By Susan Parmelee
The Wellness & Prevention Center provides supportive mental health and prevention services to youth and their families in South Orange County. On Sunday, Sept. 17, from 4-8 p.m. at the Ole Hanson Beach Club, located at 105 W. Avenida Pico, the center will host its first fundraising event, “Celebrate Wellness,” where organizers said they hope to raise funds to continue to provide their valuable services.
The Wellness & Prevention Center will recognize the Honorable Matthew S. Anderson with their first “Leader in Prevention” award for the outstanding prevention work he provides to the residents of Orange County.
Judge Anderson is a frequent speaker throughout Orange County where he speaks to teens and parents about pop culture and the media’s portrayal of alcohol and marijuana. He explains how our lives are affected by daily messages imprinted in our minds through newspapers, music, television and social media. He understands that our youth are deeply impressionable and easily swayed by celebrity messaging. Anderson is particularly passionate about explaining the influence of the marijuana industry, explaining the impact youth marijuana use has on the lives of the DUI and drug offenders he presides over in his courtroom.
Since 2000, Judge Anderson has been presiding over both the drug and DUI courts within the Orange County Collaborative Courts programs. Under his tenure, the DUI court at the Newport Beach Harbor Justice Center was designated as one of four academy courts, serving as a teaching site and model for other jurisdictions.
In 2002, Anderson was awarded the Community Education Award by the South Orange County Community College District for his work in drug courts, and in 2004 he was named Judge of the Year by the Orange County Narcotics Officers’ Association. In 2016, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals presented Anderson the national DWI Court Leadership award.
I recently watched an afternoon of drug court proceedings in Anderson’s courtroom. As I sat in the jury box, used for collaborators and guests, I observed the judge create a therapeutic, kind and supportive atmosphere, where he is both gentle and firm while enforcing the rules of the court—like an effective parental figure.
The participants in DUI court are post-conviction repeat offenders who are given the opportunity to participate in drug or DUI court with the goal of overcoming addiction. Strategies and sentencing for achieving this goal include participation in mental health therapy, regular drug testing, participation in athletics and outings, completing educational goals and working with program mentors.
Sitting at the table in collaboration are professionals from the Orange County Health Care Agency who provide group and individual therapy, the probation department, the district attorney and a very caring courtroom sheriff who hands out tissues as the participants read their personal statements.
At many sessions, clients graduate from the program after completing all requirements and ending their sentence. These sessions have a festive air with family, friends, mentors and program therapists joining in the celebration.
Anderson is saving lives. He knows that many of these clients may have continued the destructive path of addiction without their participation in this program. He stated, “Successfully treating addicts is a complex and difficult task. Breaking deadly habits takes consistency with enforced accountability.”
On the afternoon I sat in the courtroom, I heard many pearls of wisdom from the judge and from DUI court participants. One young adult man who had successfully made it to graduation said, “I have this program and Judge Anderson to thank for my ability to remain sober and to be happy.”
In honor of Anderson, the Wellness & Prevention Center will donate $250 to the Collaborative Courts Foundation. The mission of the Collaborative Courts Foundation is “to provide support and services to participants in the Orange County Collaborative Court programs, so they will overcome obstacles and become productive members of society.” The Foundation provides funding for education, facilitates participation in sports leagues, mentors and meets other needs as they arise. Simply put by Judge Anderson, “… the Foundation has led the way, linking services with needs, opportunities with interest, and experiences with dreams.”
Anderson presides over his courtroom but could just as easily be considered a teacher, a therapist, a social worker, or a coach who clearly believes in human potential as one of the most powerful tools to conquer the disease of addiction. His compassion for his work is contagious and is one of many reasons we will award him our first “Leader in Prevention” award.
Please join us at “Celebrate Wellness” and congratulate Judge Anderson.
Register for the event at www.celebratewellness.auction-bid.org or consider donating, purchasing a raffle ticket, or participating in our online silent auction. All proceeds will go to the Wellness & Prevention Center.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.