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New ALPHA Center to be built on Ehrenclou Drive

Posted: March 16, 2017 6:37 p.m.
Updated: March 17, 2017 1:00 a.m.
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The ALPHA Center plans to build a new $2.5 million facility on 4 acres near the S.C. National Guard Armory just south of the mini-warehouses across the street on the west side of Ehrenclou Drive.

The ALPHA Center, currently housed at the south end of Mill Street, will build a new $2.5 million facility on a 4-acre lot on Ehrenclou Drive near the S.C. National Guard armory in 2018.

ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper and Operations and Treatment Programs Director Mara Jones announced the project to -- and asked for some fiscal assistance from -- Camden City Council during its meeting Tuesday evening.

The ALPHA in “ALPHA Center” stands for “All Life’s Problems Have Answers” and is indicative of the many children, youth and adult services it offers. They include youth arbitration, tobacco and alcohol education programs, pre-trial intervention, adult drug court, community based treatment and criminal domestic violence programs, employment assistance, offender-based treatment and gambling addiction programs, an impaired driving program and a substance abuse professional program. Napper said the ALPHA Center also provides a variety of mental health services and even marriage counseling.

Napper asked council to consider allocating $50,000 in its next budget to assist with the new facility’s construction.

“We’ve asked the state for $2 million. I got with (State) Sen. (Vincent) Sheheen and he took me to see the secretary of the senate finance committee. She said we’re probably looking at getting, maybe, $1 million. I’m just being open and honest with you,” Napper said.

He said the committee secretary said there was a better chance of getting that money if the ALPHA Center had “buy-ins” from city and county governments.

“The second reason we’re here is we certainly want to keep our facility in Camden. We’ve been in Camden for 37 years,” Napper said, adding that the center has begun working with architects on designs and site plans. “There are many reasons we need a new facility. First of all, we’ve outgrown our current one. You’ve been kind enough to let us put two mobiles on the land we have now. We can’t put anymore there. Right now, we have counselors in closets, drug testing in outdated bathrooms, we have things coming down from the state that we cannot utilize because our facility will not let us take the new technology.”

Jones backed up what Napper said by telling the center’s story in Camden, which began with legislation in 1973 that helped create the first version of the ALPHA Center on Church Street.

“There were a number of people suffering (then) from alcohol and drug addiction, which was devastating the community,” Jones said. “At that time … there’d fill out a legal sheet of paper, throw it on a pile and they’d head over to Columbia to be an in-patient. What began to happen … as the numbers went up, Paul had a vision and he grew that agency to be able to provide treatment services on site for the needs of the citizens of Kershaw County and we moved over to Rutledge Street in, roughly, 1983.”

Those services soon grew even more to the point where, in 1992, the facility moved to its current Mill Street facility, which the ALPHA Center owns. Jones came on board two years later.

“We provide a huge commodity to the citizens of Kershaw County…. You think, ‘Oh, it’s the alcohol and drug addicts, it’s the people nobody wants to deal with.’ I’m proud to say, we offer a full continuum; we offer it to the doctors and the lawyers to be able to come to the back door to afford privacy and, because of the quality of our services, we’ve received numerous awards,” Jones said.

She said it was her and Napper’s vision to serve everyone in the county who needed them without having to leave the county to receive those services.

One of the issues the ALPHA Center is having to deal with that is being constrained due to its current space is what she called medication assistance therapy.

“Heroin is a huge problem in our county,” Jones said. “It used to be that someone started off with marijuana and then progressed upward and eventually ended up on the needle. Now, they end up from pain medication straight to heroin because it’s cheaper. The number of people addicted to pain pills is astronomical. We’ve already had several referrals just last week for middle- to upper-income (people) trying to get off of heroin and it’s our friends and neighbors.

“I can provide that service to our community; however, I don’t have space, there’s no room left and I’m having to farm that out to other communities.”

Jones said the building is technologically obsolete.

“We’ve run wires everywhere possible,” she said.

Jones said the center is attempting to utilize “tele-health” services, but do not have anywhere to set up. She said they have the infrastructure paid for and technology that has already been delivered, but nowhere secure enough to install it.

Jones said they also want to open up a play therapy room for children but, again, have no space.

She also said she has two clinicians and has open positions for three more but has nowhere to put them.

“And we have created, for the first time in our history, a waiting list for services,” Jones said. “Now, here’s what I want to ask you: Your child is in dire need because of acting-out behaviors. Are you OK if I tell you there’s at least a month or two-month waiting list to see therapist? Right now, that’s what I have.”

Part of that increased need comes from the fact that, in recent years, the ALPHA Center has reduced the age of children it treats from 12 years old to 5 years old.

Napper said his plan is if the ALPHA Center can get $1 million from the state, $50,000 from the city, and $250,000 from Kershaw County, another $500,000 to $750,000 would come from the sale of the current property. Remaining costs would be funded from any surplus funds the center may have.

To illustrate how important the ALPHA Center’s services are, Napper mentioned a 3-month-old baby the center wanted to test for possible methamphetamines.

“(It had) three broken ribs. That baby deserved better than that,” he said, explaining the baby didn’t have enough hair to take a sample. “In February, we tested an 8-month-old baby that tested positive for methamphetamine. Without our testing, there was no other evidence to get that baby out of that home.”

The ALPHA Center also maintains facilities and offers services in Chesterfield and Lee counties. Napper said the new facility would be for Kershaw County services, although there may be time when clients from the other two counties may use the Camden location.

Councilman Jeffrey Graham, who served as the chairman of Tuesday’s meeting in the absence of both Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford and Mayor pro Tem Deborah Davis, told Jones and Napper council would consider their request as it gets into working on the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

In other business, Graham and council members Stephen Smoak and Joanna Craig voted 3-0 to approve second reading and final approval of an ordinance rezoning 611 Wateree St. from residential R-15 to General Business District and to approve the installation of a Leaders Legacy bench for brothers James D. Green and H. Davis Green Jr.

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