Remembering Project Elan

Thirty years ago Project Elan closed its doors near the University of Minnesota campus. A long term residential treatment program for young women felon offenders, it had an astonishing success rate according to its final Executive Director, Sue Hastings, and the numerous “Elanies” who kept in touch across the years.

How successful? Maybe as high as 80%, or 20 times as successful with this population as any program before or since.

What happened? That’s a very good question.

Originally funded by the Ms. Foundation, and later several counties, Elan was seen as a possible alternative, diverting young mothers from prison and children from foster care.

Yes, that was one novel feature – children under 6 went off to Elan with their mothers. Mothers couldn’t use jail as a way to avoid looking after their children.

Other features? During the latter period of operation the program was housed in an old sorority house near the U. of MN. campus. Because the clients were young women it’s not surprising that the surrounding community assumed that the “girls” were just another bunch of college students.


The “girls,” mostly charged with drug related offenses and/or prostitution, began to respond to program and community expectations. They were, after all, mostly smart young women rebelling against frequently prominent families. Soon they were enrolling in classes.

Is anyone actually surprised that this would happen? Apparently a number of county agencies were.

“They’re supposed to be punished, not rewarded!”

“We must protect our real students from these….”

“Not in my backyard!”

And so on and on and on…

There were those in favor of the project, of course, including good Welfare and Child Protection case workers who saw caseloads ease and successful family reunification happening.

The Department of Corrections was mixed – they hated “losing the business,” but smart women were a handful to manage.

The overall result was that despite obvious success, socially, financially, and individually, continuing funding was denied and the doors closed. That’s not the worst of it.

The sad part is that another model that actually works was buried and individuals who could be receiving real, cost effective help continue to be denied proven approaches that have been around for over 30 years.

No, that’s not just true for this particular segment of the population. Four years after Elan closed I was terminated at the end of my probationary year as a counselor with a major Minnesota treatment provider. The reason? My clients weren’t relapsing!

My mistake. I thought the idea was to free people from their alcohol problems. Silly me.

But if you want to be free of yours, we haven’t forgotten how to help with that. If fact, unlike all of the others, we’ve even gotten better at it.

So, why wait? Give us a call and lets get started.

Doing Stuff…

Whenever we’re talking to new or prospective clients we’ll ask, “What have you tried doing about the problem?”

Some will mention having tried AA, or quitting on their own, or, really, nothing. All of these options have about the same chance of working for you – about 5%.

Others, particularly women, will say, “I’ve been going to therapy for years.” That’s when one of us will say, gently, “When it comes to alcohol abuse, going to therapy isn’t ‘doing something’. It’s talking about doing something.”

The problem with most attempts to quit or modify our drinking behaviors is that the efforts fall into two equally unproductive – and sometimes counter productive – categories. We’re either postponing actually doing something, or we’re doing things that don’t help.

The reality is, however, that changing an entrenched behavior is an active process, not a passive one. It means replacing the current problem behaviors with new productive one.

How do you go about doing that? That’s what we spend our time with you figuring out. Then we spend three months coaching you through the process of turning new ways of living into a life that’s better than the one you have now.

Your life does need to be better without the alcohol abuse because otherwise you’ll go back to the old one. That’s what happens with 95% of people who “go to rehab.” But it doesn’t have to happen to you.

Give us a call:
Toll Free: 888-541-6355
In L.A. or From Alaska: 310-541-6350

Community Service

“Doing stuff” – as we frequently recommend – can include various forms of helping out. Shogun, Jazz, and Sophie, our own canine therapists, recommend volunteering time and/or contributions to “Dog Town.”

We also recommend checking out organizations like Habitat For Humanity.

Need new social and recreational opportunities? Try the Audubon Society, or the American Contract Bridge League.

What are your choices and recommendations?

Let us know and we’ll add a new page to the website dedicated to social and recreational suggestions – something we can all use.

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Don’t forget – for more information or just to talk, one of us answers the phone personally from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Monday – Thursday, unless we are with clients, or from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

If we can’t answer, leave your name and number and one of us will usually be able to get back to you within an hour.Toll Free From the Lower 48 or Canada: 888-541-6350
In Los Angeles, or from Alaska: 310-541-6350