McAlister founder hands off leadership

Courtesy photo
McAlister Institute founder Jeanne McAlister (left) and her granddaughter
Marrisa Varond.

Since its humble beginnings in 1977, McAlister Institute has grown into one of San Diego County’s largest alcohol and other drug treatment providers. Its innovative programs are built on more than 50 years of experience helping local residents to become drugfree, independent, and healthy, serving more than 20,000 individuals each year with 24 programs that spans prevention, outreach, intervention, deferred entry programs, outpatient treatment, short-term and long-term residential, and sober living. Headquartered in El Cajon, founder and CEO Jeanne McAlister, now 91, and with more than 66 years of sobriety has also advocated to fight the stigma that comes with addiction.

At the Institute’s seventh annual Miracles of Recovery Luncheon, it was announced McAlister is stepping down as CEO and handing over the reins to her granddaughter, Marrisa Varond, who has worked with her grandmother at the Institute for more than a decade.

“She is not retiring,” said Varond. “She is evolving her position. It will be our 47th anniversary (this year), Jeanne has been our founder and CEO, and built this organization from the ground up. As we have been looking to the future, and planning on how to remain responsive to the needs of our clients and where we are going, I think we are all recognizing that we must keep this magic going. She is stepping into a different role, and I will be stepping in as the new CEO in August. I cannot imagine a more inspirational teacher.”

Varond said they are still looking at the prospects of McAlister’s new role at the Institute.

“She will remain on the frontlines of serving people and being with clients because I know that is where she is the happiest. She will be serving people until the day she can no longer,” said Varond. “I will be one of many people who will be carrying on this legacy forward. We are a working organization that has results. We take the whole person as they are. We have a magic that has not been exactly modeled or defined, but I think really defining that recipe and sharing it as broadly as we can. One of the things that always sticks out to me is less than six percent of people ever get the treatment that they need. While McAlister is changing lives with everyone that makes it into our programs and our doors, there are so many more people out there that need our help. I do not know if we will get the other 94%, but I do have faith that we are flexible, innovative, and our staff is amazing, and we are also great advocates.”

Varond said there are plenty of opportunities to bring people along and help get those numbers better. McAlister Institute now has 406 individuals on its staff, not including volunteers.

“Because we work with such a vulnerable population, we have many requirements in place for volunteers,” she said. “We work with trainees who are still in school and interested in learning more about the field and working with our population. We have a thrift store and a bingo game where we always need volunteers. And we love donations. Both in the form of folks who have new or gently used items, and we are also working on a legacy fund that will allow us to move into the future with the same flexibility and client-centered approach that Jeanne has championed for 47 years.”

For more information about McAlister Institute, visit


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