Santa Barbara Rescue Mission staff at last year's graduation ceremony. | Credit: Courtesy

In front of pews full of proud people at South Coast Church in Goleta, a very special graduation ceremony took place on Saturday. 

Ten men and women celebrated their graduation from Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s 12-month rehabilitation program. They shared the joy, pain, tears, gratitude, and triumph that came along their path to recovery and sobriety. Each one was met with thunderous applause from their loved ones as they marched into the church to the beat of pomp and circumstance. 

“Thank you to my mom for signing me up for the program, even though I could do it myself,” one man said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Two graduates, Stephanie and Blane, gave in-depth accounts of their struggles with addiction. Standing at the podium in front of the procession, they were glowing pictures of health. 

The two speakers grew up with parents who struggled with addiction, and both graduates said they started using drugs when they were in high school. They went through heart-wrenching losses — including custody of their children — struggled with ever-growing dependencies on drugs, resorted to crime, and spent time behind bars. Even with the best intentions, their past attempts to get better had ended in relapsing. 

When Stephanie, who grew up in Santa Maria, entered the Rescue Mission’s Bethel House last year, she said she had been there once before but only long enough to shower and shave. 

Standing in front of a crowd of supporters, she said getting sober and finishing the program was the hardest thing she’s ever done. But as of April 28, 2023, she is one year clean.

Blane said his first day in Santa Barbara involved him being arrested and sentenced to around 200 days in County Jail. During his struggle with addiction, he overdosed eight times on fentanyl, and while his daughter was being born, he was in the parking lot shooting heroin. 

But after spending time in prison, he sought treatment. He found the right people, met his sponsor. 

During his time at the Rescue Mission, Blane said he was given a safe space to do some “soul searching.” He said he learned more about addiction and was given job assignments to stay accountable. He met lifelong friends. 

Since getting sober, he said through tears, he has reconnected with his children, and “is once again known as Dad.” He left the crowd with a message, that someone is not defined by their mistakes but by the actions they take to come back from those mistakes.

Santa Barbara Rescue Mission — a certified treatment facility by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs — has been around since 1965, helping men and women recover from addiction to drugs and alcohol and providing shelter and meals to homeless individuals.

Santa Barbara has recently seen a rise in homeless deaths, and it has been found that a significant percentage of the city’s unhoused population has chronic health conditions, substance-abuse disorders, and/or co-occurring mental-health disorders.

In the past two years, the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the county has increased significantly. Last year, 168 people died from drug overdoses in Santa Barbara County, and 115 were killed by fentanyl. As city and county leaders try to work toward solutions, shelters such as the Rescue Mission help provide beds and treatment options for the region’s most vulnerable.

Each year, the Rescue Mission celebrates graduating classes of 10 to more than 30 people who successfully complete their residential recovery program. All graduates this year will now begin their transition into the community, requiring full time employment or continued education. During this fourth phase, they will continue residency in the program and receive support from Mission staff.

“Addicts and alcoholics are resilient people,” said residential treatment specialist Mike Osio. Speaking from experience, he challenged the graduates to continually set new goals for themselves as they embark on the next chapter of their lives. “Even if that goal is just one more day sober.”


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