We had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Bob Bilbro and his wife, Carol, to dig deeper into the why behind their twenty years of giving. And even though it was more than 20 years ago, the two shared stories of the early days of building Healing Transitions like it was yesterday.
“At the time, I was the president of the Wake County Medical Society, and they asked me to go downtown to speak with the Wake County Commissioners about their healthcare strategies,” recalled Dr. Bilbro. “After a few meetings with them, the Commissioners decided to form a task force to restructure human services in the county. I was asked to be the chair, and I was as busy as could be with my medical practice. I couldn’t see myself doing it, but it turned out to be one of the best things I did.”
The work Dr. Bilbro and his colleagues did on the task force led to the creation of a new department, Wake County Human Services, that would oversee all human services in the county. That’s when Dr. Bilbro met Maria Spaulding, the then Executive Director of the new department and one of the women who would make up the so-called “Dynamic Trio” of individuals who founded Healing Transitions.
Soon after, Maria appointed a taskforce to research solutions to the growing problem of homelessness in Raleigh. The team knew a majority of homeless individuals also struggled with addiction, and they were determined to find a program that addressed both of those issues. Linda Strother, a member of the task force, found The Healing Place in Louisville, Kentucky, a program known for working directly – and successfully – with people who are homeless and struggling with addiction.
A delegation of community leaders from Raleigh visited The Healing Place and came back determined to replicate the program in Wake County.
“I was too busy practicing medicine and couldn’t go on that first trip, but I was interested in everything they told me when they came back. That’s when we agreed – we’ve got to bring that program to Wake County,” added Dr. Bilbro.
He stopped reflecting for a moment and popped back to today, adding, “Since Healing Transitions opened, the population of Raleigh has grown tremendously, but the homeless population has decreased significantly. I think that’s in part because of the work of Healing Transitions in our community. It’s been a great benefit to the community and exciting for us to be a part of it.”
You can’t learn the history of Healing Transitions without hearing the names “Bob and Carol Bilbro” come up over and over again. From health clinic volunteers to campus gardeners, board members and now capital campaign co-chairs, there’s little in the organization that hasn’t seen their fingerprints or tender care.
In the early days, Bob joined the Dynamic Trio of Maria Spaulding, Barbara Goodmon, and Fred Barber to hold donor meetings, call local and state officials, and dream of the day when they would open this incredible program to the public. Every last detail of the program was discussed and reviewed with great thought. Carol laughed as she remembered the time they debated which type of trees to plant in the men’s campus courtyard.
“We had raised the money to bring the program to life, but we wanted to be intentional about this decision,” she shared. “We were trying to figure out what kind of trees would be the best trees in the courtyard. They couldn’t grow to be 60-feet tall. They couldn’t have too many leaves or burrs or pinecones. I remember going to various nurseries and asking them what they thought. And we brought in some local master gardeners to help us too.”
“Just don’t ask me what tree we ended up planting; I can’t remember!” she laughed.
The memory of the trees sparked another poignant thought from both of them, and they continued.
“Both campuses ended up near beautiful parks. The men’s campus borders Dix Park and the women’s campus backs up to Umstead Park,” said Carol. “It’s a fabulous haven, and I think all along, with the approach to addiction and recovery, we’ve realized it needs to include an environment that is reflective, meditative, and close to nature.”
“When you come into the shelter space, and you’re sleeping with more than 100 people around you, sometimes sleeping on the floor, you have very little time to reflect on what’s happened to you or how you want to make changes in your life. Being near nature is very helpful,” she said.
Like so many gracious leaders, the Bilbros are quick to deflect when it comes to honoring their legacy with the organization, but they both acknowledged the impact Healing Transitions has had in their own lives.
“For me, it’s been wonderfully gratifying,” said Dr. Bilbro. “Gratifying and inspiring. This past year, I’ve really missed being able to walk down the hallways, give the men a hug, and follow their progress through the program. I look forward to that day returning. I’ve always been inspired to see these people come from totally down and out to becoming new people with a wonderful attitude. Just watching it unfold is so meaningful.”
Carol agreed. “Inspiring is a great word. The other word that comes to my mind is enlightening. I really didn’t know much about addiction and recovery before we started getting involved, and as I learned more about it, I just became awed by the people who can completely change their lives and turn around. I don’t think the public realizes how difficult that really is.”
With more than 20 years of memories between the two of them, it’s hard to narrow down their Healing Transitions experiences to a few favorite memories, but when they started thinking about their hopes for the organization’s next twenty years, they were both quick to chime in.
“I anticipate that healthcare providers will develop new techniques and tools to help with the battle of addiction,” said Dr. Bilbro. “The beauty of Healing Transitions’ program is that it’s not only about stopping substance abuse. It also focuses on a change in attitude and behavior, combined with a different way of living. It’s just miraculous to see that happen over and over again.”
Carol added, “It’s very difficult to do something alone, but if you have a supportive community around you, holding you, embracing you, keeping you close, lifting you up in your distress, Healing Transitions proves you can transition yourself to a new way of thinking and a whole new life.”
And what could be better than that?