Every day starts anew.

First there was George!

I am the second Chief Executive Officer of El Centro de Libertad/The Freedom Center which for over two decades has provided substance use treatment services to rural and urban communities of San Mateo County; however, the fact that El Centro has long enjoyed a strong reputation for providing services to low-income communities in a compassionate and effective manner, and is held in high regard for our “Sobriedad con Dignidad” (Recovery with Dignity) approach, has little to do with me.

First, there was George.

The first person ever employed here was a fellow named George Borg, the founder and driving force behind the creation, philosophy and direction of El Centro de Libertad. There are many interesting stories about George operating a successful auto repair shop for years before it became apparent that recovery was in his future, if he was to even have a future.

Then the unexpected happened. After nearly thirty years of addiction to drugs and alcohol, in 1985 George entered and completed the Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Program at Sequoia Hospital and, instead of fixing cars, he decided to spend his life helping people find and maintain recovery. “You have to experience recovery to want more of it”, he said recently.

After completing coursework at UC Santa Cruz, George spent the next 9 years working as a Counselor and becoming certified in Domestic Violence, Anger Management and Cross-Cultural Differences before taking a huge leap in 1994. George saw a huge gap in programs for low income members of the community seeking recovery services from substance abuse, so he opened an outpatient recovery center for people who needed help but also needed to work or go to school or even just take care of basic needs. He read a book on how to start a non-profit agency, worked with an attorney and opened his own agency, El Centro de Libertad.

And what a leap it was…Jan and George Borg took out a loan on their home in order to get the agency off the ground, and spent the early days writing checks against value of their house! The Board of Directors has always been from the community and the originals included Maggie Cuadros, Ronnie Leaf, Amparo Salgado, Mona Magee, and of course the irrepressible George Borg.

When asked why he choose this path, George said, “I wanted to give something back to the community. The 12 Step Model has always worked for me. It is like a lifestyle road map. The longer I stayed in recovery, the more I wanted to share this gift with others that had the same problems that I had. Making amends is very much part of the Steps and this was my way of giving back. Plus, at that time nobody was providing substance use outpatient services that low-income families could afford, particularly those most in need which was the Latino community.”

George certainly has made an impact on many levels:

  • He joined a group in 1986. This was a men’s recovery group that met every Thursday evening in San Francisco and was called “Work the Steps or Die….” George, in 1987, moved the group, first to his home in Redwood City and then to El Centro when it opened. This group has met every Thursday evening ever since! (over thirty years)
  • He joined a group in 1986. This was a men’s recovery group that met every Thursday evening in San Francisco and was called “Work the Steps or Die….” George, in 1987, moved the group, first to his home in Redwood City and then to El Centro when it opened. This group has met every Thursday evening ever since! (over thirty years)
  • Known for being “somewhat” gruff on occasion, George also has a reputation for compassion and personal generosity; ask any of his employees who received Christmas bonuses (many for the first time in their life!) or had a financial shortfall or needed help to pay for school or were facing a personal or family medical issue. This part of the El Centro culture still endures.
  • El Centro de Libertad was founded in response to the growing need for culturally competent drug and alcohol services. Originally focused on providing outpatient substance abuse treatment primarily to adults in urban Redwood City, El Centro de Libertad has expanded to serve more youth by opening an office for the rural Coastside communities of San Mateo County.

Today, even with all the challenges facing non-profit agencies and the communities that we serve, El Centro still impacts 900 to 1,100 individuals every year. This is quite an amazing legacy that has been built, and all because of the vision of George Borg, founder and first Chief Executive Officer of El Centro de Libertad/The Freedom Center.

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