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‘Tomorrow is too late’: $10 million gift to expand Hazelden Betty Ford’s family programming

The gift announced Friday is the largest in Hazelden Betty Ford’s history and will provide initial funding needed to launch a National Center for Families and Children, an effort for which the nonprofit is aiming to raise $100 million.

A building on the Hazelden Betty Ford campus in Center City.
A building on the Hazelden Betty Ford campus in Center City.
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

A $10 million gift from the Bethesda, Maryland-based Diana Davis Spencer Foundation will help establish a National Center for Families and Children at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The gift announced Friday is the largest in the Center City, Minnesota-based nonprofit’s history and will provide initial funding needed to launch the center, an effort for which Hazelden Betty Ford is aiming to raise $100 million. 

Joseph Lee
Joseph Lee
Dr. Joseph Lee, Hazelden’s president and CEO, said the gift will allow the organization to expand its “really magical children’s program that, due to resources, has been hard to scale.” The donation, he explained, allows Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation leaders to ask, “’What are some innovative ways we can approach this? How can we expand our reach and help more families?’”  

The Center will further increase the nonprofit’s presence in the addiction treatment world and emphasize its role as a national leader in mental health and family services, he added:  “With this gift, we can do a lot more to provide for families and children across the country.” 

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The donation was inspired in part by the personal experience of Abby Spencer Moffat, Diana Davis Spencer Foundation chief executive officer and president. She explained that her father, the late John Means Spencer, was a “binge drinker” who gave up alcohol later in life, but that the experience of growing up in a family touched by addiction forever influenced her way of thinking. 

Abby Spencer Moffat
Abby Spencer Moffat
“With addiction,” Moffat said, “you either become one if you are a child of one or you marry one — or both in my case.” While she never had mental health support during her father’s struggle with alcoholism, Moffat said that in 2014, she and her own children attended Hazelden Betty Ford’s week-long family program at the nonprofit’s location in Rancho Mirage, California.

The experience, Moffat said, “made a huge difference. It started my journey of healing. I was so moved by the program, so touched by the people I met there.” 

That transformative experience eventually led Moffat to initiate the donation, a move she said she hopes will inspire significant growth in Hazelden Betty Ford’s programming for children and families. With addiction at crisis levels across the United States, she decided the time was right to make a significant gift that she hopes will help family members break a destructive cycle. 

“This crisis is urgent,” Moffat said. “It can no longer wait. Families need help and support. It has to be done today. Tomorrow is too late.” 

Shared goals

Lee said that Moffat’s desire to help others find the support she experienced is a common theme among people who’ve been impacted by addiction and recovery: “One of the things we talk about among people who understand recovery culture is that it is made up of a lot of people who found hope, and who have spent their lives helping others find that same hope.” 

The $10 million gift feels like a continuation of that desire, he said.  

“This is really part of that virtuous cycle of a person who has gone through a recovery experience and come out the other side. They look back and say. ‘If I am helping other people through this journey, what are some supports I wish I would’ve had?  What are some pitfalls I wish other people could avoid?’” 

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The support that she and her children received at Hazelden’s family program, Moffat said, was “absolutely vital. You cannot have the healing of just the addicted person: You have to have healing of the whole family. When you heal the family, you start to heal the community. When you heal the community you heal the country.” 

Family-centered addiction treatment is in line with Hazelden Betty Ford’s recent embrace of CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training), a program that’s focused on knitting families impacted by addiction back together through generational involvement and loving support. 

Historically, not enough attention has been paid to the family members of people with addiction, Lee said;  the creation of the National Center for Families and Children will be a key step in changing that: “We know outcomes are better when family members are engaged — not just for themselves, but also for the person who is getting care.” 

Potential for growth 

Financial support from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation will help Hazelden Betty Ford expand existing family programming, Lee said, making it more engaging, audience-focused and accessible.  

“The products that we launch going forward will be much more immersive,” he said. “We can really embed it within the patient’s journey. We can broaden it. We can use it for different communities that need it, communities that might not have had easy access in the past, like military families.” 

Moffat said she hopes that her gift will “encourage other people to also join us on this journey. I hope it will also give those who are thinking about going to a family program the courage to step forward.”

Her own family’s experience at Hazelden Betty Ford was positive, Moffat said. She and her children will be forever grateful for time they spent learning how they could limit the impact of their loved one’s addiction. Addiction touches everyone’s life in one way or another, she said, and she hopes that her gift will make it possible for other families to find the same level of hope and healing.  

“Hazelden Betty Ford is a place of hope and love and encouragement. That is what our country was founded on. I think it is important to emphasize that addiction isn’t something to be embarrassed about. We all have our challenges. We are all on this journey to help one another, and this gift is one way I could do that,” Moffat said.