1964 – Sr. Anna Marie Towers Begins Recovery Program for Women
The Women’s Rehabilitation Association of San Mateo County (the original name of the organization) was founded in November 1964 when Sister Anna Marie Towers, a Sister of the Holy Cross, began to support a group of alcoholic women whom she had met through her work teaching at St. Pius School in Redwood City, California. Through this group, Sister Anna Marie increased her understanding of alcoholism and her community’s needs. In her work with these women from 1964 until 1970, Sister Anna Maria recognized that specialized services for alcoholic women were vital.
1970 – Board of Directors Created; WRA is Incorporated
In 1970, the first official Board meeting was held under the direction of Rueben Tepper of the Legal Aid Society. As a result of that meeting, WRA was incorporated in July 1970. The agency began to provide preventative educational groups and solidified its goal of providing residential treatment for women. On Labor Day in 1970, Sister Anna Marie and three Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) members spent a weekend at Lake Tahoe fleshing out a plan. As a result, full weekend retreats for alcoholic women focusing on their specialized issues began under the direction of an Episcopal priest, a clinical psychologist and the Sisters of the Holy Cross. These weekend retreats continued until 1988 and became a source of revenue for the Association. The resulting publicity from the weekends brought WRA a three-year grant of $162,000 from the National Institute on Mental Health to support its specialized services to alcoholic women. This grant allowed for WRA’s first small outpatient center for women in San Mateo in 1972 and the Sisters formally assumed responsibility for the operation of the agency. With another grant secured, Sister Anna Marie became a full-time employee at a salary of $200.00 per month and a car!
1973 – First Private Foundation Grant of $30,000 Supports Acquisition of Laurel House Site
After several years of determined efforts, the Board and Sister Anna Marie raised enough funding to open the first residential treatment program, Laurel House, located in San Mateo. Raffles, morning musicals, nights at the races, concerts, firework sales and a grant of $30,000 from the Luke B. Hancock Foundation combined made Laurel House a reality and one of the first residential programs for women in California. Center staff now comprised an Executive Director, an Assistant Director (Sister Anna Marie), a full-time counselor, a half-time counselor, and a secretary. After many challenges to the acquisition of a permanent residence for women in recovery, a lease for Laurel House was signed in May 1973.
1974 – Laurel House, the First Residence Opens
Operational costs of the Laurel House and the new center were covered for the first year with support from the County of San Mateo. Through fundraising efforts and another grant of $10,000 from the Luke B. Hancock Foundation, WRA purchased the Laurel House in 1974 for $85,000. (At last appraisal, this well-maintained building was valued at approximately $2 million!) Laurel House became licensed and program certified by the State of California in 1975.
1980 – Contract with San Mateo County Begins; Second Residence, The Elms, Opens
Through the WRA team’s vigorous efforts in community development and involvement, WRA began to establish a reputation for the successful treatment of women alcoholics. As a result, the agency secured a grant from the County of San Mateo in September 1980 for the purchase of the agency’s second property, The Elms. A start-up contract from the County to expand services by 12 beds began in 1979 and The Elms opened in May 1980. Between Laurel House and The Elms, WRA now had bed capacity for 21 women in residential treatment. In the same year, the Women’s Rehabilitation Association of San Mateo County amended the articles of incorporation to change its name to the Women’s Recovery Association (WRA). At this time, WRA became a San Mateo County contracted provider for chemical dependency services.
1987 – Treatment Expands to Serve Drug Addicted Women
Due to the increase of drug addicted women seeking treatment in the 1980’s, WRA began to consider broadening its care to include women with (other) drug addictions. Initial agency resistance gave way to full acceptance of this expansion of treatment; it was believed that this component of care was entirely in keeping with the agency mission. Thus, in 1987, WRA began the controversial programmatic issue of treating women with drug problems.
1989 – Addiction As A Family Disease; Family, Friends & Children Receive Help
With revelatory new studies from the field of addiction corroborating WRA’s philosophy that addiction was a family disease, the agency expanded services to include treatment for the whole family (of the addict). The Family Program began in 1989. Today, WRA offers extensive Family, Friends & Child Support services that includes involvement with all family members, significant others, and as well as providing educational and therapeutic programs for children and adolescents.
1994 – Hillside House for Pregnant Women and Women with Children Opens
In April 1994, WRA opened the Hillside House, a perinatal residential program, for women who wish to keep their children with them while in treatment. The program currently offers six months to one year of residential treatment to pregnant and parenting women.
