Four times a year Aloha House (AH) holds a graduation for individuals who have completed the nonprofit organization’s Residential Treatment Program in Makawao. On October 17, 2013, 50 graduates celebrated this recovery milestone in a ceremony that has become a time-honored tradition for staff and clients.
Residential Treatment provides a structured living environment for those who need a real “time-out” from their daily lives in order to deal with substance abuse and addiction issues. Individuals typically spend 45-60 days in the program, during which they receive nursing care, individual, group and family counseling, psychological services, case management, recovery education, discharge planning and assistance in developing sober support in the community.
Graduation day begins with live music performed by AH Substance Abuse Counselor and local musician Mitch Kepa, who was accompanied this year by several different clients who joined him to play the guitar and sing traditional Hawaiian music. Staff and graduates, along with their family and friends, then head into a group counseling room that is decorated with artwork by current and former clients such as murals, flags, quilts and collages that provide inspiration and encouragement to the new graduates as they move onto the next step of their recovery journey. Residential Treatment Program counselors announce each graduate by name, present them with a certificate and a lei and say a few words about the journey of their client and the wishes they have for that person.
In the most symbolic part of the ceremony, clients are able to share their thoughts. Some recount their own experiences – “Recovery isn’t easy but Aloha House taught me how to take on the challenges I will face after leaving treatment. I know I will stay strong and work with my sponsor every week. It is a good life and this is a proud moment” – while others offer advice to clients still in the program – “Every morning when I wake up I make sure I look myself in the mirror and say ‘just win today’. You have to just think about today.” Family members sometimes present leis of their own as graduates return to their seats.
After the ceremony everyone sits down together to eat, talk story and listen to more music. Mitch Kepa explains that these graduations are one way that Aloha House honors Hawaiian culture. The process that staff members, current clients and graduates go through to put the event together – cleaning, setting up tables and chairs, arranging decorations, making leis and helping with food preparation – reflects the traditional Hawaiian custom that families went through as they gathered for meals and to celebrate being together.
“Being a part of this celebration reconnects clients (both current and graduating) with Hawaiian culture and shows them how to honor themselves for their accomplishments,” says Kepa. “Recovery is experiential and the simple act of being a part of something bigger than oneself makes our clients feel good about themselves, which is important for the recovery process.” Completing residential treatment at Aloha House is a great achievement and these ceremonies commemorate that success in a special and memorable way.