Determined to fight alcoholism, Andy Landmark knew there was no better place to wage the battle than his hometown by the beach.
Landmark, a 32-year-old Venice native, has been struggling with alcoholism for more than a decade.
Over the years he had gone to various substance abuse treatment facilities nearby, including a recovery program in Santa Monica, to help him overcome the addiction.
But it was at a facility located right in his hometown of Venice — the Phoenix House Los Angeles on the Venice Beach Boardwalk — where Landmark says he has made the most progress.
“I was born and raised right here,” said Landmark, as he gazed at the Venice Beach shore. “If I can’t get sober in my hometown, then I couldn’t do it anywhere.”
Landmark and others battling alcohol and drug abuse across the country have sought help at a facility of Phoenix House, considered the largest nonprofit substance abuse treatment and pre- vention organization in the country, according to Phoenix officials.
This year the organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Several officials, including Phoenix House founder Mitch Rosenthal and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, were on hand Friday, June 29th, to mark the occasion at the Venice facility at 503 Ocean Front Walk — one of the organization’s oldest.
What began as a substance abuse treatment program with a small group of drug addicts in Manhattan in 1967 has expanded to 53 different operations in ten states, Rosenthal said. In its four decades of existence, Phoenix House has helped over 140,000 people overcome drug and alcohol abuse, not including the families and loved ones of substance abusers whose lives have also been changed, Rosenthal noted.
“This is a very important landmark for Phoenix House,” Rosenthal said of his organization’s 40th anniversary.
“The thousands of people whose lives we’ve touched and have been able to change has made a strong statement that people can change and can attain and sustain recovery.
“Phoenix House stands as a national beacon of hope for the individuals and their families who are suffering from addiction.”
While the program is recognized for changing the lives of substance abusers by helping them defeat their addictions, Rosenthal stressed that the transformation “takes a lot of work.”
Yaroslavsky commended Phoenix House for its high success rate in leading people to overcome their addictions. The supervisor, who said he has been working with program facilities in the county since he was a Los Angeles City Councilman, called Phoenix House a “full wrap-around program.”
“Not only does it get people into a rehabilitation program, but it positions the clients once they leave, to get on their own two feet and succeed,” Yaroslavsky said. “The thing that differentiates Phoenix House from most of the people in this business is the long-term results they get.”
Rosenthal credited a large part of the results to Phoenix House staff, saying that the program’s success wouldn’t be possible without them.
Winnie Wechsler, executive director of Phoenix Houses of California, said the people involved in the programs help create a “sense of community” at each of the facilities.
“We believe in the power of the individual to change their lives and we provide the means to help them do that,” said Wechsler, adding that California facilities serve about 2,000 people every day.
One longtime staff member who was honored for his contributions to Phoenix House at the anniversary ceremony in Venice June 29th is Manny Rivera, vice president and director of the in-prison programs.
Rivera, who is retiring after 21 years of service with Phoenix House, worked with prison inmates struggling with substance abuse and also trained staff on the in-prison program.
Joe Ossmann of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation called Rivera a “key player in restoring rehabilitation” who has had a tremendous impact on people involved with the program.
For Rivera, working with Phoenix House allowed him to be part of a team that “had a mission and a purpose.”
“Becoming part of that team gave me the opportunity to develop my skills and continue to grow,” Rivera said.
The in-prison program director, a former inmate himself, expressed passion for his work, saying that the inmates, who were “hungry for direction,” brought out the best in him.
Many of the residents who seek treatment at the Phoenix House facility in Venice Beach are either parolees or pre-parolees — individuals who are still inmates but have not been convicted of violent or sex-related crimes, said Bruce Tobman, Phoenix House Los Angeles program director.
The three-story Venice facility has been at its location on Ocean Front Walk for 21 years and, with 53 beds, is nearly always at capacity, Tobman said.
The residents participating in the program have meals together, attend group meetings and perform household jobs.
When asked about the Venice program’s impact on the people who seek treatment, Tobman said about 50 percent of the staff are former residents of the Venice facility.
For Venice native Landmark, his hometown program has offered an experience unlike any of the other substance abuse treatment facilities in the area. In his three months at Phoenix House Los Angeles, Landmark says he has “grown immensely” and is now set on hitting the job trail.
Looking back on what drove him to seek help at the treatment center by the beach, Landmark said he was ready to take down his addiction.
“I was ready to do this,” he said. “This is my time.”