Prasoon Wilson is a former tennis instructor turned manager of The Friendship Club in Santa Fe, a community center that hosts 12-step meetings, yoga classes, dances and free holiday meals. With a coffee bar and bookstore full of 12-step materials, the center also offers a variety of community-centric events, such as a recent free legal advice clinic. The 31-year-old club is the beneficiary of approximately 100 hours of volunteer service each week. Earlier this month, 1st Judicial District Court Judge Michael Vigil and Santa Fe Magistrate Court Judge David Segura nominated FSC for a Santa Fe Community Foundation Piñon Award in the Unsung Heroes category.
SFR: Since you took over FSC three years ago, you’ve started holding yoga classes, and I also read you hosted a Thanksgiving dinner. What’s the thinking behind branching out from just being a recovery center?
PW: Last year, we voted to change the bylaws and take the 12-step language [directly affiliating FSC with Alcoholics Anonymous] out because it’s more of a community center. That’s essentially what we are today, and the general theme for our focus for the future is public health and neighborhood wellness. We’re associated but not affiliated with AA or any 12-step program. [FSC hosts AA, Al-Anon for friends and family of alcoholics, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Nicotine Anonymous.] We have at least four meetings a day, 365 days a year, rain, snow or shine.
You must come across inspirational stories of personal change often in your work here.
Oh, I see them every day. And I see some tragedies. [Recently, two family members of people involved with FSC died from complications of alcoholism.] I think there’s a yearning in the community for a place for people to come to bring their grief. Or their joy—we have some great fun here. People sleep with one another here; they have affairs; they do all kinds of things. I mean, you name it; we do it. They hustle from one another. We are not perfect; we are definitely not…But it’s our village and we take care of one another, you know? But it was meaningful to me that two people—the day after their loved one passed away—they were here, and they know they have a place to come. I thought about that, and it moved me deeply.
You taught tennis for 20 years before doing this. Are there any parallels between what you’re doing now and teaching tennis?
Teaching tennis, people think it was teaching backhands and forehands—actually, the stuff that I spent on the tennis court was about 25 percent of my job. People came to me to take lessons for a sense of community. Women come because they want to lose weight; guys come because they want to get their stresses out. The theme is, yes, they want to learn to play tennis but…you know, it’s a sense of wanting to belong in a club, in a group, in a village. Whether it’s playing tennis or a 12-step program, the theme is the same: You want to belong; you want to participate in something.
You’ve been sober for nine years. Do you think part of why you chose this work is out of gratitude to the 12-step programs that helped you?
AA is my life. Everything that is good and decent in my life was taken away by alcohol and then returned to me in spades through fellowships like this. That’s about as simply as I can say it. Everything was taken away and then returned. I expect to die at The Friendship Club—drunk or sober, I will be here.
In addition to providing a community for people, it seems like FSC also offers a nonjudgmental atmosphere.
I’d like to say that we are, but we’re as petty as any other small community. We’re not saints here. We’re completely flawed, and still we manage. This isn’t utopia; this is completely human. And we fight with one another and have our resentments that we carry—but somehow, every week, 600 asses sit in these chairs, and they keep coming back.