Interviews BLOG

If there's an organization in Hawaii that knows exactly what it takes to help a drug addict find the way to recovery, Habilitat has to be it.

For over 40 years, this residential-substance abuse treatment facility has been working towards fighting substance abuse by providing victims an opportunity to change their lives and once again become a productive part of the society. What began as a small home in Kailua, Hawaii, housing only eight people, Habilitat grew to accommodate 200 residents at its new oceanfront facility in Kane'ohe.

Recently, TestCountry had the chance to interview Habilitat Marketing Directory Ms. Becky Harrison from whom we learned more about what the organization does, the most significant accomplishments it achieved since inception, and what makes it stand amongst the rest.

TestCountry: Please tell us how Habilitat started? What makes it unique from other non-profit organizations that provide substance abuse treatment?

Ms. Harrison: Vinny Marino founded Habilitat on January 27, 1971. Vinny was determined to pursue his uncompromising commitment to address the growing epidemic of individuals with substance abuse problems and other anti-social behaviors. He combined the styles of treatment from many other programs to come up with Habilitat's brand of treatment.

Habilitat is a long-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation program built on the "Therapeutic Community" model. This approach is considered by experts to be the one of the most effective methods of treatment for substance abuse and chemical addictions. We are unique in that we are self-sufficient. In addition to enrollment, we earn money through services that we offer to the community. We don’t rely on government contracts or insurance. The various businesses that provide these services also offer vocational training to our residents. This provides them with a skill that they can use when they leave the program to support themselves. We also emphasize education. We require all residents who do not have a high school diploma to take classes to earn their high school equivalency.

TestCountry: What are the organization's main goals? How do you track the success of your organization?

Ms. Harrison: Our goal is to help people overcome problems with substance abuse and anti-social behavior. We have the unique ability to change people who have lost hope into hardworking, responsible, caring human beings who are a benefit to society.

We track the success of our organization by conducting follow up studies with graduates 3 months, 1 year and 2 years after they complete the program. Our current success rate is 66%, which is over three times the national average.

TestCountry: What do you consider as the Habilitat's most important accomplishments? What are you most proud among your organizations achievements?

Ms. Harrison: I feel that our success rate is our greatest accomplishment. We have the ability to help someone transform their life. I am most proud when I see our graduates using what they've learned and benefiting themselves, their families, and their communities.

TestCountry: How is Hawaii different from the mainland in terms of addiction trends? What do you think are your organization's greatest advantages and additional challenges compared to the organizations with similar advocacy in the mainland?

Ms. Harrison: In recent years, Hawaii has had a severe methamphetamine epidemic (commonly called ice here on the island). We've seen a trend from our mainland residents of problems with alcohol and prescription medication.

I believe that our greatest advantage is the length of our program and the "ohana" or family concept that we incorporate into treatment. The 30 months of continuous learning and practicing of a new lifestyle makes it more likely that a person will continue this same lifestyle when they leave the structured environment. Our family concept basically teaches people to treat others as they would like to be treated and take an active interest in what is going on with the people around them. I believe that this helps people connect in meaningful ways and guides people away from selfish tendencies.

We face the challenging economic conditions that everyone is adjusting to right now and are working to maintain our stability without sacrificing our level of care.

TestCountry: Are the substance of abuse and affected demographics same as those from the mainland? How are they different (if any)?

Ms. Harrison: Addiction trends change on the islands as well as in the mainland. As mentioned above, Hawaii has had a severe ice epidemic for years and we see alcohol and prescription medication being a more prevalent problem with our mainland residents. We don't really see a difference in demographics between our main land and local residents.

TestCountry: How is Habilitat funded? How and what kinds of help can people contribute to your organization?

Ms. Harrison: Habilitat is funded by: tuition fees, fundraisers, grant monies and money generated from the many services that we offer the community. Our services include: catering, a food truck, masonry, vinyl fencing, landscaping, house cleaning, carpentry, plumbing, remodeling, drain cleaning, and website building.

We have two main fundraisers: Christmas tree sales and an annual Luau, Auction and Benefit concert. We appreciate community members who volunteer at these events. We also appreciate any financial assistance that the community can offer. Donations can be made on our website at

TestCountry: Are there anything you would like to see change in current Hawaii State laws and regulations regarding substance abuse?

Ms. Harrison: We would like to see more opportunities for people with substance abuse problems to get treatment instead of incarceration.

To find more information about Habilitat and their activities, please visit their website at