Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 30th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Sunday, February 9, 2020


Communication is one of the most important parts of running a recovery operation.

This morning we had our monthly TLC business meeting and each of the 40 some participants were asked to submit five new ideas of how to improve TLC's operations. This is the first time we've had a meeting where all of the house managers got together in one room to exchange ideas about how to improve the program.

For over 25 years we've had monthly meetings. But the focus of those meetings was more on recovery and less on business. My contention is that we're supposed to take care of our recovery in 12 step meetings or with our sponsors. Because 80% of running a nonprofit corporation is about business and 20% is about the mission of helping addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives. And our housing and business operations support our mission very well. But we can do more to help our recovering population if we run it in a more businesslike fashion.

For example, we often get into problems over simple things. Because we have some 70 parcels of property and around 900 residents we spend a lot of money and time on maintenance problems. A house manager may call for help with a leaky toilet or an air conditioning unit that's not functioning properly. He calls his supervisor, the district manager, who relays the information to our air-conditioning department or our maintenance people.

But many times – not always – a maintenance crew will arrive and address the problem then leave without telling the manager they completed the project. Perhaps the manager was off property running an errand, or else dealing with another issue on the property and was unaware that the maintenance people had even been there or if they fixed the problem.

As a solution, the manager of our maintenance people came up with a good answer: when a house manager needs something repaired or looked at, he submits a work order which gets passed up the chain of command to the chief operating officer. The chief operating officer sends a work order out to the appropriate department and thus creates a paper trail that describes the problem and how it was resolved. When the job is completed the house manager signs the invoice. Copies of work orders are then scanned into a database so that we have a history of the issues at each property.

While this may seem like a no-brainer or a simple thing for those who run large businesses, one must keep in mind that TLC from top to bottom is managed by addicts and alcoholics. And many of them have no experience with this type of organization. Or maybe they've never worked at all until they came to us.

Another thing in our managers often learn while they're volunteering at our houses is that dealing with addicts is not simple. But once again, I emphasize that it's all about communication.

Many of our clients show up from prison or off the streets and are frustrated and angry. Our natural impulse is to get angry in return. But the appropriate way to deal with an angry client is to simply listen. That often resolves the issue. But if it doesn't, and they continue to be angry or if they start to threaten our staff we usually ask them to leave. And if they don't, we tell them that we'll call the police and have them removed from the premises.

If we can deal with angry clients and calm them down before we get to this point, we save ourselves problems. On a few occasions, we've actually been involved in lawsuits because clients thought they were treated unfairly or that they were disrespected by a manager. And while we've never lost one of these lawsuits, we still went to the expense of hiring an attorney and sometimes spending months and weeks until we reach a resolution.

Communication is important in every realm of life but especially when we're dealing with people's lives and futures.

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