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A History, Love Story, & Summing Up - Doris Conaty

Updated: Aug 20, 2022

ARA First Step Home, founded in 1955, was the first house of its kind in the Bay Area. The concept of its founding fathers was to provide a safe place for men and women who wanted to stay sober, knowing that if they returned to their old environment, chances of doing so were very limited. The place became an instant success. Criteria for residents was attendance at AA, to maintain sobriety and employment. The ultimate goal: Responsible citizenship. I was accepted for residency in 1963 and thought I might stay two weeks. However, it was six months before I left. It was here that I broke my habit of daily drinking, was introduced to AA, started working and began my journey to sobriety.

ARA was the only place at that time that took women and I was very lucky to be accepted. The manager at that time, John Sheehan, was a gruff individual from Chicago, who understood alcoholics. He ran a taut ship as far as the rules went but with an insighted concern for the needs of each resident. Funds were very scarce and on numerous occasions John would ask those who were working if an additional week's rent could be paid to meet the bills. He was paid a very low salary as were other employees but no one complained.

John was manager for over eight years as were the assistant manager, Terry Mahoney and the cook, Chuck Bearse. Residents who performed duties around the house were given gratuities. Sometimes, during hard times, ARA would send the PG&E check to Pacific Bell and vice versa to gain a little time. Once, a man seeing this old house became curious about it and left $50, which at that time bought the dinner that evening. On another occasion the Board of Directors made a decision to close the house because of its poor financial status. Three Directors loaned $1,000 each to keep it going. Around 1965 many referrals were being made from Mendocino State Hospital from the alcoholic residents in dire need of such a place. After a wrenching discussion on the pros and cons, it was decided to allow those who were indigent to accept only two weeks welfare to let them get settled and find a job. This, however, was one way to ease the financial problems of the house.

In 1968 I was honored to be elected to ARA’s Board of Directors. Six years later, I was named Manager of 1st Step Home. In 1970 the state hospitals were closed to alcoholics, as well as for mentally ill patients. This created a need for detoxification places. By 1974, three detoxification units were opened and detoxification was no longer allowed in recovery homes. At this time, the State decided to fund recovery homes to meet the need of those who required long term help. ARA made a conscious decision not to accept funding and continue as a private non-profit organization. Changes in methodology were brought about, however. We now were required to be licensed by the State of California and qualifications were set down which required heavy expenditures. The State provided the funds for this expense enabling the 1st Step Home to be brought up to code. Until this time there were just three staff members and just one piece of paper for admitting residents.

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