It was a simple dental procedure..
Back in 2005, Al Samaras was a healthcare sales executive. He owned a large home in Madison, where he and his wife were raising 2 kids.
He loved the opiates that lessened the post-operative pain. Within 8 months, Samaras lost his career. His wife. And his kids.
It took a while to recover. But while still living in a sober house in North Haven, he was asked to manage it.
“I was in my late 30s. I had life skills to fall back on,” Samaras says.
Yet the model he used for recovery almost never worked for 18-22-year-olds. Most of them start abusing substances — drugs or alcohol — around age 13. Their emotional development stalls.
The financial model most recovery centers use does not support the level of staffing and services — with constant support and oversight — young men need to succeed.
So Samaras helped develop a 2-pronged system aimed at young male addicts.
Very quietly, both are succeeding.
And both are right here in Westport.
With a felony cocaine conviction, Samaras could not go back to his old life. Gradually — as he remarried his wife, put his family back together and built a new house — he developed an extended care sober-living model.
He knew Westport has a strong recovery community. Though he understood possible resistance to establishing a sober house here — not in my backyard! — he searched for property.
The 2nd homeowner he contacted — “We want to rent your house, and put young addicts there” — was willing to talk. “That’s all I ask,” Samaras says.
The 1st “Westport House” opened in 2014, on Fragrant Pines Court (opposite Coffee An’). A 2nd house followed on the same street. A 3rd is around the corner, on Cross Highway.
The homes are large, with plenty of privacy. Several residents live in each, 1 to 2 per room, plus support staff. There are 35 beds in all.
They are life-changing places.
“These are not just ‘sober houses,'” Samaras explains. “They are programs for young men in their teens and 20s who lack life and coping skills. They come in overwhelmed and anxious. They can’t navigate the world without drugs in their system.”
Westport House’s 2-phase system helps reintegrate them into society.
Phase I lasts about 90 days (with various goal-oriented levels for residents to attain). The homes are staffed 24/7, with 3 case management managers, and program aides. There are 17 employees in all.
Though half of the young men come from the tri-state area, nearly every state has been represented.
Residents take classes at Fairfield and Sacred Heart Universities, and Norwalk Community College.
They also work. Jim Gabal places each young man at a site. Some volunteer at the Gillespie Center. Others are at non-profits; Christ and Holy Trinity Church; businesses like Sperry Top-Sider and Vineyard Vines, and in law firms.
Given the chance, they can handle it. Some residents attend schools like Cornell and Vanderbilt. One recent “grad” is headed to Yale.
In Phase II, the staff is on site from 9 a.m. to midnight.
“We’re super-fortunate that Westport has been so great to us,” Samaras says. “From the zoning department to neighbors, we’ve been welcomed warmly.”
The program is very conscious that they’re in a residential neighborhood. Cars are not parked on the street. “Hanging out” is prohibited.
“We want to be enmeshed in the community,” Samaras says. “We like manning booths at civic events, and participating in life here however we can.”
Westport House is not cheap. Costs starts at $12,000 a month in Phase I. Insurance may cover some or all of the expense.
The 2nd component of Samaras’ work is Clearpoint Recovery Center. Dual-licensed to treat substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, and located nearby on Kings Highway North — in the former Internal Medicine Associates suite — this is where Westport House residents meet 3-4 hours a day, 3-4 days a week for intensive outpatient groups.
“In recovery, environments matter,” Samaras says. “That’s why we chose large, professionally decorated homes. It’s the same with Clearpoint.”
Treatment centers are typically sterile, he notes. Clearpoint features reclaimed barn lumber, and comfortable furniture.
Clearpoint’s 20 employees include experienced therapists, and — in administrative roles — several program graduates. “They come in here, and can’t look anyone in the eye. Now they work here,” Samaras says proudly.
But Clearpoint has another component. While it’s used mornings for Westport House residents, the rest of the time it offers services for the rest of Fairfield County.
For example, there are female-only groups. “Women in recovery have different issues than men — there’s often trauma and psychological disorders,” Samaras explains.
One women’s group meets 3 times a week, for 3 hours per session.
There are professionals groups, for those struggling with alcohol. (In most AA groups, Samaras notes, alcoholics of all ages and backgrounds mix together. Westport House residents may also be involved in AA.)
There are also young adult groups, and one centered on medication management.
“I love Westport for many reasons — including its recovery community,” Samaras says.
“There are a lot of people here recovering from drugs and alcohol. They are amazing human beings. And they’ve been very supportive of us.”
Before today, you may not have heard of Westport House, or Clearpoint.
That’s okay. For hundreds of people who need them, they’re there for them.
And how wonderful it is that “there” means “right here.”