FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 2, 2022
Angel Donor, Buckelew Programs and Community Join Forces to Rescue Crucial Addiction Treatment and Sober Housing for Women and their Children
$2.1 million infusion breathes life back into Sonoma County’s Athena House and Hope Village
SANTA ROSA, CA – Barely one month after the emotional closure of Athena House, which provided 40 treatment beds for low-income and formerly incarcerated women dealing with substance use, a unique coalition of service providers, alumni and a prominent real estate developer banded together to save the crucial 50-year-old program.
Athena House closed July 29 and was listed for sale by California Human Development, the private operator. Its sister sober-living campus, Hope Village, also was slated for closure and sale, putting approximately 30 women and their children at risk of homelessness. At the 11th hour, Bill and Cindy Gallaher of Santa Rosa, a real estate and banking family, have stepped forward to purchase Hope Village for $2.115 million as a gift to the community. The Gallahers also pledged to build a new Athena House on the 2.2-acre Hope campus and renovate existing old buildings at their own expense – an anticipated $1 million cost. Escrow closed Aug. 31.
Buckelew Programs, the North Bay’s largest nonprofit provider of behavioral health social services since 1970, has agreed to operate Hope Village and will participate in the Sonoma County Behavioral Health procurement process for residential treatment to run the new Athena House. The Gallahers will rent the campus to Buckelew for $1 annually.
“We are in awe of the Gallahers’ generosity and immensely grateful for the passionate and swift advocacy by Athena House alumni, current and past elected officials, service providers, and women’s advocates,” said Buckelew Programs CEO Chris Kughn, LMFT. “It was the best ‘Hail Mary’ campaign I have ever seen.”
Buckelew already provides direct services to more than 3,000 individuals annually, which includes the Helen Vine Recovery Center, sober living homes, and other supported housing programs. With Hope Village and Athena house, Kughn added, “Buckelew intends to continue the traditions of creating pathways for women to gain healing, reunify with their children, gain employment, obtain stability, and so much more.”
“We are proud to partner with Buckelew and to ensure this needed program in our community continues to serve the many that are desperate for what it offers,” said the Gallahers, founders of Poppy Bank and Gallaher Companies, a development firm. “When we learned that Hope Village was to be closed and the program there discontinued, we were dismayed that yet another contingent of women, some with children, were in real danger of being added to the homeless of Santa Rosa. After touring the property, meeting the women who live there and the program managers who have served this program for many years, we were impressed by the commitment shown by all, and saddened by the poor living conditions they had tolerated for many years. As builders, the most meaningful way for us to impact our community is through the construction of needed housing, so we decided to purchase these properties to do just that.”
The closure of Athena House touched a raw nerve in Sonoma County, which experienced 122 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021, representing a 92% spike in mortality rates from 2019, according to California Department of Public Health data. The county has the second highest rate of overdoses in the Bay Area, following San Francisco. Fentanyl is increasingly to blame, with 70% fatal overdoses linked to the synthetic opioid. Even more troubling, within the past three years two Santa Rosa toddlers died from fentanyl consumption, most recently a 15-month-old girl in May. Meanwhile, there is a significant lack of substance use recovery beds, and wait lists are common.
“We want to express our gratitude to the Gallaher Family,” said Melissa Struzzo, substance use disorder services section manager for the Sonoma County Health Services Department. “Sonoma County already had a significant need for SUD treatment services and recovery housing before the announced closures. This substantial contribution will have a profound impact on the County’s SUD System of Care and will bring critical treatment and recovery housing options for single, parenting and pregnant women.”
Grassroots efforts to purchase and save Athena House (listed for sale at $3 million) and Hope Village (listed at $2.2 million) included a GoFundMe and a gala that raised about $15,000 total.
“I feel so much relief since Bill and Cindy Gallaher stepped in. We’re saving lives and reunifying families. That’s how huge this is,” said Jasmine Palmer, an Athena House alumna who spearheaded the fundraisers and outreach to county and state officials for support.
“We were all tenacious,” said former Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “When Brooke Igleheart Ross, an Athena House graduate and now a Realtor, called me Friday morning to ask for help with connections to bankers, I called friend and Poppy Bank board member Komron Shahhossein. With only three hours left before offers were due on the property, Komron called Bill and Cindy, and they made their generous offer.”
The Gallahers were on vacation when Shahhossein called and made their offer sight unseen.
“We had all but given up, and then one phone call changed it all. The partnership between the Gallahers, Buckelew and Athena House Directors Sylvie De La Cruz and Cynthia Pardo Nieto (who have joined the Buckelew team) is kismet,” said Igleheart Ross. “Being part of this effort as the Gallahers’ Realtor will forever be the most meaningful experience of my life.”
Molly Gallaher Flater, Gallaher Family
Ilene Lelchuk Snyder, Buckelew Programs media liaison
Phone: (415) 298-1670
Sylvie De La Cruz, Athena House alumna and longtime director
Phone: (707) 548-2571
Additional stakeholders and Athena House advocates will be available to speak about this journey and what this program’s survival means to them. Reach out to Ilene Lelchuk Snyder at email@example.com for more information.