Cenikor Foundation graduate and board member Larry Hobbs credits the nonprofit with helping him overcome addiction and develop the work ethic that has led him to success, despite a recent journalistic investigation that found Cenikor sent thousands of patients over the years to work without pay at more than 300 companies.
An investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and a documentary on Al Jazeera’s “Fault Lines” released late last month found tens of thousands of Cenikor patients in Texas and Louisiana worked without pay at hundreds of for-profit companies as part of the patients’ treatment, possibly violating federal labor law and leaving little time for addiction treatment or counseling.
Reveal also reported last week that former patients who went through Cenikor’s work program to treat their addiction have filed three federal lawsuits against the foundation. They claim Cenikor violated federal labor law by forcing them to work for free.
But Hobbs said the work program taught him skills he would not have otherwise, which helped him ascend to president and CEO of Hobbs Bonded Fibers, a local manufacturing company. He thought the Reveal story was biased and did not tell the full story, Hobbs said.
“They found three disgruntled folks. I’m sure I can find three disgruntled folks at my plant if I try hard enough,” he said. “I’m proud to have gone through that program. It really helped instill a work ethic that I still use to this day, and it also helped me understand my personal responsibility to take ownership for my choices.”
Cenikor has a Waco location that serves more than 1,000 clients annually in outpatient detox and residential services, Cenikor spokesman Dan Rene said. The Waco location does not have the work program, which is part of Cenikor’s long-term residential recovery program.
“For 53 years, Cenikor Foundation served its clients and their communities and families, changing thousands of lives for the better,” Cenikor Vice President of Human Resources Kellee Webb said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with the Waco community to provide short-term residential, detox and intensive outpatient services to those in need. Our focus remains on clients’ recovery from substance use disorders and their re-entry into society.”
A letter on Cenikor’s website from President and CEO Bill Bailey states the work program “provides a career path for clients to be hired by companies who traditionally do not hire those with felony convictions, allowing them to return to a life of being a responsible, contributing member of society.”
Hobbs, 57, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction as a young adult and found Cenikor’s Fort Worth program “by the grace of God,” he said. He spent about 18 months in the therapeutic community, doing physical labor at various companies and receiving individual and group counseling.
“I was an addict,” Hobbs said. “I had an addiction, and I didn’t know it.”
While at Cenikor, Hobbs built wooden trusses for one company, worked for a business that manufactured aluminum-framed windows and a wire cable company. He said Cenikor tried to place patients in the work program in jobs that suited their needs.
“It was hard work, but it was fulfilling work,” he said.
Cenikor sent Hobbs to college on its dime. He did not earn a degree while in the program, although the courses transferred when Hobbs later attended Texas Tech University. He did graduate from the Cenikor program in 1987, which required him to have a job, a car, a home and money in the bank.
Hobbs graduated from the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities at Texas Tech, a program for students in recovery, on Dec. 16, 2000. He went to work the next day. Hobbs started as production manager at Hobbs Bonded Fibers before becoming plant manager, chief operating officer and now chief executive officer.
Hobbs’ father, Carey Hobbs, took ownership of the company by the ’70s and later relocated it to Waco. It has become a high-profile manufacturer of products ranging from sound-deadening material for the automotive industry to insulation for garments and military sleeping bags. They sold the company in 2015 to a New York-based private equity firm but remained involved in its operations.
When Larry Hobbs returned to Waco after college, the Freeman Center, Cenikor’s predecessor in Waco, asked him to join its board of directors. Hobbs served on the board until Cenikor stepped in, and the new organization asked him to join its national board of directors, which he still serves on today.
“We still offer treatment in Waco, and that wouldn’t have happened without Cenikor,” he said.
Former McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna started serving on the Cenikor board of directors about the time it took over the Freeman Center, he said. He is now the board chairman.
Reyna said he wanted to join the board to ensure Waco maintained a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. He strongly believes people with addiction need proper tools to overcome it. He served on the Cenikor board while district attorney, but he said he saw no conflict of interest in holding both positions. He said judges may have recommended Cenikor for some offenders during sentencing and that the McLennan County Pretrial Intervention Program used the facility for assessments to determine if people had a drug or alcohol problem.
Nelson Barnes, assistant district attorney, said his office still uses Cenikor to conduct the assessments and that people can choose to go to Cenikor for treatment as part of their sentence, if they are required to complete treatment.
Currently, eight people on probation receive outpatient treatment from Cenikor, and one person on probation is in the inpatient treatment program in Waco, said Chip Seigman, McLennan County Community Supervision and Corrections Department director. There are 3,000 people on probation in the county.
Seigman said people typically are sent to the state Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility because its program is shorter than Cenikor’s, but people can request to go to Cenikor. The state program lasts six months, while Cenikor’s lasts 18 months.
Cenikor has locations in Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.