"Free at Last," an organization that for 17 years has helped individuals escape from drugs and alcohol and become free and productive, celebrated its anniversary Thursday afternoon to chants, songs and stories of people it has helped reclaim their lives.
The event was dedicated to the memory of Free at Last co-founder David Lewis, who was killed last June in San Mateo, allegedly by a longtime friend.
But it was not a memorial service, Lewis co-founder Vicky Strothers emphasized. That had already been held, and this was a celebration with a tinge of sadness.
She introduced city officials and former officials, and respresentatives of other community-based organizations, such as Faye McNair-Knox of One East Palo Alto, former Councilwoman Sharifa Wilson and police Chief Ron Davis.
She recalled how the two of them would support each other when speaking to groups as they struggled to build the organization.
But the staff and clients were the focus of her remarks.
"They're not just doing a program -- they're doing a life," she said of Free at Last clients. As they broke free of drugs and alcohol many discovered they can do other things, like dance and sing, she said, introducing a group of men who went through the program and performed a marching chant.
She also noted that a contingent of persons in the audience were wearing red McDonald's staff uniforms, pointing out that some hold manager or "lead" positions there after getting jobs through Free at Last.