Joan Wilder: Journalist, Writer, Editor

Boston’s largest substance abuse treatment agency

25 Years of Shelter and Hope

CITY WEEKLY On an autumn afternoon in 1981, three men kicked in the front door of a small halfway house on Massachusetts Avenue in the South End, waving guns. After robbing what they could from residents, one of the men pointed his pistol at the chest of 24-year-old counselor Jonathan Scott and pulled the trigger.

“The bullet went in one side of my chest and out the other,” said Scott, executive director and president of Victory Programs, Boston’s largest drug and alcohol treatment agency. “On the way to the hospital, bleeding badly, I kept telling everybody not to worry, that I wasn’t hurt, it was only my body, not the real me. At the same time, I also distinctly felt that I was going to live and go back to work, because I wasn’t ever going to let anything like that happen to anyone else.”

After a three-month recovery, Scott was indeed back at work. In festivities Tuesday night at the Sheraton Boston, he and Victory Programs will celebrate their 25th anniversary and the fact that they have served more than 40,000 clients in that time.

As a sophomore at Boston College in 1975, Scott began volunteering at Victory Programs a few months after Ted Cantone founded it as Victory House. Cantone was a young social activist, and his fledgling organization then consisted of one small drug and alcohol halfway house for Vietnam veterans.

Now, Victory Programs owns and operates 12 pristine residential treatment homes throughout Boston, where clients can regain some dignity as they recover from a disease often obscured by with shame. Through this network of facilities, the agency offers 16 treatment programs for those with addictions, including those who also have AIDS or are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Residential treatment can last up to a year, and two houses offer permanent homes for families or women in recovery with HIV/AIDS and their children.

“We still believe what the founding board believed: that all alcoholics and addicts deserve treatment,” said Scott, who became executive director in 1985. “That’s really at the heart of our mission. Right from the beginning, referral agencies knew that if they couldn’t get someone into another program, to call Victory Programs.”

When Scott began in 1975, alcohol and drug treatment was in its infancy, and women’s treatment was nearly nonexistent. Today, most of the agency’s 200 beds are filled by women, and Victory Programs serves as a model for other state-wide addiction and HIV/AIDS treatment.

Victory Programs was the first agency in the state to offer substance-abuse treatment for those who also had AIDS, and the first to offer treatment to addicted women in lieu of jail time, according to Scott.

In July, he said, the agency will move into a new building at 965 Massachusetts Ave., where it can centralize administrative staff and create a high-profile identity in the heart of the communities it serves.

By sharing resources among programs, and what Scott calls “creative partnering,” Victory Programs extends its reach. For instance, social workers from Boston University intern at Victory Programs each year. Graduate students in the expressive therapy program at Lesley College also intern at the organization’s Wellness Center, which provides a range of alternative healing methods such as massage, acupuncture, and art-based therapies.

Many of the agency’s staff members also provide their services at drug and alcohol treatment programs unaffiliated with Victory Programs.

According to many among his 150-person staff and the clients they serve, Scott focuses on the good the agency accomplishes, rather than the immensity of the problems it addresses. This attitude has taken the organization to a point where it has nearly fulfilled Scott’s original dream: To provide a continuum of care throughout all stages of recovery.

“Jonathan is the reason why people continue to work for this agency,” said Laura LeTourneau, community relations director at Victory Programs.

Said one 46-year-old woman who spent eight months in residential treatment at Victory Programs after becoming homeless: “Victory Programs gave me a safe place to get well.” Sober for 20 months, she said the job skills she learned at Victory Programs helped her get a full-time job as a receptionist.

“The staff at Women’s Hope taught me to stick to my goals and made me feel like I deserved some good in my life,” she said, referring to one of the women’s residences. “I’ll be grateful to them forever.”

For Scott, Victory Programs is all about “hope and possibilities. People come in living marginal lives, and we offer hope. And I can’t be depressed about that.”

April Kramer, chairwoman of this year’s fund-raiser, said Scott’s attitude in infectious.

“Jonathan comes from a genuine place of love,” said Kramer. “When people see that, it opens their hearts and makes them want to give the best of themselves.”

Kramer’s husband, Joey, is also a Victory Programs supporter, and so is his band, Aerosmith. Both drummer Kramer and singer Steven Tyler are expected to attend this year’s fund-raiser, as they did last year.

The majority of the agency’s nearly $5 million budget comes from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, followed by the United Way and other public and private donors. Tuesday evening’s event is the organization’s fourth annual fund-raiser, and will feature best-selling author and internationally known spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson as guest speaker.

“We named the fund-raiser ‘Reflections’ to symbolize the idea that addiction can be so devastating that a person can no longer recognize themselves,” said Scott. “It’s a disease that requires treatment, like cancer.”

“Addiction can take everything,” said Aerosmith’s Kramer. “Your kids, house, cars, everything and then, eventually, put you on your knees. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get the help you need before it takes your life. I know what these people are going through. I’ve been there.” Kramer said he has been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for 12 years.

Tickets to Tuesday’s fund-raiser are $100. Call 357-8182, ext. 625.

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