Area church tackles drug abuse problem

September 25, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

The Rev. George Clements made history in 1981 when he became the first priest in the United States to adopt a child. Now the priest, formerly of Chicago, has created a new church-based program to help recovering addicts, and St. John Baptist Church in Columbia will be the first Maryland church to participate.

Under the One Church -- One Addict program, the 62-year-old priest plans to involve churches nationwide in assisting recovering substance abusers through job counseling, spirituality and referrals to treatment centers.

"I believe substance abuse is the No. 1 problem facing the nation today," Father Clements said last week. "I also feel that churches as an institution haven't been fully involved in working with people. Primarily, because they didn't know what to do."

He believes his program will give churches an outline on how to assist addicts.

Though he's unsure how much the program will cost, he says it has the potential to reach thousands of recovering addicts nationally. The program has already received a $250,000 grant from the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Father Clements will visit St. John today to discuss the program, which he established about a year ago, and to explain church involvement. The Rev. Robert A. F. Turner and his congregation at St. John will kick off their plans to officially implement the program next month.

St. John will join 35 churches in Illinois that already are involved in the program.

"We should love the addicts, but hate the addiction," said Jasper Clay Jr., chairman of St. John's substance abuse ministry committee, referring to Father Clements' sermon "Love the addict, hate the addiction." He contacted Father Clements about the addicts program last month.

Last year, Father Clements moved to Washington, D.C., to work with the American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities, and to launch the addicts program. He founded One Church -- One Child in 1984 in Chicago to help black and biracial children get adopted. Since then, the program has aided in the adoption of 40,000 youngsters in 39 states.

Joyce L. Brown, the county's substance abuse impact coordinator, said the addicts program is needed in the county.

In fiscal 1993, 1,668 people received substance abuse treatment from the county's eight treatment programs, Ms. Brown said. And 1,907 are projected to receive treatment in fiscal 1994.

Alcohol, marijuana and crack cocaine are the drugs used most often in Howard County, she said.

"We're not protected by our affluence and education. Substance abuse is just as real in this county as anywhere," Ms. Brown said. "We do have our share of substance abuse problems, too."

Mr. Clay, who is also vice chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission in Chevy Chase, started an alcohol and rehabilitation program in Baltimore 20 years ago. The church is an appropriate place to help addicts because it is a welcoming setting full of resources, he said.

"It's there to save the unsaved, as well as to minister to those people who are saved," Mr. Clay added.

Mr. Clay said 10 St. John volunteers, who have had experience in substance abuse work, will be trained to counsel recovering substance abusers and refer them to treatment centers.

The volunteers will serve as role models and provide job counseling, companionship and moral support. Because of the voluntary nature of the church's program, Mr. Clay said costs will be minimal, though there will be a cost for the training.

The program goes beyond helping the recovering addict, Mr. Clay said. It also supports the addicts' spouses and families.

Also, the entire congregation will learn about substance abuse so members can work to prevent substance abuse in their families and congregation, he said.

"I think it's very worthwhile," Ms. Brown, the county's substance abuse impact coordinator, said. "I think it's important for faith communities to get involved in substance abuse programs.

"The church acts like a broker and helps to connect folks to

these services."

Churches are sources of role models, motivators and educators, she said.

"They just have the natural abilities to work in this area," Ms. Brown said.

One Church -- One Addict is an example of the growing relationship between churches and government agencies, she said.

Two years ago, the federal government published its first directory for faith communities that want to do substance abuse work, she said.

"That symbolizes this new relationship," she said.

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