On time and on budget – and without a dollar of government funding – Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic on Dec. 12 unveiled new and updated facilities in Arlington aimed at giving an extra boost to patients moving through the addiction-recovery process.
“This is overwhelming – a community that came together,” said Tracy Hitt Millar, who with her husband Jim Millar served as co-chairs of the $3.5 million capital campaign that funded expansion of the Phoenix House facility on North Quincy Street in Ballston.
The effort, completed after a year of construction, included establishment of the Hitt Family Wellness Center, which will augment existing efforts incorporating cardio training and other health initiatives into the recovery program.
The project also included renovations throughout the existing building, which serves as a residential center for adolescents whose stays usually range from 28 to 60 days.
“I can’t believe it. We actually did this. I can’t tell you what this feels like,” said Debby Simpson Taylor, senior vice president and executive director of Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic. She has guided the local addiction-treatment organization for nearly three decades.
The expansion plan’s genesis came in 2012 during the 50th-anniversary celebration of what began in the early 1960s as a community-based effort to stem alcoholism in adults. Starting in the 1970s, it expanded (under the name Vanguard Services Unlimited and more recently affiliated with Phoenix House) in both the types of addiction it treats, and the age range of its patients.
The family foundation of local building executive Russell Hitt and his wife, Joan, provided $1.2 million in support of the project, and in honor of their generosity, the gym and wellness area was named for their family.
“Everybody in the community stepped up. We did it from our hearts,” said Jim Millar, the couple’s son-in-law.
About 1,900 people will use the new and updated facilities in a given year, Phoenix House officials said.
The highlight of the program came from several young people going through addiction recovery, who testified to the impact of the new facilities.
“This is amazing just to be here today,” said Allister, one of three who spoke at the ceremony. (The Sun Gazette was requested not to publish last names due to privacy concerns.) He called it “a beacon of hope.”
“Exercises can do wonders for patients’ self-confidence, self-esteem and mood,” said Amy, another patient. “It also helps mentally as it builds our faith in ourselves. It’s about developing a new outlook on life.”
The focus of the gym facility will be on aerobic activity, from basketball to cycling, because it helps the brain re-set during recovery, Taylor said. There also will be a yoga area.
Taylor said the need for support services is more acute than ever: A wave of drug use is sweeping the region and nation, and “we have to constantly change and endure,” she said of addiction-treatment professionals.
“This is not the heroin of the 1970s,” Taylor said, pointing to one front on the addiction battle. “It’s 800 times stronger. That’s the level we are dealing with now.”
When Phoenix House held a ceremonial kickoff of the project in September 2016, most of the money already had been raised. But there were peaks and valleys.
“Jim and I drew upon our community wide and far,” Tracy Hitt Millar said. “Every penny counted. It’s been a really, really amazing experience for us.”
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th), who was in attendance, helped secure funding from a foundation to finish the project. Others who provided significant backing included Bill and Suzie Buck of Buck & Associates; Neal Nichols of Red Top Cab; and former state Del. Herb Morgan. Dittmar Co. also provided significant support.