A founding mother of New Directions for Women
Author, philanthropist, and recovery activist Faith Strong’s name describes her to a “tee”. As an activist and philanthropist, Strong spent most of her life conducting retreats, workshops and seminars that focus on “transformational and spiritual growth.” She believed in giving in all sorts of ways: giving in the way we listen to people, forgiving others, and helping others with a problem. She believed all of us could be teachers and all of us could be learners.
“Contributing” and “investing” are not synonymous in Faith’s view. Anyone can simply mail in a donation check. Faith doesn’t simply donate, but she invests and becomes a partner in every organization she is passionate about. She also encourages others to stretch themselves in their giving. “I know I am blessed to be able to give, but everyone can,” says Strong. “I give away 75 percent of my income now, but I still have a good income. Everyone should start giving 10 percent, like the Bible says. It’s like they say: When you give, it comes back double, although that should not be the reason for giving.”
Strong has always been active in charities, such as A Place Called Home, The Hunger Project, Greenpeace, and New Directions for Women, a Costa Mesa-based addiction treatment center for women, pregnant women, and women with their children, for which she signed the incorporation papers in 1977. Her good friend and neighbor, Pam Wilder, had the visionary idea to create a residential rehab for women suffering from addiction because there were none. Faith became involved in the very beginning, and never stopped sharing her time, talent, and treasure.
Faith has run groups for the patients at NDFW including groups on her books “Distractions That Keep Us from Being Who We Are and Doing What We Really Want to Do” (1997) and “The Glories of Sobriety” (2010) which she wrote specifically for New Directions for Women. She conceptualized it while leading a group and realizing none of the women in early recovery in that room could imagine their lives sober, a year from that point. She wanted to create a book of stories that shared the miracles that show up in long term sobriety.
In the last few years while she couldn’t walk in and lead a group anymore, she continued to stay committed and vigilant about creating her vision of a sober world. She gifted Roberto Martinez’s landscaping art to the NDFW campus, creating butterfly gardens and gorgeous healing spaces for women and children to soak up, day in and day out, to set them up on a journey of recovery. The butterfly is a symbol of recovery and has always been the logo of New Directions for Women. By gifting NDFW with butterfly gardens throughout the campus, she gave the patients a tangible reminder that the difficult chrysalis they’re going through will result in the beauty of a butterfly – a completely transformed life.
Faith would share her story with our patients to show that recovery is possible. She would share that she herself would refuse to confront her alcoholism for years, until in 1942 her brother David flew out to her in La Jolla and said “Honey, if you don’t shape up, I’m gonna take away your six kids.” She reached out for help in AA to get well – before there were any rehabs for women available. She didn’t want to get into AA because she was afraid of losing all her friends, which she did. But, she made a whole new world of friends in Alcoholics Anonymous, that were there to help her and vice versa.
As a recovered alcoholic of 55 years, Strong also created Pills Anonymous, the first 12-step program for addiction to prescription medication in La Jolla during the 1960s. When she requested that the meeting be listed in the local AA directory, she was turned down. She went ahead with the meeting and people came, despite it not being publicized, thanks to word-of-mouth. In 1983, she founded “Creating a Sober World,” a project that led to the first Alcoholics Anonymous in the Soviet Union three years later. She had learned of the grip alcoholism had on the USSR and committed to bringing AA behind the Iron Curtain, with government approval, despite the US and the Soviet Union still being entrenched in the Cold War. After the project finally received Soviet-government approval, she received an anonymous phone call from someone asking, “Why are you going over there to help the enemy?”
“I let that all blow over me because I had made this commitment,” says Strong, who joined other former addicts-turned-certified drug counselors and recovery advocates in first going to Moscow in June 1986, and then spreading out throughout the Communist country. By then, Mikhail Gorbachev was referring to alcoholism as a “green snake” choking his country, she recalls.
AA and Al-Anon now flourish in Russia, where Strong is considered a founder of the programs. “I’ll never forget the first meeting, when Russian alcoholics got up and told their stories for the first time. They just lit up. The way they handled alcoholism before was they threw you in jail. It shows what one person can do with a commitment.” Carrying that gift to another physical location has provided the Russian people with a tool that has outlasted any of us. We can only wonder how many people she has impacted by just starting one meeting and carrying the message of hope.
In August 2018, she received the Father Joseph C. Martin Professional Excellence Award and Ashley Addiction Treatment Innovator Award for a lifetime of advocacy and philanthropy to help people fight alcoholism and drug addiction, focused on finding ways to help individuals and their families achieve long-term recovery. Faith wants people to know that no one is immune from the devastation of addiction, and there is no shame in asking for help to beat it. “I want to abolish anonymity,” says Strong. “It’s old hat, and it’s not needed any more.” The founder of New Directions for Women, Pamela Wilder, used to come to Faith and ask for money to support the fledgling nonprofit. Faith would give, with the stipulation it would need to be anonymous. Faith shared it just drove Pam crazy to not be able to use her name. One day, Pam came to her with an idea: naming a home at NDFW “Faith House.” She didn’t say yes right away, but then she realized she was hiding behind anonymity and began opening up about her giving and her sobriety.
Faith’s vision has always been to have a sober world; a healthier, brighter world that works in unison with each other at every single level to create prosperity, love and joy for all. We will continue working towards that goal in Faith’s honor, one day at a time.