WACS Center Makeover Draws State, Local Officials

WEST OCEAN CITY — Several state and local dignitaries were on hand last Friday afternoon to celebrate the recently completed renovation of the Joan W. Jenkins Foundation Atlantic Club’s Worcester County Addictions Cooperative Services (WACS) Center on Route 50 in West Ocean City.

Since 1988, the WACS Center has been housed in a building owned by the Joan W. Jenkins Foundation and operated in part by the Atlantic Club, a recovery organization that hosts 12-step groups, and the Worcester County Health Department Addictions Program, which offers an addiction clinic. The facility recently completed a roughly $400,000 renovation project, which was celebrated by state and local officials and business leaders last Friday.

Charles “Buddy” Jenkins said the concept for the Joan W. Jenkins Foundation, the Atlantic Club and the WACS Center was borne out of personal tragedy experienced by his family.

“Twenty-some years ago, we lost one child and then another as a result of alcohol and drugs,” he said. “Our family decided to do what we could to reverse the addiction cycle and that’s how we came up with the Joan W. Jenkins Foundation.”

Jenkins said the family owned the property, a former Japanese restaurant, and modified the existing building to accommodate the new substance abuse treatment facility. The building was relatively unchanged for over two decades before the major renovation completed this year.

“We started getting together a concept I hadn’t seen in any other part of the country,” he said. “We had the building, and that was the first of what I call the stepping stones of progress. The closer those stepping stones are brought together, the less chance there is for a relapse.”

Jenkins said that original building eventually led to the success of the programs the facility houses today.

“It began with a building and a place to meet,” he said. “Then they started having more and more meetings, and different kinds of meetings. I could not envision where we are today to where we were 24 years ago.”

Despite the good work carried out at the WACS Center in West Ocean City, and similar programs across Maryland and throughout the country, addiction continues be growing problem, according to Jenkins.

“The bad news is, the worst plague ever inflicted on mankind is addiction,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, there are 15 million people in this country facing an addiction. If they impact just seven people, that’s 105 million. That’s one-third of the population in the U.S. Those are the ripple effects of addiction. That’s why this is such a special celebration.”

Jenkins said 40,000 to 50,000 patients go through the WACS center including as many as 175 at one time. Because of the increase in the need for services, the original facility had to be completely remodeled and reconfigured.

“We were really a victim of our own success,” he said. “We had so many people coming through here, we had to reconfigure the space to meet the growing need.”

The project’s budget came in at just under $400,000, of which the state’s Board of Public Works agreed to contribute 75 percent, or around $288,000. Worcester County ponied up around $100,000 and the rest came from private-sector donations through agencies such as the American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City and the Community Foundation.

“The public, private and community relationships allowed us to accomplish this,” he said. “We were able to do what you see here today because of those partnerships.”

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who was on hand for the renovation celebration, last Friday praised Jenkins for his vision and the WACS Center for carrying out that vision.

“You were able to turn tragedy in your life into triumph for so many others,” said Brown, who visited the facility prior to the renovation. “I don’t recognize this place. It’s amazing you were able to do so much with $400,000. It was a world class operation for what it had done, now it looks world class.”

Brown said one of the administration’s 15 strategic priorities following the election in 2008 was to increase access to substance abuse treatment by 25 percent by 2012. He said the O’Malley administration had already exceeded that goal.

“Today, we’ve improved access to substance abuse treatment by 27 percent, and much of that was in 2011,” he said. “The number of addictions-related deaths in Maryland has gone down by nine percent since 2008. We couldn’t do that without strong public-private relationships.”

Despite continuing budget problems, O’Malley’s budget for fiscal year 2013 includes $163 million for substance abuse treatment, representing a nine-percent increase over the prior fiscal year.

“In an era when flat-lined budgets are the new norm, we’ve been able to add more money for substance abuse treatment,” he said. “There is no such thing as a spare Marylander. Everyone has something of value to contribute. We did that because we believe everybody deserves to be saved.”