Archives for February 2012

Sober in the City

Story and photos by Andrea Kayda
Originally published on Oct. 26, 2011.

Doctor and staff

Dr. Barbara Kistenmacher, center, a clinical psychologist and executive director of Hazelden New York’s Tribeca Twelve programs, meets with two staff members, Ashley Anderson and Rinaldo Morelli.

If you were designing a treatment program for young-adult substance abusers, would you place it amid the purveyors of their biggest vices?

The Hazelden Foundation, a nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction treatment center based in Center City, Minn., is doing just that — opening the Tribeca Twelve Collegiate Recovery Residence on West Broadway, in a neighborhood with one of New York’s most active party scenes.

“Sure, it can work, why not?” said Carlos Perez, an employee at 378 Electronics, around the corner from Tribeca Twelve. “They’ll have to be strong but that’s what it’s all about.”

In trendy Tribeca, the sober living dorm — its name echoing the Alcoholics Anonymous “Twelve Step Program” — hopes to help reintegrate young adults, ages 18 to 29, into society while at the same time, encouraging them to continue their education clean, sober and one step at a time.

Tribeca Twelve is surrounded by temptation. In its immediate vicinity are the Pepolino Restaurant, offering a full bar; the Pelea Mexicana Restaurant, with a daily happy hour special from 5 to 7 p.m. serving wine, tequila, beer and margaritas; and Nancy’s Whiskey Pub on the corner at 1 Lispenard St.

Rather than being wary or apprehensive about the location, Hazelden didn’t think of it as, “‘Oh, what a terrible place to put a recovery house,’ says Dr. Barbara Kistenmacher, a clinical psychologist and executive director of Hazelden New York. “They thought about it as, ‘This city needs a recovery house.’”

She adds, “We will be the very first recovery house for the college-age and graduate school-age population in New York City.”

While some neighborhoods have objected to the placement in their communities of halfway houses for recovering addicts, shelters for the abused and for the homeless, the Tribeca community is “very much supportive and receptive to the facility and its goals,” says Michael Levine, director of planning and land use of Community Board 1.

Yet not every neighbor considers it wise. “I think it’s stupid and totally unrealistic. It’s way too tempting,” says Jonathan Elkayan, who works in Tribeca.

Tribeca Twelve outside view

The Tribeca Twelve treatment is in the heart of Tribeca, on West Broadway, surrounded by the temptations of urban life.

Hazelden, which describes itself as one of the largest private nonprofit treatment centers in the world, has eight locations in Minnesota, Illinois, Oregon, Florida and now New York. The others are in more remote and sequestered settings; Tribeca Twelve is a departure.

The design of Tribeca Twelve is meant to be highly individualized and tailored to each student, based on his or her background, history and specific need, Kistenmacher says. The operation will be staffed 24/7 and will offer on-site 12-step meetings, recovery coaches and personalized recovery plans. These approaches embrace physical health, mental health and spiritual well-being, while helping clients establish academic goals. Rather than a curfew, the house will employ a quiet time of 11 p.m. in which residents who are in the building must keep the noise level to a minimum. Security cameras are at every entrance, and electronic key cards are required for access into and out of the building.

Impromptu drug tests will be administered; the ramifications of relapse can vary from an increase in drug-test monitoring and revisions to recovery plans to discharge from the program and referral to a higher level of care, according to Hazelden’s Web site.

The minimum required stay is three months and costs $5,000 to $5,500 a month — none of which is covered by health insurance. Other fees are charged for professional treatment and continuing care services, and these, however, may be covered by policies. Hazelden, like other treatment programs, promises to work with residents and their families to determine the availability of insurance to pay for professional services.

The cost is surely high in the minds of most low-income college students, but similar residential programs elsewhere in the country can cost from $7,500 to $12,000a month.

The look-and-feel inside the West Broadway building is luxury meets dormitory. The 2,200-square-foot apartments consist of two bedrooms — one with two twin beds and the other with two sets of bunk beds, accommodating four — two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room, laundry room and study. Offices and group rooms are on the lower floors.

Tribeca Twelve apartment

The two-bedroom apartments, designed to hold six students, look like a combination of college dorm and a very nice apartment.

Kistenmacher compares Tribeca Twelve most closely to Augsburg College’s Step Up Program in Augsburg, Minn., a sober-living residence within the college. Tribeca Twelve will differ, however, because it will include students studying at colleges and universities from all over the city and its outer boroughs. In addition, Kistenmacher says Tribeca Twelve’s close partnership with the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry’s treatment programs is distinctive.

Kevin J. Kindlin, a clinical psychologist and a certified substance abuse counselor, is in charge of professional and community development at the Second Nature Wilderness Therapy Program, which has locations for various age groups in Georgia, Oregon and Utah. At Second Nature, the patient is removed from her everyday life, stressors and distractions, in the hope that she will focus on recovery. While Kindlin trusts in wilderness treatment wholeheartedly, he too believes that it’s “imperative for a young adult to step into a place like Tribeca Twelve after primary care.”

