Leaving a Legacy

Craig Lambdin's Legacy

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When Craig Lambdin accepted the position to lead MFI in 1972, he wasn't thinking about legacy. He just wanted to help people through the non-profit organization, which was struggling financially and suffered a less-than-stellar reputation in the community. Recruited at a time when facility closure was a very real option, he was eager to get his hands dirty -- modeling early a form of servant leadership that has framed his entire career.

"Almost immediately, we started introducing ourselves to the neighbors. We went on ride-alongs with police so we could understand the area. And we organized citizen patrols, which significantly impacted crime," he recalls.

In a manner that masks the depth of his personal investment, he uses the term "we" to describe his role. His arrival at Woodcrest, which was the first MFI location, came on the heels of the work he did creating programs for the Youth Service Center of Riverside in the Adolescent Counseling Program, now called the Carolyn E. Wylie Center.

"The board hoped we would be able to create programs for MFI."

And create programs he did...but not to check boxes. The programs were born out of the belief that hurting people deserved the best possible care to get back on their feet.

"Early on, we were living month-to-month, trying to stretch a very thin budget to make things happen. I wanted people to have access to the latest advances. To do that, we needed to develop curriculum and train people to be human change-agents. I think, to some degree, we have been able to do just that."

Craig's "change agents" find it hard to say goodbye. Renee Mullings, Program Coordinator at Mt Rubidoux, for example, says her long-time Director's legacy is one of humility and compassion.

"He's an extremely down-to-earth guy. And he's been an amazing supervisor."

She is grateful he created a culture of trust, always placing client care above everything else and giving his employees room to grow.

Striving to mirror those habits in her own role at MFI, Renee says, "The most important thing he has done is modeled the way to be an effective leader." 

Juli Kukulka, Program Coordinator at La Vista, concurs: "I'll never forget how it felt to see a 'for sale' sign on the house that had saved my life. I had been a La Vista client in 1996. Later, as a Program Manager, I was aware that we were one month away from not even being able to make payroll. Craig and the board walked the perimeter and decided to bail us out. And he has done immeasurably more ever since. I've seen him take off his suit and tie and use a chainsaw to pull out hedges. He has literally been covered in cuts and bruises and blood for the work he has done for us. He is one of my favorite people in the world," she says, adding, "It isn't often I can say that."

Theresa Bader, Program Coordinator for A Woman's Place, notes that Craig has never been afraid of hard work. "He won't ask us to do something he wouldn't do himself. He climbs on roofs, trims trees and paints buildings. He'll chip in wherever there is a need."

Nicholas Bond, Program Coordinator for the Banning and San Bernardino Outpatient Treatment Centers, refers to Craig as "the voice in my head." And he considers that a plus. His direct supervisor while Nick was in training, Craig often reminded his protégé to have a 'North Star.' 

"Craig became that for me. Even now, when I am faced with an administrative decision, I wonder what he would do," says Nick. "I am better at my job because of his influence."

Craig's habit of making sly, off-the-cuff comments without cracking a smile has earned him the reputation for having a "wicked sense of humor." Staffers agree the personality trait is necessary in a field that can take an emotional toll.

When she was new to administration, Renee says she didn't know what to make of the way her supervisor ran interviews. The final question he would pose was, "Do you believe in aliens? You know, Extra Terrestrial Beings?" Unaware of whether he was joking, Renee recalls, "Their eyes darted around, searching in vain for the hint of a smile."

Craig says he will miss working and joking around with his 200 member staff. But after 33 years on the job, having helped hundreds of thousands of people, he is ready to hang it up and spend time with his wife and their grandson.

"There is nothing better than having someone enter treatment as one person and then, 30 days later, emerge as someone vastly different -- physically, emotionally, and mentally. Being part of that has meant the world to me," he says. "But I am ready to turn the canvas over with my life."

About MFI
Throughout 10 facilities in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, we employ the Matrix Method for each individual client, creating a personalized treatment program. Various modalities can include behavior modification, 12-Step recovery program introduction, cognitive behavioral therapy, and family systems techniques, including the family in group therapy. Treatment options include outpatient and inpatient detox, medication management (if appropriate), group therapy, individual therapy, relapse prevention education, and ongoing support after treatment. To find out more, call today (866) 218-4697, or for non-admission related information, contact us at (951) 683-6596. 

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