Frances Scarlet Justin Shields A Better Today Recovery Services independent living program

Frances Scarlet, left, and Justin Shields stand outside one of A Better Today Recovery Services independent living program with COO Jorn LeBlanc, right. Scarlet and Shields are both recovering addicts.

Frances Scarlet was living on the streets of Mesa for six months – the nadir of spending 16 years of her life using methamphetamine, heroin and pain pills and getting her first drug charge.

Then she was court-ordered to check into A Better Today Recovery Services’ independent living program in Scottsdale at the end of May.

Initially hesitant, scared and unsure, Scarlet is now one of the program’s success stories.

“Since I’ve been here, it saved my life,” she said.

ABTRS’s independent living program is relatively new.

Launched on May 30, it offers a sober community designed to help recovering addicts not only get back on their feet but also help them stay sober and avoid returning to rehab.

“As a company, we see a lot of patients and our goal – our mantra – is saving lives and healing families,” said ABTRS’ CEO Jorn LeBlanc.

 “We would have patients who went through our program and they did remarkably well in support – in the bubble if you will,” he continued. “Then we would graduate them and they would go out and then we’d see them come back.”

To help recovering addicts successfully transition back into society after treatment, the center supplies clients with fully furnished, reduced-rate living arrangements, food, transportation, life skills classes, sober social events and activities, career and education resources and more.

“When they go back to their homes or society or even other sober livings, they don’t have the support. They don’t have the resources available to them to reestablish themselves in that in life,” LeBlanc explained, adding:

 “When folks come here, they have access to all of our support staff. You’re held to a higher level of accountability.”

Currently, 32 people are enrolled in the program LeBlanc describes as the “next step after treatment.”

“What we’ve done here is broken the mold as far as what treatment and sober living looks like,” he said. “[They can] come stay with us for up to one year and the rents are so reduced. It’s certainly not a money-maker, but it’s a life-changer.”

ABTRS spent about a year renovating a dilapidated southern Scottsdale apartment complex to provide fully furnished apartments for recovering addicts, who pay $165 a week that covers not only rent, running water and electricity but also their food, transportation and other resources.

In addition to job-training and resume-building programs, ABTRS also provides life skills-developing programs, like cooking classes and education-related resources, like aptitude tests, GED training and more.

“We have every single thing that someone would need the resources for while still staying safe and surrounding themselves with like-minded people – and it’s working,” LeBlanc said. “You’re supporting one another and you’re realizing that you are not the sum of your prior actions.”

ABTRS’ Independent Living Program takes a more long-term, residential approach to treatment – one that heavily focused on community. 

And it’s this community aspect that has kept Scarlet in the program.

On-site, participants have access to a ping-pong table, billiard table, barbecue patio, a theater-style movie lounge and an outdoor fireplace.

“We all hang out with each other as a community. We’ll spend time together. We watch movies together; we do karaoke. We do a lot of stuff together. This is my home. This is my family. I couldn’t see it any other way,” Scarlet said.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates for drug addiction vary between 40 and 60 percent, and relapse rates among recovering alcoholics are between 50 and 90 percent in the first four years after rehab.

“We know, statistically, that the longer you spend in the recovery environment and supportive recovery environment, the greater your chances are of success,” LeBlanc said. “What we believed was – and this was over a period of two years that this conversation kept happening – what if we could provide more support for a longer period of time?”

ABTRS took it upon themselves to extended treatment up to one year – “because we know that works,” LeBlanc said.

Primary causes of relapse include lack of support, issues with family members and friends, job issues or lack of employment, medical problems and mental health issues, among others.

“I came in here with mental health issues, too,” Scarlet said, “and they provide great doctors and great psychiatrists. The therapy that I’m getting inside of sober living, I get to see a therapist once a week. You can’t get that any other place.”

Scarlet said she plans to stay in the program anywhere from six months to one year – whenever she completes the 12-step program.

In the meantime, the program has helped her rebuild and strengthen her relationship with her family. 

“My relationship with my mom was completely torn severed for the last 16 years. We weren’t talking. Since I’ve been able to get clean and sober, I have my life back. I have my mom back, I have my best friend,” Scarlet said, her eyes welling. “It’s been a raw process, but it’s been well worth it.”

LeBlanc said he hopes the program helps change the stigma attached to recovering addicts.

As part of the program, participants volunteer their time to give back to the community.

“We need to show that example to the rest of the world, certainly to this community. And currently we do it by doing outreach,” LeBlanc explained, noting:

 “We feed underserved members of our community on Tuesdays because there’s so much value in that. Seeing outside of yourself, it’s so helpful to us and to me as an addict; it lets me keep things in perspective.”

The program and its mission is so close to LeBlanc’s heart because he, too, was a recovering addict; he used methamphetamine for 22 years.

“It wasn’t that long ago that I would have qualified to go in and get free meals because of my situation and my addiction had me in a spot where I was in need,” he said. 

“And quite frankly, I can’t imagine not having this addiction in my past because I am a better man today than I ever was, ever was. And that’s a win.”