1996 – Children’s Center Opens; Kids Get Specialized Help
In 1996, WRA secured a four-year grant from the United Way allowing the agency to expand services to children. The Children’s Center provides daily childcare with a Child Care Specialist on site enabling mothers to participate in the treatment program. The Center provides a therapeutic environment that focuses on the special needs of children of substance abusing parents and/or substance-exposed infants. Services include parent-child interactive therapy, parenting groups, children’s groups, and play and art therapy.
1996 – County of San Mateo Contract for Dual Diagnosis Clients Begins
In the early 1990’s, WRA began to women with a dual diagnosis: those with a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. In 1996, WRA secured a contract with the County of San Mateo Mental Health Services to provide special treatment services to these women. These services are available through both the residential and outpatient components via the Dual Diagnosis Program.
1998 – Peninsula Community Foundation Awards Grant
Through funding from the Peninsula Community Foundation (now known as the Silicon Valley Community Foundation) WRA created a Development Department in 1998. With the support of the Development and Public Relations Committee (all volunteers), the Development Director established WRA’s first formal fundraising plan.
1999 – Strategic Goals Identified; Vocational Rehabilitation, Treatment Readiness, and Adolescent Girls Treatment
During the Board and Staff Retreat in the winter of 1998, WRA identified its future strategic issues. Priorities identified for WRA’s growing population included: housing, vocational rehabilitation, youth services, and outcome data collection. In 1999, WRA began to address these priorities by securing grants and government contracts to expand residential services and programs. The agency opened its third residential program for adult women, Juniper House. Women could remain in treatment while returning to school and/or work while living at Juniper House. The expansion effort also included services to Adolescent Girls, expanded services with Treatment Readiness (a pre-treatment service for women and girls), Vocational Rehabilitation, a working women’s program, and a Case Management Program, focused on continuing care needs and outcome data collection. The new services expanded the residential services to 43 beds for women and women and children for a 90-day to six-month program duration.
2000 – WRA and Shelter Network Collaborate on Purchase of Burlingame Office Building
In the summer of 2000, the Board of Directors of WRA and Shelter Network, a non profit organization providing housing and support services to the homeless, established a collaborative partnership. In order to combat rising property rents and to ensure both agencies’ long-term presence in San Mateo County, the two agencies developed a plan to reduce costs by jointly purchasing a building in Burlingame. The purchase of the building at 1450 Chapin Avenue, housing the agencies’ administrative and counseling offices, greatly reduced annual expenses for each organization. Being co-owners and tenants of the building allows for increased opportunities to build on this initial collaboration with the sharing of resources including equipment and trainings. The agencies’ services are complementary and reciprocal client referrals are made.
2001 – Adolescent Girls’ Residential Treatment Program Opens – Tracey’s Place of Hope
During the mid to late 1990’s, the WRA Board of Directors began to plan for a vital need: a residential treatment program for adolescent girls. In September 1999, when the County of San Mateo released a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) for adolescent services and start-up funding, WRA submitted an application. The grant was awarded to WRA in November 1999 and program planning began. The ideal site was identified in January 2000. During the program development phase, a tragedy occurred when Tracey Biletnikoff, a WRA alumnae, was murdered by her estranged boyfriend. This vibrant young woman was 20 years old and just beginning a new drug-free life by attending school and supporting others in their recovery. Her commitment and inspiration to those in recovery captured the spirit of the new residential adolescent substance abuse program for girls. After consultation with her family, WRA honored her memory by naming the program Tracey’s Place of Hope. Tracey’s Place of Hope served adolescent girls and their families from 2001 to 2009.
2004 – Intensive Evening Outpatient Program launches; transitional sober living for women opens with Juniper House
2007 – WRA expands capacity for women with co-occurring disorders and women with their children
2008 – Perinatal Residential Treatment expands and the Pilot Project is initiated
In January 2008, the Women’s Recovery Association (WRA) and San Mateo County Behavioral Health Services initiated a pilot project that may help to transform how substance abuse treatment services are delivered. The goal of the pilot project is to assess the impact of two innovative approaches to substance abuse treatment: a capitated case rate and recovery management. In short, WRA is paid a “case rate” for each pilot client for a full year of treatment services, which includes the new “recovery management” treatment modality. WRA’s treatment team and the recovery coach determine, on an individual basis, what level of services are appropriate for each client, based on her treatment goals and not on a restrictive funding model or program structure. In 2008, the pilot had ten participants; in 2010 the number of women involved in the pilot has increased to twenty.