Comedians Billy Gardell and Alonzo Bodden to Host 50th Anniversary Celebration

Comedians Billy Gardell and Alonzo Bodden to Host 50th Anniversary Celebration

Sunday, November 15: Jamie Lee Curtis, Russell Brand, Josh Brolin and other stars to appear

By Toi Creel

The pandemic has led to an increase in mental health and substance use disorders but a local organization, CLARE | MATRIX is fighting back as it celebrates its 50th anniversary with an event to raise funds and increase awareness.

Since the economic shutdown, homelessness is up 13% in Los Angeles County. Of that population, 41% have reported serious substance use and behavioral health disorders. Additionally, the American Medical Association has reported a 35% increase in the overdose death rate since March.  

“We are preparing for a need for a fifty percent increase in services once restrictions are lifted,” said Dr. Lisa Steele, CEO of CLARE | MATRIX, an organization dedicated to helping those struggling with and communities impacted by addiction. Dr. Steele said in order to maintain safe treatment conditions during the pandemic, the group took extra precautions, but it has kept its doors open.

“We put people in isolation immediately (to see if they can be observed for 72 hours). We had a total of 2 positive cases in the last 10 months since the pandemic hit and with 200 beds that’s a really good percentage,” Steele added. “People are afraid to come into treatment because they have fears about safety, but that has not been our experience. We’re keeping people safe and we’re staying fairly full.”

The toll of the pandemic has led to stress on local nonprofits, including the ones geared towards helping those struggling with addiction, mental health and co-occurring disorders.

“Funding comes primarily through government and when you don’t have the tax dollars coming in, it can be difficult,” Dr. Steele said “That is why we need donations from individuals, foundations and the community, now more than ever.”

CLARE Foundation and the Matrix Institute on Addictions joined forces in 2018. The former CLARE Foundation has 50 years of expertise in delivering residential services. The former Matrix Institute on Addiction has 35 years of experience in outpatient treatment, training and research.

CLARE Foundation started 50 years ago in Santa Monica as a 12 step program, reaching out to alcoholics and addicts on the streets.  Matrix started 38 years ago in an outpatient, medical-based group focusing on the research available to treat cocaine and methamphetamine addiction.

Clare and Matrix merged in 2018 to provide a wider array of services to a larger community and to enhance the research and training departments that were available at Matrix. From there the company grew to 17 sites, and has 200 beds for people who need treatment. They also hired a medical staff to supervise detox, created an intensive outpatient treatment, a prevention department, and obtained grants to benefit the homeless along with providing many more services.

To honor its progress, the group has had an annual Tribute Dinner gala for 23 years to celebrate recovery in Santa Monica. This year will be different as large gatherings are prohibited.  They are celebrating their 50th year online.

The virtual event, to be held Sunday, November 15 at 5:00 PM PST, will celebrate recovery by also including humor to help raise funds and increase awareness.

“There will be comedians and actors committed to recovery, not just as a fundraiser, but to spread the word at a time when overdose deaths are up 35% and alcohol sales are up 50%.  Addiction is a disease, and it is treatable.” Dr. Steele said. 

While some might say why pick comedians for such a serious cause, Dr. Steele says “why not?”

“This is a tough topic to talk about. I think it’s important to balance out the seriousness of disease and the levity that can come with hope,” Dr. Steele said. “The event will be fun.  People need a little hope and inspiration.  Our hosts, Billy Gardell and Alonzo Bodden are funny, and smart and they use their realness coupled by the way they communicate with comedy to really educate people.”  Dr. Steele continues: “I know people will be inspired by the stories of our alumni, such as Susan Burton, and this year’s awardee, Wendy Adamson.  The films are beautiful.  And of course, having messages from the tireless advocate, Jamie Lee Curtis, and other film stars like Josh Brolin, Craig T Nelson and many others is super fun too.  We are incredibly fortunate to have a silent auction and include the very appropriate social distanced Zoom calls – people can bid on a call with Jamie Lee Curtis or Russell Brand.”

At the event, which is being held virtually for the first time, author, clinician and recovery advocate Wendy Adamson will be awarded the annual Distinguished Alumni Award. 

Tickets can be purchased for a donation for $50 or more. Clare/Matrix hopes to reach a fundraising goal of $300,000.  Visit their website www.clarematrix.org to register and get more information.

“My son is in high school and his psychology professor is coming on to the call so she can learn ways to talk to her students about addiction. We’re also inviting people who may be thinking about whether or not they need treatment or people who have fallen off and need to hear some stories,” Dr. Steele said. 

Steele added the event is also about connection.

“While fundraising is critical in our ability to stay open, if we are able to touch someone in attendance, that is just as important. My hope is that we can reach someone who thought their own struggle was an issue with morality or someone who is struggling with a family member’s illness,” Dr. Steele said. 

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