Thank you for an amazing journey –

In February of 1992 I was sitting in the psych unit at Tulane Hospital. I was on the waitlist for a bed at a place called Bridge House. I had never heard of it, but my alcoholism had brought me to that point of total despair and few resources. My psychiatrist said Bridge House was where I belonged and thank God, I listened to him. He managed to keep me in an indigent bed at Tulane until I was admitted after a few weeks on the wait list at Bridge House. My amazing journey began.

Initially, it would be an understatement to say that there was not a complete acceptance of where I found myself. I remember calling my mother to say that maybe this was not the right place for me. Of course, now I can see this was born partly out of my resistance to change, partly out of fear and certainly my belief that I was not like “the people” at Bridge House. I know now that nothing could be further from the truth. My mother’s response was “you are indigent, you have nowhere else to go”. Wow. In that moment I knew she was correct. I was 38 years old and had nothing. It was a true turning point in my life.

So, I stuck it out. I grew to know and love my peers. Instead of thinking that I was not like them, in many cases I aspired to be just that, like them. I had never met with such compassionate honesty and fellowship. We all basically wanted the same things, the same things that everyone wants. A life with love, acceptance and meaning. In this case, we all wanted a life free of the bondage of addiction to accomplish all that we longed for.

I literally fell in love with Bridge House.

I had only heard about organizations that served our community but had not experienced anything like it. I had no money, it didn’t matter. Bridge House offered unconditional love and acceptance and understood the challenges of early recovery. There is an AA expression that asks, “what do I have to change?” to which the answer is “EVERYTHING”. That takes a lot of work, and a lot of support and a lot of time. But the message was always there. Sobriety is the number one goal, and then all else will follow. Stick and stay at Bridge House for the time it takes you to learn to be sober, one day at a time.

Then – the next miracle. I was offered a job.

My first paying job at Bridge House was in the Thrift Store. I was beyond thrilled to get this job. I worked there for 7 years. About 5 years into it, I went back to school to work on a counseling credential. I remember as part of my curriculum we had to visit treatment facilities. I of course was very familiar with Bridge House, but only marginally so with Grace House. I went for a visit there and remember wondering when I left if I would ever have the chance to be involved with Grace House. I could not have anticipated that in 2006 Bridge House would merge with Grace House, and that I would be able to be profoundly associated with both Bridge House and Grace House. As I transitioned to the clinical teams. I was awarded a license in Addiction Counseling. I proudly worked as a counselor and ultimately the Clinical Director. In 2004 I was offered the unbelievable opportunity to become the successor to the legendary Buzzy Gaiennie. Buzzy heavily campaigned for this opportunity for me. I was not so confident. Buzzy did, however, recognize that I had a passion for the work, a passion for the organization. He convinced me and the Board of Directors that I could be trusted with the mission and purpose of Bridge House. I returned to school one more time to earn a MBA. Buzzy encouraged this and he simultaneously mentored me in the day-to-day operations of Bridge House / Grace House.

I became the Chief Executive Officer in 2011.

All of this was available to me because of the love and compassion of everyone at Bridge House, starting with the founders and the many who have served on the Board of Directors, the amazing staff, and the incredible residents and of course the very humbling and tremendous support of our community including the many corporations, foundations, and individuals like you. Yes, I worked hard on recovery. My life depended on it. I worked hard to be good at whatever job I was doing at Bridge House. I joke with our staff that I have had almost every job here and that is close to the truth. I longed to become and remain a part of this unique and essential organization.

Together, we have accomplished a lot. There is a lot left to be accomplished.

A substance use disorder is now more readily acknowledged as the insidious beast that it is. More and more individuals and families are affected, more and more individuals and families are destroyed. Only about 10% of the population that needs treatment receives it. I and many who are employed at Bridge House (over 50% of our employees are in recovery) stand as examples that recovery is achievable. We are proud and committed to participating in the opportunity for those same people that were the target population of the founders of Bridge House – the homeless, the indigent, the unemployed, the uninsured, and the underinsured. It can be a harsh and unforgiving environment. We see some people succeed, some leave treatment too early, some come back to treatment, some die before they make it back. We maintain that regardless of how many times you have been to Bridge House or Grace House, you can always come back if your substance use disorder once again takes over your life. Please come back.

After thirty-one plus years of employment I feel it is the appropriate time to retire. Stepping into my position will be someone that most of you know well, Kevin Gardere. He too is a graduate of Bridge House (I was Kevin’s first counselor in 2001). He has raised millions of dollars for the organization and loves Bridge House / Grace House as deeply as I do. Kevin is the perfect choice for this position. Under his leadership Bridge House / Grace House will continue to be a flagship for addiction treatment in our community. As identified by Buzzy, Kevin has a passion for the work. We have also assembled an amazing team who are equally motivated to provide our important services. All this work continues with the strong support of our Board of Directors playing a vital role in the direction and oversight of Bridge House / Grace House.

Collectively, we all work to give hope and a path forward to those who have been devastated by addiction. People with few options. People like me.

The life I have would not have been possible without Bridge House / Grace House.

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Else Pedersen
CEO Emeritus Bridge House / Grace House
Licensed Addiction Counselor

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