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Media Articles - 2000s

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16 December 2003
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Center celebrates new starts: Rehab facility helps people shake their substance abuse

Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, MI)
June 1, 2003

BY John J. Vander Meer

At the start of the 20th century, people flocked to Battle Creek to be purged of their unhealthy excesses at the Sanitarium.

Today owners of the Narconon Stone Hawk Rehabilitation Center will dedicate a facility with similar goals.

While it has been in operation since late January, the facility will hold its grand opening today with residents, local officials and the leadership of the national Narconon organization in attendance.

Finishing touches continued Friday to prepare the site for festivities, which will include food, entertainment, a traditional Native American blessing and guest speakers including State Reps. Michael Nofs and Lorence Wenke.

"Tomorrow is going to be a huge celebration," Kate Wickstrom said Friday. Wickstrom is executive director of the facility, on St. Mary's Lake in Pennfield Township.

Wickstrom, who operates the facility with her husband, Per, said more than 400 people have turned in reservations for the event, and it's open to the public.

"Everybody knows someone nowadays who's been affected by drugs and alcohol," she said. "It's our responsibility in society to do what we can to stop drug and alcohol addiction."

The drug and alcohol rehabilitation center was established in March of last year, and began accepting patients in January. Formerly a head-trauma center, the property at 215 St. Mary's Lake Road has gone through a series of owners.

Narconon centers follow a strict regiment of classes, proper eating habits and the use of saunas, as laid out by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in his book "Clear Body, Clear Mind," to teach people how to beat their addictions, Wickstrom said.

Last year, when the Wickstroms sought approval for a use variance from the Pennfield Zoning Board of Appeals to begin operations, numerous neighbors spoke out against the property being used as a drug rehabilitation facility. However, the variance was approved 2-to-1.

But with its grand opening this weekend, some residents say the facility has left its tumultuous beginnings behind them.

Woody Booher, president of the St. Mary's Lake Association, who lives across the lake for the facility, said while residents in the facility use the lake for swimming and boating, they haven't been a disturbance.

"We haven't witnessed any problems at all to date, to my knowledge," Booher said. "I was a little skeptical ... but to date there have been no problems."

Not all residents have been as accepting of the center, Booher said.

One neighbor moved soon after the Pennfield Zoning Board of Appeals approved the special use permit for Narconon, he said.

"He put it on the market the day after the township approved it," Booher said. "I think there's some skepticism among the neighbors."

Currently there are about 45 residents in the facility, which is expected to house as many as 100 people when it's at full capacity. So far, Wickstrom said, nine people have graduated from the program.

"Nine drug-free lives so far," she said.

Dave Lawler, a program employee who is responsible for registering new residents, is a graduate of the program himself.

"My outlook on life is much more positive," he said.

For Lawler, the fact that the Narconon program is drug-free is especially beneficial.

"I didn't like the idea of taking something else to stop what I was already taking," he said.

Paging through a copy of "Clear Body, Clear Mind," Greg Littlewalker, administrator of the saunas at the facility, said the program is designed to "bring the spirit back" in students in the program.

"Here we're taking out everything from the body and replacing it with what's pure," he said.