulous job with that. There were not a single objection to the board granting us the bid. And they did.
  • [00:21:39.72] SPEAKER 1: Do you think there's particular value in the fact that there's more than one kind of recovery program there? Is there bleed between the different recovery programs between either the participants or the people who are leading the programs?
  • [00:21:54.09] KATHY: There is bleed between them. And I do think it's important that there is a place where there's a meeting going on. There are lots of meetings going on in the Ann Arbor community at the churches during the day and in the evenings. And those are important meetings for kind of neighborhoods.
  • [00:22:12.27] But the club offers more meetings, different kinds of meetings. So there's Al-Anon meetings, which are a family, or ACOA, which is adult children of alcoholics. So there's other kinds of communities that people can go to.
  • [00:22:27.06] We even have this year someone started a new meeting for dual diagnosis, so some mental health issues around addiction and recovery. So there is a good variety of things that people can learn about, experiment with, find a community of people, again, that they can talk to.
  • [00:22:47.76] So we do have a fair number of events. And I've put them in kind of categories. We do these recurring monthly events so that there is something always going to be happening. We do events with other groups. So we do a Super Bowl party, for instance, with WRAP.
  • [00:23:06.33] And then we do every holiday, we do an event. So for 4th of July, Memorial Day, we have a picnic. And we do a barbecue. And people can come. And some of those are potluck type events as well. So we provide food, the basic meats or staples, so to speak. And then people can bring food.
  • [00:23:27.99] And then on Thanksgiving and on Christmas Day we provide a full meal. And people do potluck part of that. But we'll provide turkeys and hams and that kind of thing, depending upon the holiday. So on those days, we get a lot of people coming by for a meal. And that's not just our community. I mean, that's anybody who knows where we are and what we're doing that day. And we do some advertising on that or marketing on that with flyers and such around the community.
  • [00:23:58.50] NAN: I'm also part of the social committee at the club. And we do a number of events throughout the year. We are coming up on St. Patrick's Day, so we'll be having a St. Patrick's Day party where we're going to show the movie, the Irish movie, Commitment.
  • [00:24:18.57] SPEAKER 2: Oh, yeah.
  • [00:24:18.85] NAN: Have you seen that?
  • [00:24:19.10] SPEAKER 2: The Commitments?
  • [00:24:19.63] NAN: The Commitments.
  • [00:24:20.02] SPEAKER 2: Yeah. Yeah.
  • [00:24:20.83] NAN: Yeah. And we'll have a potluck. People will bring food. And I volunteered to make soda bread. It's a lot of fun. A lot of people turn out. They can bring their kids. You know, we laugh, tell jokes, have fun.
  • [00:24:33.54] We do quite a bit of that. We have regular movie night once a month. We just watched Robin Hood this month. We have a game night. So we've rented or borrowed from the library your Big Games.
  • [00:24:48.95] SPEAKER 2: Oh, yeah.
  • [00:24:49.56] NAN: Yeah.
  • [00:24:49.94] SPEAKER 2: Great.
  • [00:24:50.17] SPEAKER 5: We've taken them over there. And we've had game night. We've had a great time with that. So we do that monthly.
  • [00:24:57.32] We have lots of picnics in the summer. We always celebrate the 4th of July. We have Memorial Day picnics. We are coming up on our 50th anniversary this year, 50 years in Washtenaw County. And we're planning a big celebration for that in September.
  • [00:25:16.13] One of my sisters became the manager of the club, Christine. And she is very charismatic, very energetic. And she decided that we needed to liven up the club and start having dances, which we did. We had a couple of people in the club that were in bands. And they agreed to come into the club on a Saturday night in the basement. It was a pretty small place, from what I remember.
  • [00:25:52.17] But they'd set up their equipment in the corner. And the place was mobbed. People loved it. Everybody was just, you know, seemed to be craving an outlet for all their energy.
  • [00:26:06.60] And that's a big part of the club's mission is providing a place where people who are in recovery, either newly in recovery or long-standing members of recovery and their families, a place where they could socialize that was alcohol and drug-free. That's a big part of the mission of the Washtenaw Alano Club.
