‘I should have known better’: Betty Ford's son helps others battling addiction in Sarasota

At First Step in Sarasota, workers are adding the finishing touches to a building designed to bring hope.

"You want to give them a chance to do the hard work to transform their lives back to a healthy state," shared Steve Ford, son of President Gerald and First Lady Betty Ford, 

Forty men from the Sarasota County Jail will soon be housed here as part of the CORT program, Community Offender Rehabilitative Treatment Program. It's a new program designed to bring a wide range of techniques to those facing drug and alcohol addictions, along with mental illness.

"The disease of addiction…listen, It’s outside the door every day doing pushups waiting," explained Ford.

Ford fought his own alcohol addiction and has been sober for nearly 30 years. Now, he works to help others.

"I should have known better. My mother was Betty Ford. Former first lady raises her hand and says, ‘My name is Betty, I’m an alcoholic’. My safety net was a lot bigger than people who have a chance to go through a program like this. That’s the important thing that there’s a place, there’s a pathway to wellness whether it be mental health, addiction, recovery, somebody can come and get started to transform their life," he said.

Friday night, Ford will work to raise awareness as the Sunshine From Darkness event takes place. It's a fundraiser started by the Lee and Bob Peterson Foundation. Over the last 15 years, they've helped raise $6 million for research and programs like First Step.

"That’s a big part of it, having the community support the event, and really addressing stigma which we do at the event," said Jeffrey Peterson the president & CEO of the Lee and Bob Peterson Foundation.

The CORT program hopes to break those stigmas.

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"We will be able to meet people where they are," said Shawny Robey the president & CEO of First Step. "They have different needs, backgrounds, levels of trauma that have landed them in this position. This will be different because they will have very individualized attention."

Robey and those working at First Step hope to bring hope, to those who've lost it.

"There's a true belief that this approach, will help people get off the streets, stop committing the crimes they are committing," she commented.

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Sunshine from Darkness, a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to the funding of mental health research and local mental health services and programs, will present the Journey to Wellness Symposium on Saturday, November 13.

National and local mental health practitioners and scientists will discuss new treatments, discoveries, and insights on mental health issues. Topics will include better treatments for childhood disorders, creating a trauma-informed community, the impact of COVID-19 on young people, childhood and adolescent anxiety, and the nature of depression. A question-and-answer period will follow the program.

The Journey to Wellness Symposium will take place from 8:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the Sarasota Hyatt Regency (1000 Boulevard of the Arts). The event is free and open to the public.

LINK: For more information visit, sunshinefromdarkness.org.


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