Many treatment centers are placed remotely, he says, not so much a result of research dictating isolation but because of various state laws. “By far, Utah has the most supportive licensures and treatment center laws, which is why many facilities are located there, whereas some of the more populous states are more restrictive,” he says.

CooperRiis, another treatment program, offers a choice of locations in North Carolina — one a traditional site on farmland in Mill Spring, N.C., and a Tribeca Twelve-like site in downtown Asheville, N.C., a city of about 73,000. The Asheville campus, known as 85Z, places patients in an urban setting, a short distance away from many attractive nuisances such as restaurants and bars, as well as a college campus.

“If you don’t learn how to navigate the challenges of the environment you will return to after treatment, then how are you going to successfully return there?” says Todd Weatherly, managing director at the 85Z campus, putting patients an urban setting. “We need to get them support on how to still be exposed to certain triggers but to make different choices.”

Tribeca Twelve held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 5 but cannot open its doors until an official certificate of occupancy is obtained.

Only time will tell how the program and its students fare, but Kistenmacher says her definition of a success is when a patient becomes “someone who is not just clean and sober but really develops some insight about the connection between certain aspects of their personalities, of their day-to-day mood, their affect and how all of that is connected to the behavioral choices they’re making including using drugs and alcohol.”

The Hazelden Foundation, in a news release, says it has invested $42 million to expand services to help young people who struggle with addiction find and maintain recovery, beginning with Tribeca Twelve.

A New Comedy Club Hopes to Bring Night Life to Hunters Point, Queens

Story and photos by Amit Farhan

Steve Hofstetter, who opened the Laughing Devil Comedy Club in Hunters Point, wants residents to spend their entertainment dollars locally.

Steve Hofstetter, who opened the Laughing Devil Comedy Club in Hunters Point, wants residents to spend their entertainment dollars locally.

On quiet, late-autumn evenings in Hunters Point, Queens, young couples walked out of one of the newly built luxury high-rise apartments on the edge of the pier and looked out on the East River and a magnificent view of the midtown Manhattan skyline. Holding each other, they enjoyed the view and the serene moment as the sunlight slowly faded.

The peace and quiet at Hunters Point, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Long Island City, just one subway stop from midtown, may not continue much longer. Once known for its working-class and industrial identity, Hunters Point has become a new enclave for upscale condos. And in December, the neighborhood welcomed its first stand-up comedy club, part of a wave of change coming to this sleepy corner of Queens.

Steve Hofstetter, a comedian, opened the Laughing Devil on Vernon Boulevard, figuring that the area, which houses some of the most luxurious condos in Queens, is ripe for developing a night life. The Laughing Devil is the first stand-up comedy club to open in the area.

“The speed of growth is something that would excite any business owner, but what I like most is that residents really care about this neighborhood,” says Hofstetter, 32, a part owner. “People live here because they choose to, not because it’s a stop on the way to another neighborhood.”

Hofstetter, an experienced comedy entrepreneur, is part owner of two other comedy clubs, one in Atlanta and the other in Indianapolis. He also manages 24 stand-up comedians and has released 26 comedy albums under his record label, Next Round Records. In addition, Hofstetter is a producer of Atlanta’s three-year-old Laughing Skull Comedy Festival.

“Every new business venture is risky, but we feel our combination of Steve’s previous management experience in other clubs, my business acumen and our knowledge of the local community will get our business the edge it needs to survive and prosper,” says Jacob Morvay, 28, a partnership accounting manager at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, a New York law firm, and one of The Laughing Devil’s 11 investors.

Hunters Point, one subway stop from Manhattan, is attracting higher-income residents.

Hunters Point, one subway stop from Manhattan, is attracting higher-income residents.

The rapid redevelopment currently in progress at Hunters Point makes it an ideal venue for a new entertainment spot, according to Morvay, who says the average household in the area spends $4,600 a year on entertainment, with most of that going outside the neighborhood. “For an area undergoing such rapid change, there are very few entertainment options available,” he says. “So we felt it was a great opportunity to capture some of that revenue.”

Adrian Smilovici, 58, a real estate broker at Greiner-Maltz, a local real estate agency with branches on Long Island and in New Jersey, agrees that Hunters Point is an attractive new destination.

“It is very close to the city and it has something which Manhattan does not have: The view of Manhattan,” says Smilovici. “The whole place is moving. Everybody wants to build something.” Property values have increased 10-fold, he says.

Business has been good since the club opened, says Hofstetter, with the club selling out on weekends. The club charges a cover of $5 to $30, depending on the show and the night. College students (with an ID) can get in for $3 on Thursday nights; members of the armed forces can get in free on Sunday nights (also with an ID).

