Out first full day at San Pa began with breakfast. The breakfast is rather unusual. It consists of day-old bread that you can dip into marmalade, orzo ( a liquid consisting of barley extract and milk) and espresso. From there our companion/guide, Alessandro, gave a quick history of San Patrignano, which began about 50 years ago with one struggling addict being welcomed into the home of Vincenzo Muccioli and culminating in a community covering over 300 acres, several locations and housing 1,400 people today. Over the years there were lots of mistakes, trials and errors and revisions to the program but core beliefs of the program remain the same. The senior residents supervise and shadow the newer members – showing them the ropes, teaching them about the community and guiding them in what is expected of them in the community. Sometimes that guidance is gentle and sometimes it is tough – the community, as in life, requires the members to live up to their responsibilities.
Our guides – Alessandro, Laura, Kyra and Rachele
We toured some of the vocational training departments – sectors with our guides (in the photo is Alessandro, Laura, Kyra and Rachele). Every resident is assigned to one sector when they arrive and there they will remain throughout their stay (with a few exceptions). The program has always prided itself on the belief that putting in a good day’s work is essential to developing self-respect, self-confidence and feeling part of a community. Developing life and job skills is a critical component of the long-term sobriety success of successful graduates of its program.
The first sector we visited was Graphics. There the residents maintain the website, post on various platforms for social media, prepare and modify various media for the internet. In addition, they also design and print various brochures, posters, business communications, etc. for San Pa and outside clients.
The next sector was the fabric sector. In this sector the residents manufacture various styles of fabrics from natural and recycled material. The material is used to create clothing, blankets, scarves and bags. The items are then sold by San Pa to raise funds for operations or are delivered to outside designers as prototypes for future orders. The quality of the finished products was incredible!
The decorations sector was next on the list. There they make special order, hand stenciled wallpaper; they produce work for a number of world-renowned architects who ask for custom made wallpaper for their clientele. The process as explained to us was painstaking but produced some magnificent works of art in the guise of wallpaper. Some of the wallpaper was designed and printed to look like ornate wood paneling; this was achieved using a long process that begins with different earthen materials and sponging techniques to simulate the wood grain. Within the same sector Kyra talked to us about how they use leather, eco-leather and other materials to design and manufacture bags, purses and stuffed toys. The craftsmanship was second to none.
We made a quick stop in the woodworking department. There they specialize in re-purposing old wine casks and using them for a variety of products ranging from furniture to cutting boards. They also make and repair all wood items used in the community.
Lastly we toured the lavanderia – the laundry. Laura took great pride in explaining the system in doing laundry and dry cleaning not only for every table cloth and uniform but also for all the residents. From collection to washing to drying to folding and returning clean items to 1400 residents and various sectors is an enormous task, as you can imagine.
After lunch we were given the afternoon off and we all headed off to the nearby principality of San Marino. The views from this tiny, mountain-top kingdom were breath-taking as was the ancient stone walls of the castle. After sightseeing we paused for some refreshments and managed to call our loved ones back home.
We have been interacting with a host of the residents here – Scott, Rachele, Ivan, Azzura, Tom, Christian – just to name a few. All of our interactions have been very positive. Everyone has been very pleasant and accommodating. Their stories are similar to the ones we hear at home – drugs ravaged their lives, ruined relationships and led them to the brink of destruction; they have learned to deal with life without avoiding the difficult spots, appreciate what San Pa has done for them and are a little nervous about facing the big world when it is time for them to leave.