Serenity Mesa clients working on a project.

Grantee Stories – Serenity Mesa

Serenity Mesa clients working on a project.

Jennifer Weiss-Burke, Executive Director of Serenity Mesa Recovery Center, had more referrals for services in 2022 than when the center opened in 2015. “This highlights the real impact of fentanyl and drug use,” she said. “Pre-pandemic, we were seeing mostly clients over 18. Post-pandemic, we’re seeing more under the age of 18 — lots of 14 and 15-year-olds.” She attributes this to an increase in mental health issues among young people.

Serenity Mesa is a transitional living center that provides services to young people ages 14 to 21 who are struggling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. It also provides rental assistance to young people who are experiencing homelessness. The residential facility helps its clients get and stay sober and learn the skills needed to live on their own with case management, therapy, and mentorship. Its housing program provided 30 young people ages 18-24 into stable housing across Albuquerque in 2022.

The young people in their programs have unique needs, which the center tries to meet as soon as a client walks through the door. “When they come in, they just need their basic needs met. We buy clothes, toiletries, shoes, socks, underwear, and jackets for them because often they come with nothing,” said Weiss-Burke. One client came in and had the tops of his shoes cut off because his shoes didn’t fit. “His toes were literally hanging out of the shoes. We took him to Walmart that day and got him shoes. It was such a huge deal for him,” she said. She is grateful for flexible funding streams to support the practical needs of their clients.

In addition to receiving the basics, clients also benefit from consistent healthy meals from an on-site cook. “Kids hide and stockpile food because they don’t know when their next meal is. And they guard their belongings with their life,” said Weiss-Burke. “It’s difficult to separate that life if they’ve been living on the streets. Now, they have a bed, a shower, and access to a phone and computer., Things they haven’t had the opportunity to use they now have at their fingertips. It takes them a little bit to change that mindset. Things we take for granted, they value more than anything.”

Serenity Mesa helps clients with everything they need to get a job and get to school, including assistance getting their GED or obtaining identification, which helps them access employment and housing.

When a client gets their GED, it’s a big deal, she shared. “We had five clients complete their GEDs last year. That’s a big win for us. Usually, they stay 90 days, so
they really have to push through. We encourage them to [complete] it while they are here, because once they are out on their own it’s a little more challenging.”

Working at Serenity Mesa can be challenging and overwhelming, but seeing a client be successful makes it worthwhile. “One of Weiss-Burke’s proudest moments was hiring one of the center’s graduates. “She graduated from the program in 2021, and then she went to live in the apartment program for a year, working two jobs. She always said her goal was to come back and work here. She waited two years, she stayed sober, she has her own apartment, paying rent, and when we had a job opening, she applied, and we hired her. She knows firsthand what is needed around here. We want to hire clients who have left the program and have been successful. She was a great client, but I’m so grateful that we have her as an employee.”

Serenity Mesa is owned and operated by the nonprofit Healing Addiction in Our Community (HAC), which was formed in 2010 by a group of concerned parents and grandparents who wanted to raise awareness and provide education about the opiate epidemic affecting the state of New Mexico and its youth. It accepts many health insurance as well as Medicaid and self-pay.