MAKING A DIFFERENCE – The Palsma family from Central Alberta packed everything up and moved to the Dominican Republic last year where they opened an addiction treatment centre. Clockwise from top left is mother Shauna

Central Alberta family launches recovery centre in the Dominican

A family of former Central Alberta dairy farmers has left everything behind to help those struggling with addiction

A family of former Central Alberta dairy farmers has left everything behind to travel across the globe and help those struggling with addiction.

The Palsma family, who owned a dairy farm 10 kms west of Bashaw for 13 years, opened an addiction treatment centre, Always Hope, last year in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

“I started thinking about opening the centre about two years ago. I came down here five times in the last year and a half to check it out. I decided that we’ll take the chance. It is a good opportunity to give back and help people and it’s a good opportunity for my kids to live in a third world country but still have the schooling and the top-notch education that is available here,” said Roger. “We sold everything back in Canada to do this.”

Always Hope helps those struggling with a number of addictions including addictions with alcohol, drugs, gambling, gaming and sex. At this time, because methadone is not available in the Dominican Republic, they cannot take guests in who have a methadone addiction.

Guests who come to the treatment centre are asked to commit to it for at least a month, but are welcome to stay longer if needed.

“If they can only manage 25 days then we’ll work with them or if they need to stay longer, we’ll make it work for them. We are flexible that way. We want the best for them,” said Roger.

Roger’s passion to help others with addiction comes from his own battle with addiction years ago. He was prescribed oxycontin for pain and became addicted.

“After a while that got so out of control that life was sucking,” he said. “Just over three years ago I went to a treatment centre to get help and to get off the drugs. I could have lost my life, my wife, my kids, everything. Now I don’t do anything – I don’t drink, no pills, nothing.

“Once I got my life back, I wanted to do this so that others could have the opportunity to get their lives back.”

The Palsmas built the facility in the Dominican and it has three bedrooms. There is one counselor on staff as well. “We are starting out small but have hopes to expand,” said Roger. “We bought enough land to expand to 20 bedrooms, but we wanted to build small enough to start.”

He added the design and layout of the facility was carefully planned as the family wanted to ensure it had a ‘homey’ feeling.

“We wanted something different from what I knew from treatment centres that I have gone to. I didn’t want to make it feel like a jail,” said Roger. “We want to take people to the beach, we want to take people to the gym, to surf, to play volleyball – to do the fun stuff that people wanted to do before but only did when they were high or drunk. I want to allow them to do those things with us in a safe environment.

“It’s also a really home-feel. Our guests spend time with our kids and they enjoy that.”

There have already been a number of guests who have been gone through the program at Always Hope and Roger said they keep in contact with them once they leave. “They have all done really well.”

For Roger in particular, having overcome his addiction struggles, it is an extremely rewarding feeling watching and reflecting on how far his guests have come from the time they enter treatment, to the time they finish.

“When we pick our guests up from the airport and they’re scared and shaking, probably going through some withdrawals. Just to see the life come back into their eyes, the joy and genuine laughter – it feels good – it’s fulfilling to see,” he said, adding his family is enjoying being able to help others. “It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice – it’s so rewarding to help.”

For more information visit, www.always-hope.ca.

efawcett@reddeerexpress.com