  • [00:26:30.22] This was very unique. It was very unique. There really wasn't anywhere else. There may have been some dances held at Dawn Farm. I really don't know if their dances went back that far, but there may have been.
  • [00:26:46.00] What I do know is our dances were so well-attended. I mean, we outgrew the space at State Street, as far as having dances, so my sister pursued renting St. Francis. And Father Charlie, at the time, was very friendly to our cause and our goals. And he allowed us to rent their big community room--
  • [00:27:12.04] SPEAKER 2: Right.
  • [00:27:12.73] NAN: --for the dances because we would have 200 or 300 people turn out for these.
  • [00:27:16.85] SPEAKER 2: Now, were those fundraisers as well? Or were they just social events?
  • [00:27:22.60] NAN: They were fundraisers. There was a minimal charge at the door, $3, I believe it was.
  • [00:27:30.92] SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
  • [00:27:31.59] NAN: And then we had people who donated pizzas. We bought pop. And we sold those things at the concession stand. And our deejays were people who were in the program. You know? We ended up going more for the deejays than the bands. And they were paid very minimal, if at all.
  • [00:27:55.50] So we raised a lot of money that we eventually used to buy the building we're in now.
  • [00:28:02.23] MARK: I think the mission of the Washtenaw Alano Club, and it is in the mission statement around here-- hopefully I phrase it correctly-- is to try and provide an environment for any 12 step organization to have a meeting place. And the meeting place doesn't really require anything except for, at today's level, $1.50 per person. So it could be anything from Sex Addicts Anonymous to Gamblers Anonymous to Debtors Anonymous to Arts Anonymous to Narcotics Anonymous to Alcoholics Anonymous to Al-Anon, ACOA, Adult Children of Alcoholics. All those meetings are represented there.
  • [00:29:03.59] The mission of the club as a business is to provide a place. It's not to create a place where the different organizations can co-mingle. The club itself is a business.
  • [00:29:18.56] SPEAKER 2: And as a business, how is the funding-- I know you have fundraisers and you have membership. And I'm just curious about how the funding works for an organization like that.
  • [00:29:34.85] MARK: Well, that's one of the things that we're going to try and work on here in the future to begin to be involved a little more with, say, the Ann Arbor Community Foundation and other organizations. The club itself has always been a real, I was called a shoestring budget. There's not a lot of excess funds there. We haven't really received any outside money as of yet.
  • [00:30:10.73] KATHY: I think we're on the path of making it more stable. So we do some fundraisers during the year. And our fundraisers over the last three or four years have been pretty successful in terms of being able to spend a little bit more money on the upkeep and maintenance and staffing. So I think that we're kind of moving in the direction of being a more stable organization.
  • [00:30:36.02] We have just a limited amount of space. So it would be great if our rooms were booked all day long. But that's not when people need us, really. They need us more in the evenings and on weekends.
  • [00:30:48.89] And so I'm not sure we want to be a huge organization. We just want to be a good place for people to go. And then they can go to meetings other places. You know, once they get into the recovery community, then their inclination to find other places, and the other places are available for them to go if there's something that they want to do.
  • [00:31:16.49] So I think we're a great entry point. And we want to continue to be that for people in recovery. But we don't have to be the be all end all for people in recovery. It's like, you know, get sober or get clean and find a way to make a good life for yourself. And that's what we'd like to continue to do. So by providing space and a place, we want to be able to continue to do that long-term.
  • [00:31:43.20] JESS: I think it's just right right now. You know? It's there, but it's in the phone book. It's got a web page. It's doing its own thing. But too much spotlight would make people not go there because of their jobs, or where they stand socially in the community, if they're on the city council or stuff like that, a business owner. You know, people don't want to know that necessarily. They might think something bad. You know?
  • [00:32:14.30] NAN: I absolutely see it as a business. It's a nonprofit organization. And we depend heavily on fundraising and the generosity of our members and others in the recovering community because we are a business and we need operating expenses. This month, in March, is our big fundraising event, the March Match is what we call it.
  • [00:32:42.77] And we have a goal of raising $30,000 this month. We're about halfway there. It's an old, old building that was built in 1947. So there's always things that need upgraded and refurbished.
