Buddy Paddy spends his days caring for the trees on Capitol Hill as a Tree Surgeon with the AOC Capitol Grounds. His job involves examining approximately 4,500 trees throughout the year to ensure that they are healthy and continue growing to maturity. His evenings are spent in much the same way, as he volunteers his time helping others recover from drug and alcohol addictions in hopes of seeing them live longer, healthier lives.
Paddy is the Executive Director for Champ House Recovery, Inc., a non-profit halfway house that offers a program based on the 12-step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). The house, located in Bowie, Maryland, was established in 1992 by Paul Champagne to "help people find sobriety from the use of alcohol and drugs."
The house can hold up to 16 residents and that number often fluctuates depending on the weather and the economy. It is only open to males and requires a one-time administration fee and weekly rent. The rent covers living quarters and an evening meal. Residents are encouraged to have a job — this helps them pay the rent, while also instilling discipline and structure into their lives, leading to a better chance of sobriety once they leave the house. Each new resident is paired with a sponsor who helps them complete the program's 12 steps.
Sponsors most often play the roles of friend and mentor. They encourage residents on their path to recovery and maintain an honest, open line of communication to remind residents of their ultimate goal — sobriety.
The program is designed to help those who have a strong desire to stop abusing drugs and alcohol. Residents commit to living at the house for 90 days and are required to attend daily A.A. meetings. Even after leaving the house, past residents can participate in the alumni program and often return to attend and volunteer for special events.
There are approximately 10 regular volunteers who help keep the house open. There is only one paid position — the cook. Paddy jokingly admits that no one would want to eat his cooking, making it necessary to fund this essential position. And while the work of all the house volunteers is crucial to the success of residents, it is dinnertime that provides important interaction between residents and sponsors, allowing for moments of reflection and encouragement.
Paddy makes it a priority to attend dinner, "I like to say we're the Waltons." The group gathers around the dinner table to discuss their day. Dinners provide a chance to participate in an environment resembling social interactions that residents will encounter once they leave the house. Getting back into society plays a large role in one's recovery process, as does giving back to society. "The key to sobriety is that you've got to give it away to keep it," said Paddy, and volunteering at the house is his way of giving back.
Paddy has achieved 27 years of uninterrupted sobriety in the 12-step program. The declaration of his successful recovery is followed by a simple question and answer on his sobriety, "You know how I did it? One day at a time." Paddy admitted that 27 years ago the thought of future decades of sobriety would not have seemed possible, but recovery is an ongoing process. His volunteer work at the Champ House serves as a reminder of his own journey and how far he has come.
He lived at the Champ House for six years to help run the program after its founder passed away. He spent all of his free time at the house, helping others complete the program. He moved out two years ago after marrying his wife Lisa, but still continues to spend about 20 hours a week volunteering at the house. There are meetings to attend and tasks to complete, but his biggest priority is staying involved in the lives of those living at the house.
When asked what his favorite thing about volunteering is, Paddy describes the powerful impact of watching the lives of others undergo such dramatic changes. "New people are always coming in. For the ones that successfully complete the program, it's incredibly exciting to watch them transform from the lowest place of their lives to a new life full of hope and purpose," he said. That impact serves as a great reminder and source of inspiration to all residents, past and present, and is why so many dedicate their time to those that enter the Champ House seeking a successful sobriety story of their own.
This story was first published in the Spring 2014 issue of AOC Foundations & Perspectives.