A father heals by helping others at Sun Street Centers

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Posted: Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Jerry Bunker, a Salinas father of a son who battles addiction, helps others who may succeed at Sun Street Centers as a way to heal hurts in his own family.

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After retirement, Jerry Bunker had some time on his hands.

So, when he was asked to be on the board of Sun Street Centers, a nonprofit that helps men and their families recovery from addiction, he didn’t say no.

The truth is, he’s drawn to his service there.

In his own family, his father died from alcoholism at age 54 and even spent some time at the center when it first opened in 1968.

And Bunker’s oldest son, Jeff, has been battling drug addiction since he first tried marijuana at age 15. Sun Street Centers was a stopping point for him but he relapsed.

He’s now 35 and just got out of Monterey County jail. Hopefully, this time, he’ll turn his life around at Turning Point, which his father described as a halfway house.

During the past 20 years, Bunker and his wife, Judy, have experienced what he calls a death each time their son relapsed into drug addiction.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “For me and my wife. We go into a depression, cry and go to bed.”

The Bunkers do what they can for Jeff and share custody of his 8-year-old son with the child’s mother.

But it’s by volunteering at Sun Street Centers and becoming knowledgeable about addiction and methods of treatment, that he has begun to heal from the hurt of addiction in his own family.

“I can’t fix him,” he said. “My way of healing is to offer my skill set for other individuals who may succeed.”

Jerry Bunker, president of the board of directors at Sun Street Centers in Salinas, sits in on a finance committee meeting Wednesday. He’s often at the recovery center, either attending subcommittee meetings or going over details with Executive Director Anna Foglia.

What he offers
Jerry Bunker knows how to run a smooth operation.

During his 35 years with McCormick & Co., he rose through the ranks and ended up managing the supply chain which included planning, scheduling, production and output at the Salinas plant which closed in 2005.

He managed 125 employees and his mission was to make their jobs easier. He takes that approach with the nonprofits he volunteers for which include the California Rodeo Salinas and Helping Hands as well as Sun Street Centers.

“Everywhere I’m at I try to look at things to try to simplify and [find] the most logical way to do things,” he said.

For the rodeo, he helped streamline and improve the event to make it a safe family experience as well as to make it fun. He’s in his 34th year as a director for the rodeo, serving as one of 52 directors for the rodeo. The California Rodeo Salinas celebrates its 110th show in July.

As a rodeo director for more than three decades, he went from running a small committee on the track to volunteering year round to optimize the land-locked show grounds with better traffic flow.

At Helping Hands, which he founded with his brother, Mark Bunker, and long-time friend Alan Tarp, the goal is to raise money for people who are going through hardships in Monterey County. The idea was reminiscent of when they were all involved in their children’s sporting activities.

From time to time back then, they were asked to raise money for someone in need by having a BBQ.

Likewise, Helping Hands helps people who have fallen through the cracks, Bunker said. For example, the nonprofit gave a $500 gas card for someone who needed money for fuel to travel back and forth to Stanford University for 10 weeks of treatment.

“Helping Hands helps 10-12 people a year who really need help in their 11th hour of life,” he said.

And the nonprofit was able to donate money to Sun Street Centers in the last few years as it struggled to update its dormitories.

Sun Street Centers’ men’s residential recovery program is located on Sun Street in Salinas. This 54-bed facility remains 80-100 percent full.

Life after retirement
Bunker retired in 2006 from McCormick & Co. Then he spent a year working for a coffee company. After that, he started a trucking company connected to his old employer, McCormick. He helped with logistics, in particular, the movement of goods coming in by rail, unloading the trailers and matching them with trucks for shipping.

But his heart is very much at Sun Street which he joined six years ago.

“When I commit [to an organization], I want to understand everything about it,” he said.

After attending workshops, he said he knew he was in the right place. Sun Street Centers’ accreditation and audits were all above average, but what it lacked was recognition in the community.

“We’ve got all the right makings of a great operation,” he said.

One of the first things he did was to increase the number of board members from nine to 12. Board members now include business people, state and county workers, social service workers and some individuals who’ve been through recovery themselves.

With extra help on a diverse board, it could look beyond the day-to-day operation of a men’s recovery center and plan for growth and how to better serve the community.

Bunker currently serves as president of the board of directors and visits the center a few times a week. He sits in on every sub-committee meeting plus he checks in with the executive director, Anna Foglia, once or twice a week to sign off on checks, go over activities, operations and see what’s ahead on the calendar.

“Anna uses me as a sounding board,” he said.

Foglia appreciates Bunker’s compassion, support and skills in collaboration.

“His keen understanding of successful business models is a huge benefit to Sun Street Centers,” she said.

Sun Street Centers serves 8,000 people a year throughout Monterey County at several facilities. Based on a social model, its treatment facilities are run by people who’ve been through it themselves, she said.

The center began in 1968 on Sun Street and now occupies one end of a city block bordered by Sun Street, Calle Cebu and Peach Drive.

In Salinas, Sun Street Centers operates a 54-bed men’s residential recovery facility at 8 Sun St. which stays 80-100 percent full. Counseling services are offered at 11 Peach Dr. for both men and women.

Offices in Seaside and Soledad as well as another office in Salinas offer various programs including counseling; a driving under the influence program; and a prevention program for middle and high school age children and their parents.

The prevention program alone serves 5,000 children a year, Foglia said.

A transitional recovery program, Pueblo del Mar in Marina, is geared toward reuniting children with their parents, mostly mothers. It’s a place for homeless women with children, men with children and families with children where they can live and participate in a safe, affordable transitional housing program for 18-24 months.

To get in, they have to be clean and sober. They reunite with their children, work on their recovery and the children get tutored.

These 54, 2-bedroom units are managed by the Housing Authority of Monterey County and the recovery programs are provided by Sun Street Centers. It stays full and often has a waiting list, Bunker said.

“The goal is to get their life back together and go out and land a job,” he said. “We’re tracking an 80-82 percent success rate. That’s a mind blower.”

Sun Street Centers also offers sober living apartments in Salinas across from its men’s residential facility. Nine 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom apartments are located at 7 and 9 Sun. St.

Looking forward
In the future, Sun Street Centers’ mission could include a women’s program as well as a men’s program with the mental health professionals and medical professionals working together, he said.

On the personal side, Bunker said he wants to learn all he can so he can help his son do the right thing.

“It’s the reason I’m still involved with it,” he said.

He’s also lost 3-4 friends to alcoholism. Growing up with all the social pressures to drink alcohol, he said he just didn’t want to go down that road himself.

“I was close to it,” he said. “I could see how bad habits formed.”

From his research on addiction and recovery centers, he’s come to realize there are companies wanting to solve the addiction problem.

For example, an addict needs a fix, needs to take responsibility for himself and needs to get a job — in that order. But Bunker learned that drugs are being researched that may rewire the brain to put the need for a fix last.

“We are in the age of major breakthroughs,” he said.

Another technique involves an App that will read heart rate, behavior and moods.

“If an addict wants to change, this kind of technology is around the corner,” he said. “It’s so dog-gone hard.”