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Men’s Second Chance Living Offers a Chance at Sustained Sobriety
Monday, May 22, 2023


Sonya Wilander and her husband Mats, a champion tennis player, moved to the Wood River Valley in 2000 because Sun Valley’s climate was better for one of their four son’s skin disorder.

Mats Wilander quickly found a niche coaching tennis, eventually opening Gravity Fitness in Hailey. And Sonja eventually cultivated a role serving men in recovery.

She started volunteering for the Blaine County courts, then studied addiction at College of Southern Idaho as she pursued certification as a substance abuse specialist. And in November 2018 she opened the doors on Men’s Second Chance Living in the heart of Hailey to offer men coming out of jail and recovery programs a chance to make the transition to independent sober living.

Wilander shared her story recently with members of the Wood River Women’s Foundation as they gathered to hear the impact of their donations over a spread of appetizers provided by Sun Valley Company at the Sun Valley Golf Club.

“We just completed our 18th grant cycle and it was a record grant cycle,” Lee Anne Linderman told members. “It’s a record, ladies, and all because of you.”

Indeed, WRWF’s 325 members awarded a record $353,450 in grants to 22 Idaho nonprofits serving the Wood River Valley this spring. The women’s philanthropic organization has awarded $3.4 million to local nonprofits since its founding in 2005.

Wilander chose to work with men because, while the Advocates offered help for women, there was nothing for men trying to make the transition from lives of substance abuse to lives of sobriety. Wilander spent nine months shadowing managers at programs similar to MSCL before establishing the Wood River Valley’s own 501C3.

Wilander said she currently has eight men living in one home and six in the second. She received 15 applications from men coming out of incarceration or rehabilitation during March and April.

They’re required to be 18 or older, they’re required to get a job within two weeks of being accepted into one of the two MSCL houses, and they’re required to pay $425 a month rent and perform household chores.

Wilander told the women that 80 percent of those who become addicted to heroin started with a prescription drug.

“So, you have to be careful,” she said.

MSCL offers the men counseling and medical and pro bono dental services in collaboration with St. Luke’s and local dentists. Sun Valley Company donates ski passes to the wellness component of their program to give the men to a chance to do healthy activities that don’t involve drugs or alcohol.

A nutritionist with St. Luke’s teaches the men to cook healthy dinners. And Kristin Hovencamp teaches financial literacy courses, while the program matches what they earn dollar for dollar up to $100 a month so they can save money to help them men get on their feet once they leave the home.

The average stay is 6.2 months, although one man was allowed to stay for two years while he went to school. Those who are not ready for sobriety don’t last beyond a few nights, she said.

The program gets referrals from family members and rehabilitation programs such as Rainbow’s End in Challis and the Walker Center in Gooding. Some come to the program after serving time in prison for theft, driving under the influence and other drug-related crimes.

One man came to MSCL on New Year’s Day with just the clothes on his back and nowhere to go, she said.  One graduated from the College of Southern Idaho welding program and now has his own welding business and rents his own place. Two are working as apprentices to get trade licenses.

Wilander said it’s difficult to track recidivism unless a man lands back in criminal justice system. MSCL does send each man a six-month and one-year exit survey.

“We’ve gotten 40 percent return on our exit surveys,” she said. “Some want to give back. Others say they want to move forward and not think about the past. I do run into men out on the community who tell me how well they’re doing. We don’t have a 100 percent success rate but we do have success because of the programs we offer.”

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