This article appeared in the Special of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on MARCH 14, 1983
Run-down LR Residence is Transformed to Facility to Combat Alcoholism
By BETTY ROWLAND
A two-story residence at Twelfth and Wolfe Streets that once housed Ruebel Funeral Home and later student nurses has been restored to a comfortable facility for meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous and related organizations.
The Wolfe Street Foundation Inc. was formed to provide a place for meetings, fellowship, and recreation for Al-anon and Ala teen groups, both of which serve families of alcoholics as well as for AA members.
“Since January, we’ve had volunteers working days, nights, and weekends at everything from polishing light fixtures to unclogging the plumbing.” Foundation President Gerald Cathey said.
Karen Keller, director of the Recover program for alcohol and drug abuse at Central Baptist Hospital, first saw the facility’s possibilities, which had stood vacant for three years.
Building Was ‘Waiting’
“The building seemed to be there waiting,” Keller said. “I hated to see it deteriorating and the roof falling in. But even when I went through it in that condition, I saw it as a positive, attractive place, light and lively. This vision kept coming back to me of our patients being released from the hospital program and then going over there with their families to AA and Alanon meetings.” Last fall, she got permission from the Baptist Hospital System to take over the building for the Recover program.
She met with Dr. Joe Martindale, a Benton surgeon who is a recovering alcoholic and medical director of the Recover program, “and we started dreaming out loud.” They envisioned a facility open 24 hours a day to accommodate all work schedules.
“At [Central] Baptist, we’d been looking for ways to get Recover involved in the AA program,” Dr. Martindale said, “and had been taking our patients all the way out to the new Baptist Medical Center to attend AA meetings. We thought how wonderful it would be if they could go right across the street.” He said that the Recover program is geared for a 28-day hospital stay and after the patient is dismissed, “the chances of staying sober are much, much better if he or she sticks with AA.”
Persons in the field of alcoholism were recruited to help develop the facility. Joe McQuany, head of the Serenity House, a halfway house for recovering alcoholics, and Gene Walter and another Little Rock man, formed the Wolfe Street Foundation and in December turned it over to a five-member Board of Directors. They were able to lease the Baptist Medical System building for a nominal fee, starting in January.
“That’s when the work began in earnest,” Margret Barros, secretary-treasurer of the Foundation Board, said. “From then on, the place was overrun with people. We were bumping into each other, washing walls, hanging paper, making signs, scrubbing windows, painting yellow stripes on the parking lot. It was blood, sweat, and tears – and a lot of fellowship.”
“Lonely people who have a problem with alcohol now had a place to go. The project was an outlet for their energies and a way to make new friends.”
All the remodeling work was done by AA members, their families, and friends. A plumber donated his services. A lawyer drew up the incorporation papers without a fee. A member who owns a cleaning service volunteered to give the place a professional cleaning. Carpets, drapes, paint, equipment, and furniture were donated or obtained at cost. An artist solicited paintings from fellow artists to decorate the walls. The facility has ten rooms available for meetings and other activities, including a 350-seat auditorium and a kitchen and recreation area.
The Central Office of AA, a separate organization designed to serve the AA community throughout the state, moved to Wolfe Street on February 19. The next weekend, 360 persons came to the Center for a convention sponsored by the Ninth District of Arkansas AA.
While a jazz band played in the parlor and coffee and fruit punch flowed in the coffee shop, 200 persons assembled in the auditorium for a facility’s formal dedication.
Serenity House meetings led by McQuany on the “12 steps” of the AA recovery program were moved to the Wolfe Street location, drawing as many as 200 persons a week. A closed Sunday evening discussion meeting for young AA members has been well-attended, a Tuesday night discussion group and a “brown bag” lunch group on Thursday noons. The Central Office has moved its speaker meeting to Wolfe Street on the third Saturday night of the month.
Keller, who has had patients as young as 12 in her Recover program, is especially pleased to see so many young people turning to AA.
“The highest rate of alcoholism is among our young people, and it takes a much shorter time for them to develop the disease,” she said. “Because of the drunken driving, alcohol is the No. 1 killer of our teenagers. Kids need someplace to go where they can talk to others with similar problems that they can relate to. Now they can go to the Wolfe Street Center.”