Liz Donahoe barely missed being a native Nevadan. Born just over the state line in Susanville, her family moved to Reno before she was 10. She was schooled locally, and her four college degrees are all from the University of Nevada, Reno. After 30 years as a federal worker, she is now case manager of Tru Vista, a private organization in Sparks.

What does Tru Vista do?

Tru Vista is a nonprofit. We’re a 501(c)3, and our job is reuniting families.

How?

We are a part of the Washoe County family drug court team. We get our clients and our referrals through them. We operate with them on a regular basis. We’re part of the whole process.

How do these families get apart to begin with?

Families are using drugs or using alcohol and behaving inappropriately, not having a safe home for their children, something like that. Their behavior is called to the attention of Washoe County Social Services in some shape, form or fashion. … We had one family where the kid went to school and said, “My dad was pushing my mother last night.” So CPS, child protection, goes in, checks it out, sees that the family is doing something [wrong] and removes the kid. That’s how they come to us. The kids are not with them when they’re referred to us. Most people have burned every possible bridge they can when they come to us. This is the last hurrah. … We’re all about family, trying to get them reunified. They go through a case plan at Washoe County. A social worker thinks maybe they’re a good candidate for family drug court, which is kind of an alternative court. Not kind of, it is an alternative court.

This is what we call diversion?

Right, that’s exactly what it is, but we never use that word. We just say family drug court. And when they come to us and we accept them, basically, what they get is a whole lot of extra help. But they also have to work a little bit harder. They have to engage in treatment, whether it’s inpatient or outpatient. They have to be doing domestic violence classes, anger management, grief classes, parenting, strengthening families, whatever it takes for them to be better to get their kids back.

What does Tru Vista do that public agencies, or other private agencies, for that matter, do not do?

The beauty of Tru Vista is it’s not a government agency. There’s no wait. If a family needs something, and a judge says on a Wednesday, “OK, I want this family reunified by Friday,” [it’s done]. And let’s say, as with most of our clients, they’ve ruined their credit because of their drug and alcohol use, so they’ve got an outstanding bill at Sierra Pacific Power. We can call over there, find out how much they need to get things turned on right now, work with them—you know, I can drive the check over there and have it paid like that [snaps her fingers]. Coming from 30 years with the fed, things at the government usually don’t happen that fast.

Is there a success rate? Do you track that?

With the 12-month program plus three [months] tacked on for aftercare, we have about an 80 percent success rate, which isn’t too bad. No one has really kept track of it after that, which we started doing in the last year—how many people have graduated and how many are still clean, let’s say, at two years.

As you see the caseload keep going up, do you ever feel like you have your finger in a dike?

Yes, I don’t think we’re ever not going to be busy, especially with methamphetamine. That’s a real serious concern in the Reno area. No, I don’t see this going away. We don’t have enough beds to put people in, inpatient. We’ve got people on waiting lists. … So no, again, it’s not going away. We don’t have enough beds to take care of everybody.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...