“He had a huge heart. He got great grades. He played sports. He was so well-behaved. I mean, there was just nothing to tell us that there was a problem until, you know, this happened.”
Wendy Webber knows the pain of losing a child. Her son Garrett was funny, well liked and had a tender heart.
“Looking at Garrett's picture I can look at it some days and it fills my heart and other days it just breaks me apart,” Webber said.
A a teenager, Garrett was pushed toward drugs as a means of relief from social anxiety. He started with marijuana and eventually turned to harder drugs like heroin.
"It was like the ground came out from underneath me. To hear that word [heroin]," Webber said.
She and her husband, a law enforcement agent, were blindsided when they discovered their son was using one of the most addictive street drugs in the world.
“We were shocked. I mean, beyond shocked,” Webber said. “We never saw it coming.”
Garrett spent his teenage years in and out of rehabilitation and counseling. All the while, Webber was constantly fearful her only son would die.
Webber said Genesis Recovery in Lakeside was one place where she knew her son was loved and safe.
Tommy Hathorn founded Genesis and worked to put Garrett on a path toward sobriety.
"Garrett wasn't the kind of kid that when he relapsed people stopped loving him,” he said. “People loved him more.”
Hathorn said Genesis blends clinical help with a Christian faith-based program.
“The good news is that every single person that comes to Genesis recovery will be exposed to more than just sobriety...Our recipe is based on four main things: we're faith-based, clinical, 12 step and community. And we blend them together in such a unique way. It's not done anywhere else in San Diego, really. Probably not even in California,” he said.
Hathorn said in San Diego, county-funded and free treatment programs often have wait lists that are weeks or even months long.
Genesis, a privately funded non-profit, has served around 600 people over the years. On average, treatment at Genesis costs approximately $7,500 per month. Hathorn said privately-funded programs can cost between $7,000 and $60,000 a month and patients typically stay between three and four months.
Steve Ackerman and JJ Wood, who were at Genesis Recovery at the same time as Garrett, called Genesis Recovery “life-changing.”
"This place provides a level of hope and love that I wish everybody had the opportunity to have,” Wood said.
In June, 2017 Webber’s fears were realized. Garrett had left a rehab program in Orange County with a friend and, after a few days, the two realized they had to check back in. They searched for programs in the area and found one that had an open bed for the next day, but Garrett never lived to see it.
He died of an overdose that night. He was just 22 years old.
Hathorn said it is a painful ending to a story that hits home for far too many.
"When you ask the question ‘Have you lost someone that you love to addiction?’ Almost everybody can relate to that,” Hathorn said.
At Garret's celebration of life, the Webber family launched a campaign to help others.
"My husband and daughter and I decided to start a scholarship fund at Genesis in Garrett's name and asked people to donate to that in lieu of sending flowers and we were blown away by the amount of money that got donated."
So the Webber family started "We Walk for Hope 5K." Their upcoming walk on May 4, 2019 will be the second year they’ve raised scholarship money for treatment.
Click here to find out more about the 5k.
The walk takes place in the rolling hills of the Cleveland National Forrest in San Diego’s East County. The walk offers an opportunity to reflect on loved one’s who have died as a result of addiction and offer hope to people who want to turn their life around. Webber said last year there were around 150 walkers and they raised $17,000 for the cause.
They’re hopeful the walk grows every year.
"My hope is to save a family from living the heartbreak that my family and I have to live with every day,” Webber said.
"This is all about walking in memory of the ones we've lost that we love and raising money to help someone else and hopefully prevent someone else from losing their life to addiction,” Hathorn said.
Hathorn said they post pictures of loved ones lost to addiction throughout the route so as people walk together they memorialize those who have died from addiction.
Ackerman and Wood both understand how life-changing a scholarship can be. They both received Genesis scholarships to turn their lives around and now both work at Genesis helping others.
Ackerman said he spent 19 years addicted to drugs and 16 of those years incarcerated. After spending time at Genesis, Ackerman said he is finally free.
We Walk for Hope 5k Gallery
“When people are broken from this disease they lose absolutely everything. They have nothing and a place like this reaches their hand out because of somebody who was able to donate and to bring awareness like Wendy has,” Wood said.
Hathorn said people need to understand addiction itself is not worth investing in, but the addict is, especially when they want help.
“I think Wendy is the poster child for ‘Gone but not forgotten,’” Ackerman said. “And she shares her experience of strength and hope with others.”
Webber said she wants to help someone who is ready to turn his life around.
"I want Garrett’s life and his loss of life to really stand for something,” she said. “And I know he would love that. That someone, in his memory, someone's life got saved."