Finding a calling
From a young age, Alex Castro knew he wanted to help people. “I knew early on that I had a calling, that I had a vocation,” he said. A graduate of seminary school, Alex began his career as the state youth director and a pastor for a church in Moreno Valley, CA. But even as he helped youth in his community, Alex faced an internal struggle. Counseling from a local LGBT hotline allowed him to process his concerns about being accepted by his family and community, and at age 23 he resolved to make a change. “I decided to come out of the closet and look for opportunities where I could help other people gain the ability to live their truth,” he said.
Alex moved to Denver, CO to complete a bachelor’s degree and was subsequently hired as a probation officer in the Denver juvenile justice system, where he worked for about ten years. “As a PO I saw that there was a lack of investment in services for the Spanish-speaking community, and that there was a deeper need than just basic psychoeducation classes. There was a need for deeper trauma services, and my clients were not receiving that,” he said. That’s when Alex began considering a career in therapy. “I started doing much more research and referring my clients to agencies and providers who were willing to be invested in the clients (not just their symptoms) and I realized that there was a huge need.”
Alex pursued a master’s degree in community counseling and received a state addiction counselor certification. He also started working toward a PhD in psychology. “I realized that I would be much more successful as a bilingual therapist and a counselor than as a probation officer, and it resonated more with who I was,” he explained. He decided to quit his job and start a private practice, offering counseling, substance use and trauma recovery services as a consultant.
Transforming an industry
Alex noticed that many agencies offering mandatory substance use classes were not providing the services he thought his community needed. “It’s like a revolving door. Just come in, do the court mandated sessions and get out. It was not a holistic approach to treatment and they were not generally invested in the clients.” The original owner of Life Recovery Center, a agency with locations in Northglenn and Denver, CO, shared Alex’s vision for integrating substance use and mental health services more holistically. When the original owner was offered a position in a different state, he asked Alex if he wanted to purchase the agency. “I had already built a rapport with staff, I built a rapport with clients, and so to have an external person come in just didn’t seem right,” Alex said.
Alex approached several banks to apply for financing to buy the business, but he didn’t meet the requirements because he hadn’t been in the business long enough. Alex isn’t alone. In fact, approximately 8,000 small business loan applications are declined each day in the U.S. Fortunately, a member of his PhD cohort told Alex about Accion. “I applied online. Within days they connected me with a loan officer, which is my loan officer now, filled out all the paperwork and they came back with the approval,” he said. “When others told me it was impossible, Accion told me it’s possible.”
Since taking over Life Recovery Center in 2015, Alex has greatly expanded its service offerings. The agency now offers holistic mental health, substance use and trauma recovery services as well as family reunification services for individuals recovering from substance abuse. “We have to focus on the individual holistically,” Alex explained. “I think that’s what’s made life recovery very different from any other agency, that we validate the human individual for who they are, not for the mistake they’ve made. We’re empowering each client to move forward one day at a time, giving them the tools, resources and support they need to reclaim their lives.” The agency has approximately doubled the number of clients it serves to nearly 300 per week, and Alex has dreams of opening several additional offices in the Denver metro area offering holistic, bilingual recovery services.
Living life to the fullest
At age 38, Alex is amazed at the professional and personal milestones he has reached. “Of the goals that I set in my life, my very first one was to have a career, to have a house, to have my own car by 30. I achieved it. Next, to have my own business. I achieved it. And then to marry the man of my dreams, Timothy Croy. I’ve achieved all of these goals, and I’m happy!”
Reflecting on his past experiences, Alex has no regrets. “Even the hurt, the pain and the challenges, I would not change, it because it’s all served me to grow into who I am,” he said. “I’m very honored and humbled to be able to serve in the capacity that I do.”