Online Article | By Albert H. Fulcher
Originally Published in East County Californian | September 25, 2013

It began in 1977 working with a brilliant, whirlwind psychiatrist who believed that people with personal experience were more effective than his own profession. After realizing that working with the San Diego County was too much for a person with his independence, he quit. But the people that ran his drug and alcohol rehabilitation program decided to press forward. That was when McAlister Institute was born.

Jeanne McAlister, chief operations officer and founder of McAlister Institute, said it provides drug and alcohol services at low cost for the indigent and it does residential, outpatient for adults and have three of the only adolescent detox facilities in California.

Now with 26 different programs and 158 employees, this El Cajon start-up now serves communities throughout San Diego County.

McAlister said they were first in dealing with pregnant women and adolescents with addiction. She said “back then” they were just labeled as bad people because many did not understand the nature of addiction.

“People with addictions can contact our office and I always give my cell phone number out (619)-987-6393,” said McAlister. “People think that is crazy, but I am in recovery myself and I don’t have time to do a 12-step, so that is my 12-step program, keeping myself always available to people who need help.”

People with addiction can visit the website at, call any of the centers, walk in and see what program fits a persons need. If none do, someone will refer you to a program that does, she said.

“With our programs, we have facilities in Oceanside, South Bay, three houses for kids, a 180-bed facility in Lemon Grove and many more throughout the county,” she said. “We are looking at the possibility of building a treatment campus and getting some of our programs all in one place. I am meeting with an architect and working on getting renderings for this facility now.”

McAlister said it just had its annual walk in June, “A Celebration of Sobriety” and wants to build on that.

Her granddaughter, who graduated from USC is working for her and what she noticed was that a lot of people talk about drug and alcohol abuse, but they don’t talk about all the positive things that come out of being sober.

“We encourage people that are not in our programs to come out and celebrate with us,” she said. “It was heartwarming at our last walk, we had a whole family there where the addict had 909 days drug free. Members of the family said, ‘after 909 days I have my daughter back, after 909 days I have my mother back and my sister back.’ It is really important and wonderful to see the non-addicts supporting our patients and the programs they participate in to help them stay sober.”

Her granddaughter, Marisa Varond, director of development, organized the walk and said the walk was amazing.

“It’s from my interactions with the clients and families that drive me,” said Varond. “I am not an alcoholic or drug addict, but I grew up around it. I’ve seen how the programs work. I see people going back to school, having long careers, being back with their families and these are the things that the walk celebrates.”

McAlister said she has a lot of great people that work with her that make the programs successful, and her “look good.”

“I have people working for me that went through programs here 20 to 25 years ago,” she said. “They have to be out of our programs for two years before I will hire them. Many of them have worked with me now for more than 20 years.”

McAlister Institute focuses mainly on drug and alcohol addiction for people of all ages, but it also provides sexual harassment help and training for other organizations.

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