Earl Miller, regarded as one of Benicia’s most colorful characters, started the nonprofit Reach Out in Benicia 19 years ago with his wife, Jane. Every Monday since, Earl has led “group” of more than 6,000 of the town’s young people who have substance abuse problems. On May 6, in celebrating Earl’s 61st birthday, “Rock Out for Reach Out” comes to the Clocktower with the organization’s 18th annual fundraiser that includes local musicians David Sikes and Jeff Campitelli, testimonies, auction, and dinner. For more information, visit the website. Meanwhile, Earl managed to sit down and talk about the organization in a recent interview at a downtown cafe.
Did you ever think Reach Out would be closing in on 20 years?
I thought we would work for four months and have the problem all cleaned up. And here we are, 18 or 19 years later — I forget exactly when — and we’re still helping Benicia’s youth. The drug of choice may change, but the problem doesn’t.
Do you keep seeing the same kids or is there a turnover?
Some have stayed for 15 years. Some one week and have said, “This isn’t for me.” Obviously, they weren’t ready for recovery. I do believe that every kid who comes in gets the knowledge of what it’s going to be like to be in recovery. We’re going to love you and give you all the benefits of being part of the formula.
How do you stay interested in counseling young people with problems?
I’ve been through what they go through, whether it’s problems with parents, with school, with drugs and alcohol. Just seeing them at a Monday night meeting brings me joy. It means they’re interested in recovery. Many who can’t talk to their parents, can talk to me and talk to their peers. It’s really magic what happens every Monday night.
What are the “high” moments for you after 20 years of sobriety?
When a guy comes in like someone did recently that was with Reach Out for 17 years and he says, “I’ve got five days clean” and he’s so excited. That’s what gets me high. Anyone who comes to Reach Out knows they can call me any time.
Will there be Reach Out after Earl Miller?
Definitely. Right now we’re paying for six people to go to college to by counselors in this community for years to come. And, while I’m splitting time between here and Mexico, I can be doing “virtually counseling” from my computer. I do think I’ll be with Reach Out until I die, which (Miller laughs) could be four or five months.
You’ve had heart problems due to stress. What have you learned from seeing a doctor?