Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley writes a general interest column about life and politics in Anchorage and around Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage and has worked at the ADN on and off as a columnist and reporter since 1996. She came back full time as a reporter in 2005.

As a reporter, she covered the court system and wrote extensively about life in Anchorage, including big changes in the city's ethnic and minority communities.

In 2008, she won the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle award for the best human-interest writing in America. She has also written for the Oregonian, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Press.

E-mail her at jomalley@adn.com.

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From Akeela House, an update

Kristin Alexander: Kristin Alexander is now an advanced phase of treatment at Akeela House, a residential addiction program in Midtown. link=noneKristin Alexander: Kristin Alexander is now an advanced phase of treatment at Akeela House, a residential addiction program in Midtown. link=none

For those of you who followed the Hooked
series last year, an update:

Kristin Alexander took photographer Marc and me for a tour of Akeela House on Tuesday afternoon along with Rosalie Nadeau, the executive director of Akeela and some of the other managers of the house. Akeela sits on the edge of Spenard, tucked on a side street off of Northern Lights Boulevard near Arctic Boulevard, between a couple of fast food restaurants.

Kristin is in an advanced phase of treatment after seven months and has a lot of responsibility for her peers. She was proud to show us her tidy office and desk. She looked really healthy. She wore a purple headband that is a sign of her seniority. Kristin and other senior residents do a lot of the logistics in the house. They mentor people having trouble, plan events for the residents and they help procure donations. There are about 30 people in the house right now, Nadeau told us, and 17 people on the waiting list. The house can hold 48 people, but doesn't have the funding.

Akeela is very tidy and a little bit worn around the edges. It's made for a couple of old buildings cobbled together with walkways. Kristin toured us through the kitchen where she had been assigned for a couple of months. She hated cooking, she said.

"But you did it," Nadeau said.

Nadeau took us through a large group room where 20 people were seated in a circle of old couches. Encouraging slogans had been painted on the walls. They call themselves "the family." Kristin introduced Marc and me and everyone said hello in unison. The model for the treatment is community-based: people hold each other accountable. There is a place called "the bench" were people go by themselves to sit when they are having trouble with anger or other behaviors. After they sit for a while, Kristin talks through a plan to help them work through whatever is bothering them.

Residents stay at the house an average of nine months and often stay connected to the facility afterward.

"It took me three months just to get my head straight," Kristin said.

Kristin Alexander: Kristin Alexander gives a tour of Akeela House residential treatment facility in Midtown on Tuesday, January 11, 2010Kristin Alexander: Kristin Alexander gives a tour of Akeela House residential treatment facility in Midtown on Tuesday, January 11, 2010

Residents begin with an orientation phase, transition to an intermediate phase, and then move to senior status, when they are given a lot of responsibility. During a the next phase of treatment, residents get their own room and help with finding work. After that, they may move into transitional housing, while continuing to be connected to Akeela. Some of the residents end up working there.

Nadeau said on average 70 percent of people who complete the program are able to stay clean and sober.

Kristin is looking forward to getting her own apartment in the next phase of her treatment, she said. She has been moving quickly through the phases. Her next challenge after that: finding a job. She's been inspired by meeting some Akeela graduates who she used to know when she was getting high. They are clean now and some of them have their kids back, she said.

"They're happy," she said. "It makes me feel like I can do that too."

Akeela House: Residents of Akeela House residential treatment facility have a group discussion Tuesday afternoon, January 11, 2010Akeela House: Residents of Akeela House residential treatment facility have a group discussion Tuesday afternoon, January 11, 2010

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