Leonard’s Story

Leonard, a client of the substance abuse addiction program at the Jamaica Family Wellness center in Queens

Leonard, a client of the substance abuse addiction program at the Jamaica Family Wellness center in QueensIt may sound ironic, but The Child Center’s focus is larger than just children. Since children don’t grow in isolation, our goal is to help lift up whole communities, providing members of all ages with opportunities to reach their full potential. That’s why many of our programs serve not just youth, but adults, too. Our addiction treatment programs, like the ones at our Jamaica Family Wellness Center, help clients of any age develop the skills and confidence to find lasting recovery and lead healthy, fulfilling lives.


Leonard is a man in his 60s who had been using and selling drugs since 1967. He’d been in and out of jail on drug-related charges for most of his adult life. His drug use and drinking became all-encompassing, causing him to lose contact with his family, including two daughters that he lost to the foster care system.

In 2017, he’d been using for so long that he figured it would never be any different. On his way to the liquor store, directly across the street from The Child Center’s South Jamaica Clinic, he was approached by a Child Center staff member who talked to him about how we might be able to help.

“She stopped and spoke to me,” Leonard recalls. “That really meant something. She offered help and told me about the program. The next day, I went over there and signed up.”

Leonard began therapy with Margarita Carrera, LMSW. She helped him work toward his goal of staying sober for the first time in his adult life and taking care of his health. He’d been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, and glaucoma, and Ms. Carrera worked with his doctors to help him develop a regimen for managing these conditions.

While he made progress, after 50 years of using, it was a rough road. After a few months, he still wasn’t taking care of himself and continued to use. Ms. Carrera knew he needed more intensive treatment and referred him to a residential program for older adults at Odyssey House.

“One of the great strengths of The Child Center is our policy of collaboration,” Ms. Carrera notes. “When we are best equipped to help a client, we do. When another organization is better equipped, we refer them. We have great relationships with other organizations, and they refer clients to us, too.”

Leonard trusted her and enrolled in the program. That’s when everything began to fall further into place. “The things I learned at Odyssey House helped me understand why I got into drugs,” Leonard says. “I was a good kid in the wrong crowd. I wanted to be part of a group and was shy with females. Alcohol got rid of my inhibitions and took care of both those issues. Eventually, I didn’t know any other way — and that’s what Odyssey House helped me change.”

Leonard stayed at Odyssey House for a year and then came back to The Child Center for outpatient aftercare.

“After almost 50 years of using, I needed aftercare to keep me on track,” Leonard says.

So far, he says, it’s working. He’s been sober three years now — the longest since 1967. He sees Ms. Carerra three times a week at the Jamaica Family Wellness Center (their sessions are now by phone, due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

“Margarita helps me with everything,” Leonard says. “Opening up to anyone, but especially a female, was hard for me. For some reason, Margarita made it easy.”

Leonard also now also participates in a men’s support group, run by Melody James, LMSW, also at the Jamaica Family Wellness Center (again, remotely, now that New York is on PAUSE).

He credits Ms. Carrera and Ms. James with helping him not only stay sober, but also manage his health issues and establish regular care — and, perhaps most important, to reconnect with his oldest daughter.

“The Child Center brought me back to my family,” Leonard says. “They helped my family reset.”

Now a father and grandfather, Leonard can barely contain his pride as he talks about his daughter, who will soon be retiring from a successful career with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and has two children of her own: a teenage daughter and a son who is attending the University at Albany on a football scholarship.

With regular therapy and medical care, he’s avoiding costly hospital visits and staying healthy for his daughters and grandchildren who have come to treasure him.

Leonard still lives in walking distance of that liquor store. He thought it would bother him — but he was wrong.

“The people I left are still there,” Leonard says. “I wave to them but keep on moving. We have nothing in common — the only thing we used to have in common was getting high. We never talked about nothing of importance.”

He has a new supportive community and has enjoyed going to sober parties with peers he met during treatment and recovery and knows from his men’s support group. When he looks back on his life, he doesn’t talk about how he wishes he’d gotten help sooner, but rather about how grateful he is for the life he has now. “The way I used to be — I thought it had to be like that. Now I need none of that. I don’t have to worry when I wake up about getting dope… I feel free. That’s a good feeling.”

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