In celebration of our 50th anniversary, each month we have been sharing a personal story that highlights one of our programs or treatment populations. This month, as we conclude our anniversary profiles and prepare for the opening of the George Rosenfeld Center for Recovery, we are highlighting a very special member of our family: Odyssey Foundation Chairman Mr. George Rosenfeld. George is a tireless advocate for vulnerable New Yorkers who turn to us for help with substance abuse and mental health problems.
For more than two decades, George Rosenfeld has helped lead and shape Odyssey House. His visionary and compassionate public service leadership as Chairman of Odyssey House (2002–2012) and then as Chairman of Odyssey Foundation has helped save the lives of thousands of men and women suffering from substance use and mental health disorders.
An advocate for the care and well-being of elderly substance abusers, his far-sighted recognition of their distinct needs led to the founding of the Odyssey House ElderCare Program and its permanent home at our newly renovated family treatment center on Ward’s Island in Upper Manhattan — a center we are proud to name the George Rosenfeld Center for Recovery.
We are immensely fortunate and grateful that George chose to join the cause at Odyssey House. He has donated his time and resources to those who often have few friends and allies as they struggle to overcome addiction and mental health challenges.
We cannot imagine a kinder, more thoughtful, or more compassionate leader. He is the cheerleader of cheerleaders. He has guided us through challenges and prepared us to make the most of opportunities to do more for the people we serve, and to do it better.
As we prepare to open the 231-bed residential treatment center for women, mothers with children, and older adults, we asked George to share with us how his commitment to public service evolved into championing the cause of underserved and stigmatized substance abusers:
Before I joined Odyssey House I had been closely involved in developing a hospice for AIDS patients, Rivington House in New York’s Lower East Side, which opened in 1993 at the height of the epidemic. Once the hospice opened and I felt that the project was in good hands, I was inspired to look further afield for other causes I could get involved with.
It didn’t take long. I heard a testimony at a New York City Council meeting, which gave statistics on the number of people in NYC addicted to drugs and alcohol and talked about an organization that was making a dent in these numbers — Odyssey House.
I wanted to hear more, and in 1997 I was introduced to the organization, met with the board, and they invited me to join them.
Early in my role as board member I visited Odyssey House’s treatment centers in New York City. One facility in particular captured my interest, a 100-year-old semi-abandoned former psychiatric hospital perched on a small hill practically underneath the Triborough Bridge. The facility was located on Ward’s Island — a veritable no-man’s land on the East River between East Harlem, The Bronx, and Queens — that is also home to Manhattan Psychiatric Center and other social service agencies.
Despite the dilapidated state of much of the building, the center I visited that day was a thriving treatment community where Odyssey House cared for a variety of recovering substance abusers, including women mandated by family courts, many of whom were pregnant, or caring for young children. At this center (known then as the MABON for Mothers And Babies Off Narcotics since its founding in 1973), Odyssey House not only provided essential shelter and therapy for women who were vulnerable and often abused, but it also cared for their babies and toddlers. When I saw the babies asleep in their cribs next to their moms, I knew I had joined a very special organization.
It was my dream to someday persuade the State of New York to help us renovate the entire building and provide this service to more young families. It took 20 years, but today that dream has come true.
I couldn’t be prouder of Odyssey House and more grateful to our many supporters who made this dream a reality.
Odyssey House shares George’s pride in this new family center, GRCR, which brings together elders, women, and mothers with young children and establishes a multigenerational community dedicated to forging a healthy future together.