It’s just after 10 a.m. on a chilly, rainy Wednesday morning at the Treehouse Addiction Campus in Scurry. A concert featuring current and returning members of the rehabilitation center’s music program, including one who drove in all the way from Ohio, has been hastily moved inside the facility’s dining hall. But that does nothing to curb the enthusiasm of the performers, or the crowd of patients and former patients who have gathered around the room to listen, support, and applaud after every song.
This is the first OkSober Fest event at the Treehouse, which CEO Ted Bender hopes to make an annual event. The purpose of the event is to invite alumni of the Treehouse, which number in the thousands, back to the campus to mingle with each other, express their appreciation to the staff, and provide hope and encouragement to those currently going through the program. For one alumnus named Bryan, who graduated from the Treehouse just two weeks ago, it’s an opportunity to connect with people who have gone through the same process only recently completed.
“There’s common ground there, whether you’ve been out for two weeks or two years,” Bryan said. “I didn’t expect to make these real, genuine connections with my crew that I did here.”
Another alumnus of the Treehouse, Travis Bennett, is now employed with the rehab center as Alumni Coordinator. He helped put together this event and reached out to the extensive Treehouse Alumni Facebook page to invite his fellow alumni, some of whom he knew during his time as a client, to return to the campus.
“One of the reasons I came back was the family vibe,” Bennett said. “It extends from the clients to the staff. So to see how big our family really is from state to state, it definitely replenishes that hope that there is still hope out there for the struggling addict.”
According to Bender, the process of having former clients return is beneficial to both the patients and staff. Years ago when working at another campus, Bender saw the effects of these types of vents firsthand when he invited three alumni back to the center to talk to the staff. They talked about where they were in their lives following graduation (one was a firefighter, another was a nurse) and how grateful they were to them for helping them conquer the addictions that had plagued their lives.
“I saw an immediate uplift in the staff,” Bender said. “This business is tough on the employees. There’s a lot of heartache as well as a lot of amazing stories. So I’ve been trying to do stuff like this ever since. Also, the patients see it. When they see living, breathing, walking examples of success of people that have gone through what they have, it’s pretty powerful.”
For Bender personally, events like this that give him the opportunity to meet with the people that the Treehouse staff have assisted, in many case before Bender arrived at the campus himself, reminds him of why he got into this field in the first place.
“My number one goal has always been to help people,” Bender said. “So to see that is literally the driving force of why I do this job.”
Bender hopes to ramp up alumni activities at the Treehouse, potentially even making them monthly and even weekly events.
Former patient Bryan, who is returning to Austin to run his own business which he started before coming to the campus for treatment, hopes that his message and the message of those that came before him resonates with the people in the program now and those who are struggling with addiction across the country.
“In your mind, it’s all about you,” Bryan said. “But it’s really not. It takes a few days to really come to the understanding that you’re a small piece of a big puzzle. Be patient. Have an open heart. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable and keep an open mind, all of the answers are there.”