We are happy to announce Stepping Stone San Diego as this summer’s SDGMC Community Outreach Partner. During each concert season, SDGMC partners with a local organization that is making great things happen.
For more than 40 years, Stepping Stone has been changing lives as one of the few LGBTQ-focused recovery programs in the nation. The staff and residents of Stepping Stone will be joining SDGMC at its summer show DIVAS (tickets at SDGMC.org) on July 29 & 30 at the Balboa Theatre – San Diego. For more information about Stepping Stone please see the accompanying preview story from our concert playbill.
It all started in 1976 with a couch and a couple of gay men opening their home to friends who needed help in healing from addiction.
Today, nearly 41 years later, those first acts of kindness have blossomed to become Stepping Stone of San Diego—a beacon of hope as one of the nation’s only alcohol and drug recovery programs specifically for the LGBTQ community. Based in City Heights, Stepping Stone serves more than 70 people at any given time including 31 main facility residents plus 15 people at its Hillcrest sober-living residence, program alumni and a home just for women.
“It’s still very important for people to come to a place where they feel safe with their sexuality or their HIV status,” said Stepping Stone Executive Director Cheryl Houk who has helped run the agency for 18 years. “We come with a higher rate of addiction because of issues related to sexuality, HIV status and childhood trauma. The people who come to us often feel shamed at other programs.”
That’s not the case at Stepping Stone. Entering through its golden stucco and hewn stone entry, visitors and residents alike are greeted by a palpable excitement in the air. For it’s here, crisscrossing the cool inner courtyard, that people are re-engaging with life. For many, it’s a far cry from when they first entered the facility.
“We’ve taken people off the streets who are walking miracles today,” noted Houk. “Addiction is a really hard thing to beat and it takes everything we have. So, we create a family of support for them that they know they can come back to and they know it’s safe.”
As noted by Houk, Stepping Stone has the particular skillset of helping people in recovery who are also living with HIV/AIDS. In fact, it was during the worst parts of the AIDS Crisis that Stepping Stone served on the front lines providing care to the dying in the face of fear and homophobia.
According to Program Manager/HIV Specialist Chris Mueller, another major difference in Stepping Stone’s approach is that people with addiction, mental health or HIV challenges are never turned away for financial reasons. This is thanks to funding from sources such as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and the County of San Diego.
“Many people are either homeless, on the verge of being homeless or their families want to be rid of them,” explained Mueller. “People come into our program full of fears and uncertainty about HIV. By the time they leave here, they’re on medications, undetectable and confident.”
The fact that no one is turned away from Stepping Stone is unique, important, lifesaving and a source of pride to the Stepping Stone family. Even people waiting to move into the residence begin receiving services immediately.
“We have an open door policy. Everyone is welcome here,” said Mueller. “People leave, they may relapse, but they are always welcome.”