KATONAH, N.Y. - For many people around the world, Stepping Stones, the famed Katonah home of a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, and his wife Lois (co-founder of the Al-Anon/Alateen support groups), is considered hallowed ground.
The Dutch Colonial Revival on Oak Road, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012, is maintained by the Stepping Stones
Foundation, and serves as a museum and bucket-list destination for those personally touched by alcohol abuse—as well as for pop-culture and history buffs.
It is where Wilson (also known as Bill W.) devised the groundbreaking 12-step rehabilitation framework, creating a model that has endured in addiction recovery for 85 years.
Following his own struggles with sobriety, Wilson, who lived in the house from 1941 until his death in 1971, authored four books, including notably “Alcoholics Anonymous,” also known as “the Big Book,” which helped reshape the public perception of alcoholism—and gave hope and inspiration to countless people by providing a treatment program and a community of mutual support.
Sally A. Corbett-Turco, the Executive Director of Stepping Stones, said that the privately run foundation has traditionally welcomed visitors, six days a week, by reservation. Even before the pandemic, in November, the organization had launched an online series marking their 40th anniversary, which helped reach many people who might not be able to travel to the area.
But in mid-March, when the facility was forced to close for tours, the importance of an increased virtual presence became clear.
“Back then we couldn’t have anticipated today’s demand for online programs due to the pandemic,” Corbett-Turco said. “When the pandemic hit and Stepping Stones paused on-site tours, we learned that the 12-Step recovery fellowships shifted from mostly in-person meetings to mostly online meetings.”
Stepping Stones then launched “Home with History: A Virtual Exploration of the Lives, Home & Archives of Bill & Lois Wilson,” on Zoom; it has been presented 35 times since early May and has welcomed participants from all over the world.
The live, narrated and illustrated event, along with a Q& A portion, is tailored for online conventions, retreats and recovery anniversary celebrations, according to Corbett-Turco, and has already reached about 9,000 people.
“I’ve seen people moved to tears as I read from the Wilsons’ letters from our archives. Some remark that they are full of gratitude to learn about the Wilsons’ life and work at Stepping Stones and their legacy,” she said.
Through social media, email and a network of virtual ambassadors, Stepping Stones has been able to make its programming more widely available—reaching out to many groups who are missing their normal in-person gatherings during these past months.
“The pandemic definitely accelerated our effort to engage audiences online, but we will continue to develop robust online programs and resources even after the pandemic subsides,” the executive director added.
Even the annual June picnic at Stepping Stones—one that some attendees describe as a spiritual experience of fellowship—became a virtual event; normally it welcomes 500 visitors at the site. This year, the 69th Annual Stepping Stones Lois’ Family
Groups Picnic took place online for four hours, with 3,800 viewers registered from 35 countries. The foundation will re-show the presentation online on Sunday, September 27, in English, Spanish and American Sign Language.
With the success of ongoing online offerings, Corbett-Turco made a plea for monetary support of the foundation’s multiphase Archive Preservation Project that will make available 10,000 manuscripts and photographs from the Wilsons—and will give free access for anyone to conduct research. “Right now we are in the midst of trying to raise, through a matching challenge, the final $25,000 to create the online archive,” she explained.
Going forward, the organization will continue to engage with the public through their website, digital archives and programs. For the estimated two million people worldwide who are members of A.A., it will become an even more accessible way to explore the legacy of Bill and Lois Wilson and 12-step recovery.
However, Turco-Corbett concedes that an in-person visit will always be something special for the community at large.
“I believe that people gain something from coming here, whether or not they have any connection to recovery; the work Bill and Lois Wilson did helped to save millions of lives and it continues to so,” she said.
Presentation and audience Q&A with author Bill Schaberg
Register for the Zoom event at https://schaberg.eventbrite.com. The event is from 1-2:30 p.m. Sunday, September 20.
Free. Advance registration required.
Donations are welcomed to support Stepping Stones.
Bill Schaberg’s in-depth exploration in his recent book “Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A.,” includes extensive research from Stepping Stones Archives. Bill will tell the exciting story filled with twists and turns as he recounts the 18 months it took in the 1930s for the Big Book to be written and go to press. Visit the Stepping Stones website to purchase Bill’s book. After Bill’s 60-minute presentation he will take audience questions.
2020 Picnic Reshowing
Watch the recorded picnic from 1-4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 27.
Register at https://EnglishSpanishPicnicReshowSept27.Eventbrite.com
This reshowing on Zoom of the original English presentation is being offered with new, live Spanish translation as well as live American Sign Language interpretation.
By popular demand, the 69th Annual Stepping Stones Lois’ Family Groups Picnic, which was originally presented live on June 6 will be reshown in an anonymity-protected rebroadcast. A.A., Al-Anon, and Alateen speakers faces will not be shown.
The event starts with an introduction by Stepping Stones President John J. Quinn and Executive Director Sally A. Corbett-Turco. Next is a history interview with a relative of Ebby T. Back in 1934, Ebby T., who was a friend from Bill W.’s youth in Vermont, had a few months sober and carried a message of recovery to Bill W. Ebby helped inspire Bill to try to get sober and seek one more treatment.
Following the interview is a Stepping Stones overview (short virtual walk through), messages from friends of Stepping Stones and the Wilsons, and the traditional open speaker meeting with A.A., Al-Anon, and Alateen speakers for 25-35 minutes each. The A.A. speaker knew both Bill and Lois Wilson and the Al-Anon speaker had a chance to meet Lois and hear her speak.