The club has a full-service bar—drinks range in price from $3 for non-alcoholic beverages to $8 for wine and $10-and-up for signature drinks. The club also serves food, with appetizers and entrees priced between $8 and $15.

The club, which occupies a long narrow space, has an intimate feel. Framed record albums of past comic icons decorate one exposed-brick wall; a small stage faces the entrance.

Although sometimes crowded, “the place is comfortable,” says Afra Hossain, 20, who attended the grand opening on Jan. 18. “I would definitely head back to The Laughing Devil and would also recommend the place to my friends and family as the comedians are great at making you laugh.”

Hofstetter is already thinking ahead. “When things grow, we’ll probably open another club elsewhere, and continue to do so as long as the market supports it,” he says. “We’re already talking about shooting a TV show at the club, and a documentary is being filmed about the process of opening the club. As for me, I will continue to perform – I have a film and a few TV shows in development. And most importantly, I’ll enjoy my wife, my dog, and wherever life takes me.”

A Church Ministers to the Secular Needs of a Chinese Immigrant Community

Story and photos by Jesse Lee

At the after-school program of the Chinese Evangel Mission Church on the Lower East Side, helping children with homework is a major priority.

At the after-school program of the Chinese Evangel Mission Church on the Lower East Side, helping children with homework is a major priority.

It’s 3 p.m. on a Tuesday on the Lower East Side, and as children get out of school, joyful laughter can be heard all around.  Some race to nearby parks. A few head home. Yet others take another route.

These children make their way to the Chinese Evangel Mission Church, on Madison Street.  The church, founded in 1944, has opened an after-school program that offers tutoring and English-language help. But this good deed strains the church’s resources and its volunteers.

The church, originally known as the Chinese Evangelistic Center, began an outreach ministry to New York City’s Chinese immigrant community in 2007. For adults, the center provides help with a range of personal and legal problems, including translation services for immigrants who need help dealing with governmental agencies, language instruction for learning basic English, as well as Bible classes. For teenagers, the center offers SAT preparation and a place to hang out and socialize.

And for younger children, the outreach program is a safe place to play after school and to get help with homework.

“We want the community to know that we are here, we are here to help, and we are here for them,” says the pastor, John Eng.  “Many of these families are low income and live in tenements or projects.  Crime has always been a problem around here and can you believe that the deli on the corner sells drugs? It’s right across from a school! We want people to know we are a safe haven from all of that.”

All these services require both work and funding.  The program has seven teachers who work in shifts; two are available on any given day.  The teachers are unpaid volunteers who do the work out of a passion for the community and their students.

Young Chinese immigrants get tutoring in English; older ones are offered SAT preparation, and there are games for everyone at the after-school program of the Chinese Evangel Mission Church on the Lower East Side.

Young Chinese immigrants get tutoring in English; older ones are offered SAT preparation, and there are games for everyone at the after-school program of the Chinese Evangel Mission Church on the Lower East Side.

Supplies and games, which are paid for by the church, cost several hundred dollars a year.

The after-school program averages 30 elementary schoolchildren and 10 high-school and college students a day – a lot for two teachers.   The students enter the church  around 3:10 p.m.; younger ones are brought by their parents, older ones come by themselves.  Smiles and giggles fill the room as the children recount the events and mishaps of their school day. They soon begin to take out their homework and books and get to work. The teachers go from table to table, helping where needed.

Jerry, an energetic first grader, comes up to a teacher and pulls on his sleeve, asking for help with his math homework.  Across the room, Derek calls for help with a word he doesn’t understand in his reading. The mess of books and paper scattered on tables slowly disappear as 5 o’clock rolls around.

For the younger children, the last hour of the program is devoted to play. The kids finish their work and take out games.  A girl named Nicole clutches the board game Candy Land and asks a teacher to play with her.  She is softly refused, as the teacher has too much homework to check.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s tough sometimes,” says Robert Hom, the head teacher. “I have my other job, I’m in grad school, and I have my family to care for, so there’s definitely a lot on my plate.  But as any teacher can tell you, that feeling of helping a child learn and achieve something is well worth the time and energy.”

At 6 p.m., the end of the after-school program, parents arrive to pick up their children.  All the parents are Chinese immigrants, and only a few speak English.

“I always had to take my kids around with me while I was shopping and running errands,” says Soo Yun, the mother of Zu Yee and Mun Yee, through another mother who translated.  “Then I heard of CEMC and how they were holding a free program, so I quickly signed these two up.  They like it here and I know they’re safe.”

As Soo Yun and her daughters make their way outside, Eng, who describes himself as “100 percent American-born,” stands near the entrance, chatting in Chinese with some parents.

“We are Christians here as well, so we take an interest in these kids’ lives,” says Eng. “We get to know their parents, their brothers and sisters, and even their personal lives. We are here to share God’s love and I’m just blessed to be a part of this program.”