  • [00:32:59.47] SPEAKER 2: Right.
  • [00:32:59.87] NAN: And there's four acres of oak trees that need attention. And the grounds need to be cared for. So it's not a cheap expenditure. It costs money. And we have staff. We have an excellent manager, Kristen. She's done a wonderful job.
  • [00:33:17.63] We have staff members who work the counter and serve coffee and various other things to the people who come into meetings. And that's a lot of people. We get 1,500 visits a week.
  • [00:33:30.59] SPEAKER 2: That's a lot. Wow.
  • [00:33:31.77] NAN: A lot of people coming through. We have 72 12 step meetings a week. So there's lots of people coming in and taking advantage of the meetings that we host.
  • [00:33:49.56] And we see ourselves as a host to the meetings. We provide space. We try to make their meeting comfortable for them and doable. And in return, they pay, well, it's suggested payment of $1.50 a person. But if you don't have it, it's perfectly fine. If you can't make that rent-- so we basically rent the space to the meetings.
  • [00:34:17.72] SPEAKER 2: I have a question. I would imagine-- and again, this addresses your role as the treasurer-- that you would be always open if not looking for volunteers to help with some of the operations and some of the work around there. What's it like to try to encourage or get volunteers in a situation like you're in? Is it easy? Is it hard? Is it just sort of a natural byproduct of the people sharing that space and coming there for other reasons?
  • [00:34:55.64] KATHY: That's a great question because it is difficult to get volunteers. And at the same time, there is some emphasis within the 12 step programs for people to do service work. And so it seems like there's a disconnect between the tenants of the programs and people's behavior.
  • [00:35:20.43] There are a core number of people who do a lot of volunteer work. And I think that's true in any nonprofit.
  • [00:35:26.37] SPEAKER 2: Yep.
  • [00:35:26.79] KATHY: You know, they're very committed. And they want to see the club be successful and have a long-term positive impact on the community. But there is 1,000 people that go through there on the weekend. There's almost 600 people that come, individual people coming to the club for different types of programs. And yet, having spring clean-up, you might get 10 people to spend two hours to help clean up the grounds. So it is a challenge getting volunteers.
  • [00:35:58.91] SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
  • [00:35:59.76] KATHY: And we do a lot of advertising to our community. We have posters and flyers and emails. But people have lives. And I mean, the good and the bad part of it is that when someone's in a recovery program for a year or two years, they get their life back. They start families. They start careers.
  • [00:36:23.13] They go along the path. They're busy. And so they don't necessarily see the club as a priority. So there's this revolving door of people coming and going because things are getting so much better for them.
  • [00:36:38.07] SPEAKER 2: Right. That makes sense. They need you at a particular time that was the roughest.
  • [00:36:42.00] KATHY: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
  • [00:36:43.18] SPEAKER 2: Mm-hmm. So you've been affiliated in one way or another since '91 you said.
  • [00:36:48.93] JESS: Yes.
  • [00:36:49.08] SPEAKER 2: And then, eventually, you came around to the social aspects. Do you volunteer or work, do some work there? What do you do? Or what do you participate in?
  • [00:37:01.23] JESS: Well, I haven't necessarily. I've participated in keeping some of the meetings going, like you know cleaning up after and stuff like that. Making sure the coffee cups are in the garbage. And you know, I've been on the periphery. I know a lot of the people that do the board meeting staff, obviously.
  • [00:37:28.16] But I don't feel suited to that sort of role, even though it's really laid back, but probably more argumentative than like a business board. But yeah, it just depends. But showing up regularly has been my giving to it. You know? And plucking people up to help out and stuff. And sort of being there for people.
  • [00:37:56.83] SPEAKER 1: So how do you do that? How do you identify someone who like they look like someone who could use a little extra hand here, a buddy?
  • [00:38:08.71] JESS: Well, one was really obvious. I walked in one evening, an after-work meeting, and there was a young woman with a big wool hat on and a big jacket. And she was hunched over the table sobbing. And people were at the table talking amongst themselves and not her. And that was really obvious to me that she needed to be.
