Story and photos by Nick Perkins
“It wasn’t always like this,” he said, taking a drag from a cigarette and trying not to blow the smoke in the direction of passersby. “I was a husband and a father. Then, I started drinking. Then, I started using. Then, my wife died and it’s amazing how quickly everything else fell apart.”
His name, let’s say for the sake of anonymity, is Jake. His story is one that shouldn’t surprise those who have struggled with addiction. One minute, he had everything. The world was at his fingertips. He had a successful career, a loving family and numerous reasons to get out of bed in the morning. He had reason to celebrate.
So, he did. And he kept celebrating. And kept celebrating. A beer after work would turn into three would turn into shots would turn into a bottle. The bottle turned into crack. Suddenly, his life had spiraled out of control, but before his wife could leave him, she passed away unexpectedly.
Then, things got really bad.
Jake spent ten years drifting in and out of rehab facilities. None of them ever stuck. He never felt comfortable, never felt at home. Finally, on the verge of homelessness, he made one last-ditch effort to reclaim his life and he completed a rehab stint in Casper, Wyoming. The journey was far from over, though, and Jake needed a place that he could go to every day to consistently remind himself that he is worthy, that he can take back his life , and to give him hope.
The 12-24 Club is a place where these things can happen for people like Jake.
Created more than 23 years ago, the 12-24 Club has been safe-haven for those struggling with addiction for almost a quarter of a century. It has grown from meager beginnings into a multi-faceted addiction resource center. An amazing fact considering that, according to founder Dan Cantine, it wasn’t even expected to last a year.
“It was really tough in the beginning,” Cantine said, thinking back to a time when addiction was even more of a dirty word than it is now. “There were nine of us that started it and all we could afford was $500 a piece to donate and try to get it started.”
‘Getting it started’ is exactly what they did and they did it by converting an old restaurant/bar on West Yellowstone Highway, ironically, into the very first home of the 12-24 club.
Cantine and his comrades had no idea what their dream would eventually turn into. Their focus, at the time, was just to create a place for addicts to come to, without fear of judgment or persecution. They didn’t have a set program, with set curriculum. What they had, according to Dan, was a heart for the lost, a home for the tired and hope for the hurting.
The 12-24 Club opened its doors for the first time on December 31, 1993. “We hoped that we could keep it going for six months to a year, and give it a trial go,” Cantine admitted.
That ‘trial go’ has lasted almost 24 years, and has outgrown two buildings. After spending five years at that old bar on Yellowstone, they moved into a former senior citizens center and continued to build their name and their reputation for another ten years. After that, they finally moved into a building that they could call their own, thanks, in large part, to the McMurray family.
“We needed to find a building of our own, and thank goodness for the McMurray family,” Cantine said. “Neil McMurray owned this building and he really got behind us and we were able to raise enough money to get this building remodeled and we are very proud of it today.”
Now, the 12-24 Club owns the building outright, and they lease it to various groups and meetings who they believe would benefit from utilizing their services. Cantine said that more than 250 people go in and out of their doors every day, and if that isn’t proof that addiction is a real disease in Casper, and that ‘The Club’ is helping to find the remedy, then nothing is.
What the 12-24 Club offers, Cantine said, was a place where anyone can feel welcome, regardless of where they are at in their own journeys. There are 51 different meetings a week at The Club, including meetings that implement various 12-step programs. All meetings are protected under the condition of anonymity, so when Cantine says it is a safe place, he means it.
In addition to the various meetings and events The Club puts on, they also offer the Fresh Start Café- a small eatery in the building that cooks up delicious, affordable food. The purpose of the café, however, is not to feed Casper. That’s just a bonus. The real purpose behind it, as the name implies, is to offer the beaten and the broken a chance to rebuild. Every employee of the Fresh Start Café is on a journey of recovery, and the café is used as a means to help those individuals get back on their feet. Truly offering a hand up instead of a handout, the Fresh Start Café is just one of the ways the 12-24 Club serves its community.
Cantine insists that the 12-24 Club is not the be-all/end-all of recovery, though. With a humble heart, Cantine said that they merely exist as a way to help with the process. “Primarily, it’s people helping people- we just provide a place where that can be done,” he said.
That desire to help people has occasionally resulted in disappointment, however. In 2016, the 12-24 Club was the subject of various news articles, as a result of an embezzlement charge, levied against a former employee.
Carrie Good was the bookkeeper for the 12-24 Club until July of last year. Various discrepancies had begun to reveal themselves, which started an internal investigation that eventually included local law enforcement and ended with Good being fired and charged with one count of felony embezzlement. Good allegedly stole more than $50,000 from the 12-24 Club, and it was later revealed that she had pled guilty to embezzlement charges from another company she worked for years prior. Though Cantine was not the director of The Club when Good was hired, he does bear the responsibility but says in the months that followed the investigation, they have taken numerous preventative steps to ensure this never happens again.
“We now contract with an accounting firm,” Cantine said. “They do all of our receivables weekly and everything is up-to-date daily and we have a triple-check system and it’s working fabulously.”
Though it was a substantial sum of money, Cantine said it was not the profit-loss that affected him, personally; it was the breach of trust.
“It did hurt,” Cantine said. “It hurt a lot because we had built trust in this person and it was a significant amount of money and it sure did cause some shockwaves.”
Those shockwaves reverberated through the walls of the 12-24 Club for more than a years, yet Cantine will not be deterred in terms of offering opportunities and second chances to those who seek them. Cantine said the 12-24 Club will continue to employ recovering addicts, they will continue to offer second chances and they will continue to aid in the fight against addiction, by being a place that offers hope against hope and love against fear. The Mission Statement of the 12-24 Club claims it is “a community resource built around recovery. We strive to provide a safe, anonymous environment to groups and individuals seeking recovery, with an attitude of fellowship.”
That attitude of fellowship has inspired The Club to put on a variety of events and rallies, such as their New Years Eve Celebration and their annual Recovery Rally. The next event is the Spring Fling. On May 2, 2017 the 12-24 club is scheduled to ‘Spring forward’ in style, by having a cookout on their patio and featuring a live band from Seattle. Admission is mostly free; they ask that guests bring canned goods for a donation to Joshua’s Storehouse. Additionally, they will be selling tickets for the aforementioned Recovery Rally and those tickets offer a chance to win $10,000.
It is this desire to offer fellowship that distinguishes the 12-24 Club from other “meeting hubs.” They don’t merely offer a cup of coffee and a serenity prayer. What they offer is so much more. They are a place that inspires hope, purpose and forgiveness. Most addicts will say that the hardest part of recovery is, in fact, forgiving themselves. The 12-24 Club offers a place for that journey of forgiveness to begin.
“I really hope that for a long time to come, we can keep the doors open,” Cantine admitted. “My wishful thinking is that maybe someday we won’t need a facility like this, but from what I’ve seen, that’s an impossibility because substance abuse is the biggest problem in our country today and Casper Wyoming is not exempt from that.”
The 12-24 Club is for those seeking redemption. It is for the old man who has spent his whole life at the bottom of a bottle. It is for the young mother, determined to prove that the love she has for her children is stronger than her addiction. It is for the little boy who grew up despising alcohol, only to succumb to it himself. The 12-24 Club is there for all those who seek it, and it will continue to be a resource for Casper for as long as it is needed.
“I don’t know what I would without the 12-24 Club,” Jake said. “For a long time, it was the only constant in my life. It was the place I knew I could go to when nothing, or nobody else was there. It not only saved my life; it gave me my life back.”
To learn more about the 12-24 Club and how you can get involved, or if you need help visit http://www.1224club.org/