Chesterton Tribune

Recovering addicts create art, new lives at Frontline Foundations

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It’s a right-brain mystery beyond Allen Grecula’s ability to solve: why should a disproportionately large number of the drug addicts in recovery at Frontline Foundations Inc. exhibit pronounced artistic ability?

Grecula is the director of group education at Frontline—with locations in Chesterton and Valparaiso—a Level II certified addiction drug and alcohol councilor, and by his own admission no artist at all. But he knows art when he sees it and he definitely sees it in his clients.

“I noticed, when we first started, that the people who were coming through here, 75 to 80 percent of them, had some kind of artistic talent,” Grecula says. “There’s definitely a correlation there. So the question became ‘How are we going to incorporate this into what we do?’”

What Grecula did was this: about a year ago he invited a buddy of his from the gym, Bart Powers, a professional artist now working in Hammond, to mentor the Frontline clients once a week, to tutor them in some basic techniques, to offer them guidance and encouragement.

Powers admits to having some initial misgivings about his own capacity to teach. But none at all about his protégés’ to learn. “These kids, so many of them, are artistically gifted, I mean off-the-charts talented,” he says. “I’ve got to work for my chops. A lot of the stuff these kids do just comes effortlessly. It’s really an honor to work with them.”

Powers’ message to the clients is a simple one. “I say ‘Look, you were addicted to something very negative. You can get addicted to something positive.’ Most of these kids like an environment where they can create something. This is the only control they have at this point in their life.”

Every Tuesday night—Grecula calls it Pay It Forward Night—Frontline clients and former clients, usually 10 to 15 of them, congregate in a makeshift studio on Wabash Ave. and create. Just create. The space is crammed with paintings, sculptures, and drawings, large pieces almost like installations and smaller ones, whimsical ones and some disconcertingly darker, in a variety of media ranging from traditional formats to found objects.

And now they’re for sale.

From 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, about 40 of those pieces will go on the silent auction block at Frontline’s Chesterton location, 802 Wabash Ave., to raise funds to support continued recovery services.

If you’ve got an empty space on the wall or a gap on your mantel, you might want to consider attending and bidding. You’ll be investing not only in some budding artist’s future but in Duneland’s quality of life. And maybe, 10 or 20 years down the road, you’ll find yourself with an early Hockney or Basquiat on your hands.


Grecula’s art-recovery initiative is an important but “supplemental” component of Frontline’s overall program, a faith-based one established in 2007 by Chesterton resident Amber Hensell with the specific goal of serving young adults 18 to 25: the age group, she notes, “with the highest mortality rate” but also “statistically the most likely age group to respond in a peer setting.”

Frontline is a state-certified addiction outpatient treatment provider, Hensell emphasizes. “That’s the big difference between what Frontline does and all the other faith-based programs. We’re certified. We have a clinical psychologist, a drug and alcohol abuse counselor, and we implement spiritual principles into that.”

Those non-denominational principles: “The 12 Steps, just as in AA,” Hensell says. “They’re trained how to do actual biblical applications of the 12 Steps. I tell them that with everything we do, there’s a clinical application and a spiritual application. You don’t have to be in agreement. Just come with respect and an open mind.”

“We can’t force this on anybody,” Grecula agrees. “We can’t say ‘As part of your treatment you’ve got to go to church on Sundays.’ That’s not something we can do and it wouldn’t work anyway. It wouldn’t have worked on me. We don’t make a secret about it and everyone’s given an option. Our approach is very non-confrontational. ‘Here it is. If you don’t want to do something about it, that’s up to you. We’re just letting you know about it.’”

That approach appears to be working. On average something like 80 percent of recovered addicts nationwide at some point experience a relapse, Hensell says. Frontline’s relapse rate to date: around 30 percent. Perhaps that success is partly responsible for Frontline’s rapid growth: in 2008 it served 30 clients; in 2009, 60; in 2010, 80. Through the first quarter of 2011, Frontline’s clinical in-takes numbered 34.

Frontline has a “great relationship” with the Porter County court system, Hensell adds. “Three-quarters of our clients come to us through the court system. They’re court-ordered, either through the Drug Court, Porter County Alcohol and Drug Offender Services, or Adult Probation.”

Frontline’s 12-week curriculum is comprised of individual and group counseling, the frequency of which depends on the results of a clinical assessment conducted at in-take. “The treatment plan might include support services outside of Frontline,” Hensell says, “like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, maybe addiction-medicine physicians for people with opiate addiction. We can plug them into those additional services and we work with them for 12 weeks in the individual and group settings.”

Those services don’t come cheap. It costs Frontline $2,500 to treat each client. It charges each client $510. “And we work with people who don’t have the ability to pay,” Hensell says. “Money can’t get in the way of someone’s getting treatment. It just can’t. Somehow, some way, we pull it off.”

Hence the silent art auction on April 19.

Art Recovery

The idea behind art recovery isn’t complicated: a vacuum inevitably will be occupied, one way or another, for better or worse. “When the clients come through, they’re removing a huge part of their life with the drugs, the alcohol,” Grecula says. “You can’t remove something without replacing it with something else. So they’re left with this emptiness, this void. And they’re searching. In a lot of cases, that’s why they started using in the first place. That void needs to be filled. Sometimes it can be another unhealthy habit, an unhealthy relationship. We wanted to provide something else to fill the void. That’s where the art comes in.”

Frontline’s clients also find art cleansing and redemptive. “The art gives them a sense of accomplishment,” Grecula says. “They’re showing the community a different face of addiction. You use that word, there’s a stigma attached to it. Seeing the faces that go through the program, it’s everyone’s neighbors. It’s not the preconception a lot of people have. The art helps them to change that stigma and it helps them to give back.”

As Powers observes, for some of Frontline’s clients the art is a way to exorcise the demons. “Some kids come in and they do very dark artwork because their world is a very dark place,” he says.

Others seem to have drawn a line in their art between the bad old days and the hopeful new ones. “A kid comes in, says he wants to sculpt,” Powers remembers. “I say ‘Well, what would you like to sculpt?’ He says ‘I like animals.’ So he sculpts this animal and instead of painting it he covers it with little pieces of glass. It’s remarkable.”

Art recovery would seem like a natural fit for Duneland, long a community with an artistic tradition. And indeed, Grecula says, donors have done much to keep the initiative up and running. “Framing Concepts has been great to us. They’ve been so generous.”

But Frontline could always use assistance in stocking art supplies. “They’re not cheap,” Grecula says. Call Frontline at (219) 728-1638 or

Powers has his own trade to ply and he has to work hard at it—he specializes in oils of musicians and automobiles, exhibiting in Chicago—but Frontline, he says, has become his calling. “As long as they’ll have me, I want to be part of this program. It just breaks my heart seeing these kids go through the grinder. And the amount of talent that’s being wasted. I mean, if I had some of the natural ability these kids have.”



Posted 4/14/2011