  • [00:38:30.63] You know, there's some fear of that like what am I getting myself into. And that's probably what they were thinking. Or someone else will do this. That's probably normal. Most people might say that, but that was just obvious to me to sit down and say, are you OK. Do you need to go to the hospital? That kind of thing for suicide or whatever.
  • [00:38:51.90] And then, you know, it's been two years now, and she's hanging in there. And I've been talking to her since then. So that's a really obvious one there. But it's often you can tell a new person by the deer in headlights look.
  • [00:39:10.39] The ones that don't do the deer in headlights look, and they're all confident when they're coming in, I'm like, eh, whatever. You know?
  • [00:39:18.46] SPEAKER 2: That's interesting because, I mean, I imagine that's a huge first step to just bring yourself there that first right.
  • [00:39:24.16] JESS: Right, right, right. Yeah. Yeah. She had been there more often than her first day. But she had just had a series of life events that she decided rather than make my son motherless, I will go and sit here and see what help might happen. There's that sense of hope for when someone shows up, I think. It's hard, but then it's also hope.
  • [00:39:53.68] KATHY: I actually believe that consistency-- almost all the programs have a sponsorship component where someone's sponsoring and trying to help. But if there are 20 people that you see regularly, your community of assistance and your community of advice and people to talk to is large enough that you're not dependent on any one person if something goes awry, or, you know, their parent dies or something that is outside of your control. Someone gets ill. You know, there's a lot of people that you can go to for help.
  • [00:40:33.46] And that community is part of what works for the Alano Club. I think that's why the Alano Club is an important piece of our community in Ann Arbor.
  • [00:40:42.28] JESS: And actually, I've known several people for the entire time of my sobriety, pretty much, people you've interviewed already. And with a couple have work relationships as well. And that is awesome to have someone else you know in an office that doesn't drink and you can do the secret handshake with and that sort of thing. But does that answer your question kind of?
  • [00:41:15.89] SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
  • [00:41:16.34] JESS: I mean, it's the same.
  • [00:41:17.19] SPEAKER 2: That was great.
  • [00:41:17.48] JESS: It's the same as anywhere else, really. I mean, you just sort of have to know that there's maybe more baggage than somewhere else. But then you understand the baggage.
  • [00:41:28.70] SPEAKER 1: So yeah, there's a certain understanding of what that baggage is. Whereas in all other relationships, not that there's-- you never know everything about people.
  • [00:41:39.49] JESS: Right.
  • [00:41:39.85] SPEAKER 1: You have a common ground right from the start. Right?
  • [00:41:43.75] JESS: Right. And if you don't get their number right away, and hopefully, you'll see them again. And then, like you have two pieces of information that they're committed to staying sober if you see them again. And now you have another opportunity to talk with them.
  • [00:42:01.82] And I like that. You know, that they're not going to disappear, like in school. You know? In June, when the school year is over, you're like, darn, I never got to know them. And then they move over the summer or something. But there's been a steady thing. Like if someone keeps showing up steady, I get the opportunity every time to try again.
  • [00:42:24.20] NAN: It's a very safe environment for people who are contemplating perhaps asking for help, coming to their first meeting. That's a big scary time in a person's life. And everybody who comes to the club has been there. They've all been there. They've had their first meeting, their first exposure.
  • [00:42:49.45] And the club is a very welcoming place. We try to pay attention to who's coming through our doors and reach out to people who are looking like they could really use a friend or need a hand. So I hope the community will take advantage of what we offer and come on out and check us out.
  • [00:43:14.98] We're very user-friendly. We often have events like used jewelry sales twice a year. And we put that out on Next Door. You know that app?
  • [00:43:28.20] SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
  • [00:43:28.65] NAN: And we have people from the neighborhood who come over and bring their used jewelry to donate and talk to us. And they love that we're there. We're very respectful. We don't trash the place. We keep it nice and tidy. We're quiet. It's been a pleasure to be in that neighborhood.
  • [00:43:47.39] SPEAKER 1: To learn more about the history of the Washtenaw Alano Club, visit
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Washtenaw Alano Club
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