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Posted: October 14th, 2016 | Cover stories, News, Top Story | No Comments

Stepping Stone gala to celebrate 40 years

Morgan M. Hurley | Editor

Throughout 2016, Stepping Stone San Diego (SSSD) has been celebrating its 40th year as the premier LGBT residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in San Diego with a series of mini celebrations, all which are about to culminate in one big party.

A fundraising gala — called “Live Out Loud” — to celebrate Stepping Stone’s four decades in operation, will take place Oct. 22, 6–10 p.m., at Swiss Park, located at 2001 Main St. in Chula Vista.

Stepping Stone, the premier LGBT in patient drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in San Diego, will celebrate their 40th anniversary on Oct. 22. (Courtesy SSSD)

Stepping Stone, the premier LGBT in patient drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in San Diego, will celebrate their 40th anniversary on Oct. 22. (Courtesy SSSD)

Longtime executive director Cheryl Houk calls the 40th anniversary a “momentous occasion.”

“What started as a small lesbian and gay alcohol and drug recovery home opened by gay men in recovery all those years ago is still operating today and that says a lot about San Diego,” Houk said. “Since 1976, thanks to County of San Diego funding, SSSD has provided services to thousands of LGBT people needing to free themselves from alcoholism and drug addiction.

“Right in the midst of those 40 years the AIDS epidemic arrived, taking a huge toll on the gay men’s population and devastating our community,” she continued. “SSSD was hit particularly hard by AIDS and it took the lives of many residents as well as staff.”

Houk who left the organization in 2006, returned last year after nearly a decade, to much fanfare.

So far 30 of the 35 available tables at the gala have already been purchased, with most of those individuals having deeply-rooted connections to the place they fondly call “The Stone.” As a result, Live Out Loud will be like a reunion of sorts.

“Because there has been such a long tradition of people who have gone through Stepping Stone and able to get their lives back, a lot of times they like to have the opportunity to come back see the people they went through the program with, thank the staff that may have been involved, or just be able to celebrate an organization that was a big part of a point in their life,” said Michael Moore, Stepping Stone board chair.

And people are coming from far and wide to honor that connection.

“We have one person — who I’d never seen his name before — and he’s getting one of our VIP tables,” Moore said. “He said it was a really special year for him to come back because he is celebrating 20 years sobriety after Stepping Stone, and he had been a staff member later on as it turns out. “He is coming back with a group of people from San Francisco.”

(l to r) Board Chair Michael Moore and Executive Director Cheryl Houk are looking forward to Stepping Stone's 40th anniversary gala. (Courtesy SSSD)

(l to r) Board Chair Michael Moore and Executive Director Cheryl Houk are looking forward to Stepping Stone’s 40th anniversary gala. (Courtesy SSSD)

After a number of very shaky years, the organization has made a complete turnaround — much like its mission for others — and Moore is said to be one of the reasons for that transformation. Since Moore took over as board chair in 2015, fundraising is at an all-time high.

“We’re in a remarkably different situation than we were a year ago,” he said. “Outside of 40 years of celebrating, this has been one of our largest years of fundraising since they did the capital campaign for the new building [in 2001]. So it has helped us get a lot of stability back into the organization.”

Another reason things turned around so quickly was the much-celebrated return of Houk, who returned to the position last November after some coaxing by Moore.

“Obviously Cheryl coming back was a huge help,” Moore said. “She brings back a lot of confidence in the community and just a lot of really good, skilled leadership,” Moore said.

“She just loves to be back, you can just see it,” he said. “Each time I see her you can just tell she is back in her element and really loves it.”

Moore said their newfound stability is also a result of their many dedicated donors. The organization raised a total of $165,000 in fiscal 2015, which ended in June. That not only puts them on even footing, but he said it gives them a “comfortable reserve” for the first time in years and a solid cushion “that will help the organization as it moves forward.”

“As a board we feel very proud of it,” he said.

And that couldn’t come at a better time, with four decades worth of current and former residents, staff, board members, clients and donors soon descending upon Swiss Park, an outdoor-indoor banquet facility.

Leslie Jordan will act as host for the Live Out Loud gala. (Courtesy SSSD)

Leslie Jordan will act as host for the Live Out Loud gala. (Courtesy SSSD)

Both Houk and Moore said the dedicated staff are also a big part of the celebration and deserve thanks.

“They are the ones that day to day that make sure that the services that the clients are getting are the best available,” Moore said.

Live Out Loud will start at 6 p.m., with a carnival atmosphere out on the lawn, Moore said. Magicians and illusionists will roam the grounds, creating a carnival mood while attendees mingle and socialize, play games, ride a giant Ferris Wheel, take photos with friends and bid on silent auction items.

At 7:30 p.m. the party will move inside and the official gala program will begin. Dinner will be served — beef, chicken and a vegetarian option —followed by several different speakers, special alumni and staff chosen from throughout the years who will talk about what Stepping Stone did for them, where they are now and share their overall experiences.

Longtime volunteer and former staff member Alice Henry will present the inaugural “Alice and Ross Service Award.” The award was first dedicated to Henry and her husband Ross in June at a tile ceremony. Ross passed away a few weeks later.

Following Alice will be remarks from the board and then the host of the evening, Leslie Jordan, will take the stage. Jordan has longtime ties with Stepping Stone, having performed and shared his journey several times over the years, and Moore said it “made sense” to have him at the 40th anniversary celebration.

Longtime volunteer and former staff member Alice Henry will present the inaugural "Alice and Ross Service Award," named after Alice and her husband, at the Live Out Loud gala. (Courtesy SSSD)

Longtime volunteer and former staff member Alice Henry will present the inaugural “Alice and Ross Service Award,” named after Alice and her husband, at the Live Out Loud gala. (Courtesy SSSD)

Nearly 40 volunteers will be on hand to put the event together, including local residents who work for the Title Sponsor, Foresters Financial.

“That’s a pretty exciting thing,” Moore said. “They are very new to us in terms of being a sponsor. They were really interested in reaching out to the LGBT community and were drawn to Stepping Stone and its overall mission. So we ended up being an organization they wanted to start a partnership with and the gala is the first part of that, but we’re really excited.”

Thanks to all their generous sponsors, 100 percent of proceeds from the event will go to Stepping Stone programs and services.

Live Out Loud takes place Oct. 22, starting at 6 p.m. at Swiss Park in Chula Vista. Tickets to the carnival and dinner and entertainment are $125. A cash bar will be available. Cocktail or business style attire is requested.

For more information including tickets, visit steppingstone.org.

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at morgan@sdcnn.com.

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