OCEAN CITY — Charles “Buddy” Jenkins doesn’t like the word legacy. He downright loathes it. Yet, that doesn’t mean that he won’t be remembered for generations to come as being one of the region’s entrepreneurial visionaries.
But, Jenkins has also put his stamp on the community in many other ways. For instance, he co-founded a school in 1970 (Worcester Preparatory School) at the request of his school teacher mother that has since become a pillar of private education in our community, and he turned tragedy in his own family into an addiction-focused organization that has helped others in the community battle addiction for almost three decades.
For Jenkins, life is about doing what you are supposed to do, and in the second part of an interview with him, he spoke about his passionate quest to stop addiction in our community, and how the heroin epidemic is something different than we’ve ever seen before.
Q: One of the things you have been very passionate about over the course of almost 30 years is what you’ve done for families who are battling addiction in our region. I’m talking about the Joan W. Jenkins Foundation, the Atlantic Club’s Worcester County Addictions Cooperative Services, also known as the WACS Center. At an event in 2012, you said that the foundation came out of personal tragedy for your family, and I know that you have lived through many family tragedies in your life. You said, “our family decided to do what it could to reverse the addiction cycle, and that’s how we came up with the Joan W. Jenkins Foundation.” I know you’ve been following our ‘Curing Our Coast’ series on the heroin epidemic in our region. As you look at the WACS center and the foundation’s role in the battle against addiction almost 30 years later, is it doing what you hoped it would?
A: It is, but let me make one thing very clear: as we look at addiction, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, as we look at that, we have to look at the big picture. The big picture is scary to many people because they are laboring under the idea that there is a quick fix. There is no quick fix.
There is an extended timeline. So, what I want you to do as we look at this timeline as I answer this question is to look at a timeline, a beginning and an end. The beginning of a timeline is the point when people start playing around with alcohol or playing around with opioids. The end can be tragic, it can be death, and it can be a recovery process. The objective of everybody in this field is to shorten the endline, which could be death or all kinds of terrible things that we are now experiencing like broken homes or burglaries or crime.
So, the objective then as we look at this, we, being everyone involved, is to be realistic. Now realism tells you that it’s not something that just happened. So, realism would also have to tell you that it’s something that isn’t going to get fixed quickly. So, let’s take a couple of examples: what’s the age that we are seeing these young people playing around or experimenting with alcohol or these opioids?
Q: We are seeing it as young as middle school…
A: Right, fifth or sixth grade. So, if we are going to look for a reasonable solution to that, we have to look at the problems first, not the solutions. You have to have a clear understanding of what the problems are before you can wrap that around and find the solution that will give you the bigger bang for the buck. So, if they are playing around with that, you need to have an educational process that must be in the public school system. It must be to have any meaningful effect.
There must be a step up on the part of the state and the public school system to begin the education of these fifth and sixth graders. Why? Because part of the problem is broken homes, mothers who are addicted, fathers who are addicted, grandparents who are addicted and the child is getting opioids from the medicine cabinet. There is a value system that has steadily decreased in this country, and [to reverse this] it has to begin with a value system that is taught in a public fashion. I’m reminded of a couple of our friends down in the lower eastern shore in Accomac and Northampton [Virginia] counties. I was reading about the birthrates down there, and I read that seven out of 10 children that are born are from unwed mothers.
So, let’s take a look at that. Without the father’s influence, there is a void in the values that both mother and father teach. But, if you look at the problems, we have major issues as to why they are unwed. One might have to look at the entitlement system where it pays to be unwed because of aid to dependent families, because of food stamps and entitlements of all stripes. Let me say this, as you look at this timeline from beginning to end, you have many slices in the pie. Each of those slices have to be addressed in a meaningful way, and it has to do its share of its responsibility because otherwise, if it’s not addressed in a meaningful way, it puts pressure on the next slice so you are not getting the full impact of what we are trying to do which is decrease that end line, whether that’s death or incarceration, or crime. So, as we look at all these slices in the pie, what I did when our family began to get involved because of the tragedies that happened, I looked at how we could take three basic slices and weld them together into one facility.
