Beth Greco stood atop the Colorado mountain, digging her skis into the snow. The brisk November chill blasted her face as she peered down the steep incline. With next to no experience traversing black-diamond slopes, Greco knew the idea was dangerously reckless, the type of descent that carried significant risk of injury, or worse. But after a downward spiral with drug addiction had led her to this latest plunge, Greco was very much hoping for the worst.
“I thought it would [look like] an accident and it wouldn’t destroy my parents,” Greco said when describing one of her multiple suicide attempts nearly 25 years ago. “I got to the bottom of that hill and I was still alive and I was just devastated.”
To say that she has come full circle since that fateful day would be a massive understatement. That’s because Greco recently stepped into the role of president at the Walter Hoving Home, a residential shelter that aims to transform the lives of women bound by addiction, alcoholism, prostitution and other life-controlling problems. A former Walter Hoving Home resident herself, Greco recounted a harrowing journey while sitting in her office at the organization’s Pasadena location last week.
Greco grew up in Lubbock, Texas, with her mom, stepdad and two younger brothers. The household was strict and conservative, her family loving and supportive. An honor student who participated in sports and regularly attended church, Greco seemed to be on the right path. That was, until crack cocaine appeared at a party when she was 9 years old. Greco ended up at the social gathering while hanging out with an older acquaintance, and most everyone there also had several years on her.
“They kind of thought it would be funny to see a 9-year-old high,” said Greco, “and I tried cocaine for the first time.”
Although this incident remained an outlier at the time, it subconsciously unhinged a willingness to experiment with other drugs as her adolescence progressed. Marijuana, alcohol and pills were regular vices during high school in the 1980s, and things only got worse when Greco arrived at Angelo State University. She found a party on the first night and didn’t stop partying for the next three years, trying harder drugs and flunking out of college along the way. In 1988, a bad ecstasy trip on Halloween night incited a series of mental health issues. Yet detox clinics and psychiatric care were ineffective as Greco became involved in criminal activity to support her immense drug habit.
“I really became somebody I didn’t recognize, my family didn’t recognize,” said Greco, who allowed suicidal thoughts to pollute her mind alongside the drugs.
After she was unsuccessful in taking her own life during the ski trip to Colorado, Greco returned to the Lone Star State feeling more alone than ever. But her family no longer spoke to her. Going home was not an option. With gun in hand, Greco dragged herself to the emergency room and finally asked for help. She was transferred to the state psychiatric hospital, unsure of what rock bottom even meant anymore.
One day, Greco’s childhood pastor showed up at the hospital unannounced. The man who only knew her as a sweet, innocent child had become aware of the dark path she had taken and wanted to offer assistance. He gave Greco several phone numbers and words of reassurance. A few calls eventually led to a conversation with the Walter Hoving Home, which agreed to take Greco in at its Garrison, N.Y., location despite her dire situation.
Greco’s church paid for her one-way ticket to New York. When the 21-year-old landed with minimal personal belongings but what seemed like a lifetime of baggage, two Walter Hoving Home staffers picked her up from the airport and drove her to the rural residence 50 miles north of Manhattan.
“As soon as the vehicle hit the campus, I just had a sense that this was going to be different,” recalled Greco. And it was different.
“They really believed that I could change. From the onset, people spoke hope into my life.”
During her 18-month stay in what was supposed to be a 12-month program, Greco slowly searched her soul and began to recover. She rekindled a relationship with the Christian faith — the crux of the Walter Hoving Home’s mission — and learned to identify rather than make excuses for the bad choices that had previously sent her astray. The organization’s schedule forced Greco to develop a routine that helped her shake a chronic depression that would often keep her bedridden as an addict.
Guidance and encouragement from Walter Hoving Home founder John Benton also played an integral role in the restoration process, which included eight months in federal prison as a result of the crimes she had previously committed. Nonetheless, Benton was inspired by Greco’s miraculous recovery and offered her a job at the ministry when she got out of jail.
Over the next several years, Greco found her footing as a business manager, which turned into an associate director role, followed by the position of executive director. Eventually, Benton called the beacon of hope into his office and asked if she’d succeed him as president of the Walter Hoving Home.
“I had to excuse myself from the room and go collect myself,” said Greco. “I was a 21-year old drug addict when I walked in the doors of the Walter Hoving Home. Because of how they treated me, how they believed in me, how they trained me, how they raised me up as a leader, I was just thinking ‘This is insane. This is beyond what I would I have even thought.’”
Greco officially became president in March and has been getting to know the teams at all three Walter Hoving Home branches — Garrison, Pasadena and Las Vegas — during the past several weeks. She and her husband, Tim, live part-time in each city, spending the second and fourth weeks of every month in Pasadena.
“I’ll be out here a lot more and the weather’s just so much nicer,” she said.
There are 50 beds at the Pasadena location, and when Greco is in town, she makes it a point to share her story with women at the home on South El Molino Avenue.
“When you’ve been through the home, you have a different level of compassion and understanding than somebody who has gone to school and read about addiction in a textbook,” said Rebecca Mitchell, a former resident who now serves as Greco’s executive assistant at the Pasadena branch. “The women relate to her on a whole other level because of that.”
In fact, every staff member at the Walter Hoving Home was once a resident in the program. The benevolence of the community makes it difficult for women to simply walk away once they get clean.
“I didn’t think I’d be working in ministry,” said Erica Carter, the principal of the Garrison home’s learning center and temporarily assisting at the Pasadena site. “I had a master’s degree and was teaching high school before I came into the program. I thought I was going to go back to doing that. But after seeing the path that Beth has blazed, I want to walk in her steps.”
Those steps mean everything to a woman who did not expect to live past the age of 25. The Walter Hoving Home has guided Greco back to a different kind of mountaintop, only this time she is able to enjoy the view.
“It’s just people who care about helping the women out of these lifestyles,” she said. “That was amazing to me when I found out that there are people like that. Now, because I’ve changed and grown, I can be a person like that. I can give and help somebody else. It’s just been an incredible journey, one that I never expected.”
For more information about the Walter Hoving Home or if someone you know needs help, call (626) 405-0950.