Supervisor Kristin Gaspar’s Grit, Passion, and Purpose

The depths of darkness as an addict are hard to understand unless one has lived it. During my time as a County Supervisor, I have met some extraordinary people who not only lived it but came out of it with grit and a purpose. In honor of National Recovery Month, I want to introduce you to Tommy, Jennifer, Dave and Scott; heroes with hope.
Tommy Hathorn’s introduction to marijuana and alcohol started when he was 12. He moved on to cocaine at 13 and it wasn’t long before he landed in juvenile hall and his first stint in rehab. None of it phased him. Tommy got addicted to meth and heroine and lost count of how many times police had arrested him. His turning point happened when he was living in a stolen car on Fiesta Island and was arrested again. Haunted by not being able to see his 9 year old daughter and girlfriend, he cleaned up and dried out. Fast forward 15 years to today. As Executive Director of Genesis Recovery San Diego and founder of Boardwalk Recovery, Tommy has become an expert at recognizing that haunted look in people’s eyes and helping them crawl out of their dark space. He is proof that innovative, community-based solutions can transform lives by addressing the underlying issues that can lead to a life of addiction, homelessness and even crime. And so it is because of Tommy’s passion and purpose that I presented him with a County proclamation during National Recovery Month.

Solutions for Jen

Jennifer Pankey was just 8 when she first smoked pot and 11 when she started using meth. Growing up, Jen felt unlovable and that her life didn’t matter. When Child Protective Services took her baby away and threatened to take her toddler too, reality… hit… hard. Jen went into rehab and was accepted into the Solutions for Change program, a North County non-profit that equips families with the skills and resources to pull themselves out of homelessness. The mother of two has worked at Solutions for 8 years now, has been promoted several times and currently serves as its Director of Workforce Development. She is the first Solutions graduate to hold a senior management position in the organization. Her oldest daughter is a college sophomore and her youngest is a confident, aspiring singer. Jen is celebrating 10 years of sobriety!

Rebel With a Cause 

Dave Durocher saw the inside of a jail cell when he was just 13. By 38, he had been arrested 12 times, spending roughly 15 years in prison. He remembers being an addict, a liar, and caring only about himself. In 2005, when he was in a high speed chase with LA Police, Dave was facing 30 years in prison. He was determined not to go back to prison so he attempted suicide by cop. That didn’t work so he found himself begging a judge for an opportunity to go to Delancey Street, a residential rehabilitation program. In what the judge called “the chance of a lifetime”, he allowed Dave a shot at Delancey Street but warned him about the three-decade prison sentence waiting for him if he messed up. Dave successfully completed the two-year program and went on to become Delancey’s Managing Director, responsible for 250 residents and several vocational programs. In 2015, Dave helped launch a similar program called The Other Side Academy (TOSA) where he is now the Executive Director. Recently, they opened another academy in Denver and have plans to open several more around the country, including San Diego.

When I first heard about TOSA’s model, I had to see it for myself. I went to Salt Lake City, met with Dave and his team and talked with several people in the program. I was blown away! Back in San Diego, I immediately started working on creating this unique model in our region. TOSA’s motto is “We Save Lives by Changing Behavior”. The intense program teaches convicts, homeless, and addicts how to lead better lives by changing destructive personal behavior patterns, developing healthy social skills, taking responsibility for their own lives and valuable work skills. The academy is self-sustaining with the income generated by two businesses it owns and operates. Residents are required to work at those businesses or cook and clean to maintain the home they share. Used as an alternative to prison, the TOSA model saves local and state governments millions of dollars a year and it also contributes with its business taxes. My fellow County Supervisors gave the project their blessing, the Sheriff and the District Attorney are also on board so now, County staff is looking for the perfect piece of property for the academy.

“Unlicensed Pharmacist” Turned Coach

Southern Comfort. It’s the first drink Scott Silverman ever had. He was 14 and remembers it clearly. When he was 16 he started smoking marijuana and it wasn’t long before he moved on to meth, hallucinogens and cocaine and referred to himself as an “unlicensed pharmacist”. Scott’s heavy drinking, drug abuse and hard partying wasn’t recreational; it was his way of life. He felt invincible. Until he hit the proverbial brick wall when he was 30. When his attempt to take his own life didn’t work, he went into rehab. Scott took an interest in real estate and lost everything in the savings and loan scandal in the 1980’s. Seeing this as an opportunity to reinvent himself, Scott started a non-profit employment and reentry program for San Diegans who wanted to change their lives and ran it for 18 years. He has since written a book, become a crisis coach and started a treatment center called Confidential Recovery. Scott is also the Executive Director of Safe Homes Coalition, a non-profit I partnered with to reduce the amount of expired, unused opioids and prescription drugs sitting in medicine cabinets around the county. Our local statistics show that these drugs are getting into the hands of young people who often transition to heroin and then sadly, spiral out of control with the worst ending imaginable. At Scott has some valuable information to keep your family safe as well as a list of  prescription drug drop off locations around San Diego County. (Drop off locations) If you see Scott, please congratulate him on his 35 years of sobriety!

It’s these success stories that inspire me to continue to advocate for solutions that are driven by you, San Diegans with lived experience, grit, passion in your hearts to help others see their value… and purpose.


Photo Courtesy of Kristin Gaspar