You had meetings (AA and NA) all over this town in churches or fire halls, so when we bought the Joan Jenkins building out there, it became the perfect fit for these slices. The next slice, now that we had a place to meet, was the slice of counseling. I met with the top people in the state and the county, and created what today is now seven or eight counselors that are aiding in behavioral health and addictions. And the other one, which might be the most important slice, is the ability to change the person’s environment as to who and where they meet. It’s called a social slice. That social slice is critical because if you are an addict and you are trying to recover, you can’t go back to the same acquaintances or environment. You have to develop a sense of pride. Pride is earned. It can’t be given. We have different committees like a food committee to feed the poor or social activities where you are meeting new people. But the biggest thing is, you are learning to give. Unless you give, you can’t get. It’s just that simple. So it’s a spiritual growth, and I’m not talking about a denomination. It’s a spiritual growth process, and without that, it would be almost impossible to not relapse.
Q: We hear all the time about rural health and the challenges in providing care and long-term treatment in specialized things like addiction. I wonder if down here, if you think it’s any more important to have services like what is offered at the Atlantic Club and the WACS Center when so much of the resort community is based around, as many would say, excess. You know, too much fun, too much food, too much drink, too much sun?
A: Well, there’s no question about it. We also have many people who come here for a geographical cure, and they are still addicted. So, the population continues to rise. We have well over 50,000 people on an annual basis on that property out there. That’s adding up all the counselors, all the meetings, all the people they are seeing and the social activities, in addition to the drug bus [which provides methadone] five days a week. We’re a slice of the pie. If you look at alcoholics and drug addicts, alcoholics have a better opportunity to get cleaner, sooner. However, they have long lasting effects. For drug addicts, it can take up to five years. So, [drug addicts] are always going to be, from a relapse standpoint, in a tougher situation.
I’m not aware of another county in the entire state of Maryland that is as up to speed as we are. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have eons to grow. But, when I say ‘up to speed’ I’m talking about where many of the slices of this ‘pie’ that I’ve been talking about come together. On the alcohol and drug commission, we have the Sheriff’s Department, the State Police and the Ocean City Police Department. We have a representative from our slice of the pie and we have a member from the Board of Education. We have Juvenile Services representative, and one from AGH, which is critical. We have the State’s Attorney, and we have a new little group that’s been organized that’s spiritual in nature called the Warriors [Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction]. So, we’ve got a good, broad, base, because it lets us see if we are making progress or not or where the next issue may be. I can’t say enough about our relationship with the County Health Department. They have been lock-step with us all the way.
Q: I know Governor Larry Hogan came to the WACS Center a few weeks ago and you were with him during that visit. As you look at the focus his administration has taken in regards to the opioid epidemic in our state, how encouraging is that for you, someone who has been on the front line of the battle against addiction for almost 30 years, that a sitting governor in our state has made it such an important issue?
A: I’m so proud of him for opening up the closet door and saying, ‘hey, I’ve had a problem in our family group,’ ‘hey, we’ve got an issue and we’ve got to go full force to do whatever we can to address this issue.’ It’s huge. He deserves all the credit in the world for opening it up.
It’s no longer an issue of a certain group of people. It’s everywhere. When the little Warriors group got together and had their first meeting at the church out on Route 50, there were 258 people there. Who were those people? They were doctors, lawyers, mothers, fathers and people who didn’t know what to do or how to do it. That’s wonderful. That comes from opening it up and saying this is a society problem. This is not just for a select group, this is for everybody.
With the heroin epidemic, it is everywhere. So, we have a lot to be thankful for, but make no mistake about it, [the heroin epidemic] can bring this country down.
Q: You are so passionate and knowledgeable about this subject and you have done a great deal for this community, but I wonder as you look at your own legacy and your contribution to the community, do you feel that most people will look merely at the success of your businesses and perhaps your contribution to the community in the realm of addiction has been underscored because of your success in business?
A: I think the worst word in the English language is ‘legacy.’ That is bulls*&t, and you can print that. Legacy is bulls*&t. You do what you are supposed to do.
(Editor’s Note: To listen to the entire conversation, click over to The Dispatch’s Download at www.mdcoastdispatch.com/podcasts.)