Gary Clark, Alano Club board president, stands in front of the historic Alano Club in the Museum Hill district on South 11th Street.

The Alano Club sits as one of the most majestic mansions in the Museum Hill area. Many who drive by the building at 401 S. 11th St. and see people standing out front think the building only houses Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

But the Alano Club — an independent, private, not-for-profit public health organization — hosts not only 12-step meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous groups, but Gamblers Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups as well.

The Alano Club is not a club, said Gary Clark, president of the Alano board of directors. Rather, he term “club” is a metaphor for a healing community.

“The Alano Club is a public health organization that minimizes crime, minimizes DWIs, minimizes domestic violence,” Clark said.”We’re as successful as measured by people going back to work, people staying out of jail, families staying together and people being more successful in their lives.”

The Alano Club of St. Joseph is the oldest Alano Club west of the Mississippi River. It was incorporated in 1948 and opened in 1949 as Alano Mercy Hospital, a detox facility with facilities for 20 guests.

“They did detox. That’s all they did until 1956 when the American Medical Association declared alcoholism a disease, then those folks who could go to the emergency room got to the hospital instead of the Alano Club,” Clark said.

That’s when the club shifted its mission and began having meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.

Clar said the club rents rooms to each of those groups. The club hosts 40 “step” meetings a week.

There are an estimated 2,000 individual visits each month.

“These are anonymous programs so there are no roll calls, no names written down. We measure our activity by the number of coffee cups we use and the number of cans of pop sold,” Clark said.

One person may come 20 times, Clark said, so the number is merely an estimation.

Clark said the Narcotics Anonymous group might have 30 people in a meeting dealing with opiate, heroin and methamphetamine addictions. These are different kinds of problems than what the group has dealt with in the past, he said.

“Still there’s the classic alcoholics — these are people 35, 40 years old and alcoholism has finally matured in their lives and is causing them trouble. But probably 8 out of 10 that come to the Alano Club have drug problems.”

The drugs causing problems are opiates, narcotics, heroin, prescription drugs and methamphetamine, Clark said.

“This is a place where people can go to find a safe refuge from that life and meet other people who are in recovery who are clean and sober and know how to do that,” Clark said.

The Alano Club is funded through rent payments from the meeting groups and fundraising events like this weekend’s Cracker Barrel, which features guest speakers on drug and alcohol abuse and is open to the public.

For more information on the Alano Club, call 816-364-9179 or visit the website.

Alonzo Weston can be reached

at alonzo.weston@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.