Odyssey House Louisiana (OHL) is a nonprofit behavioral health care provider with an emphasis on addiction treatment. OHL was established in 1973 as a nonprofit residential substance abuse treatment facility with the mission of empowering people to conquer addiction. Today, Odyssey House offers a professional, structured and caring Therapeutic Community with comprehensive services and effective support systems that enable individuals to chart new lives and return to their communities as contributing members.
A United Way Partner Agency
At first glace, Furniture Rehab, a weeks-old addition to the stores on Magazine Street, appears indistinguishable from similar enterprises on the charming New Orleans thoroughfare lined with small businesses. A Spanish cedar coffee table, an ornate rocking chair, sturdy armoire, a curio cabinet, beach chars, benches, a prayer kneeler and a cypress table contribute to an eclectic assortment of furnishings inside.
The craftsmanship of these pieces, though, may have more sociological than economic implications for the city.
The clerk processing the sales, Larry Jones, recently graduated from a substance abuse program at Odyssey House Louisiana, a nonprofit agency near the Esplanade Ridge neighborhood. The furniture inside the store at 3638 Magazine St, comes form the handiwork of recovering addicts being trained to cut, sand, glue and stain at a workshop on the Odyssey campus at 1125 N. Tonti St, about five miles away.
“Most of us are introduced to the program with a palm sander,” said Ronald DeLaune, who has been a participant in the nonprofits’ drug rehabilitation program for more than six months and a working in the furniture rehabilitation program since February. “They give you one and tell you to sand away.”
Under the direction of Randy Purpura, manager of the program and the North Tonti workshop, the skills of DeLaune and other recovering addicts have evolved.
“I’m finding out I’m relatively talented at it,” said DeLaune, who assisted Purpura and others in harvesting cypress and other raw materials discarded from hurricane-and flood-damaged homes. “The first time I was impressed with something I built on my own was when I made an 8-foot-by-4-foot table from salvaged lumber. I like the old wood. It’s beat up and its got character.”
“It’s interesting to see a finished project come completely out of my head,” DeLaune said.
About 40 recovering assicts have participated in the furniture program since Odyssey began preparing a year ago to open a furniture store. Of the number 15 participants were lost because they didn’t complete the drug rehabilitation program Purpura said. Two graduated. One of them works in the construction industry, he said.
Months were spent building the 2,500-square-foot workshop on North Tonti, he said. It includes offices and a classroom. Of the raw materials used to build the furniture, about 90 percent comes from items salvaged from the street. The remaining 10 percent was purchased or donated, he said.
Under Purpura’s tutelage, recovering addicts build and restore pieces in the workshop equipped with table, miter and band saws, planers, drills, sanders, handles and other recycled hardware.
The U.S. Department of Labor gave Odyssey $50,000 to launch the initiative, said Ann Tucker, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit. The money was used to purchase equipment and lease the space on Magazine as well as acquire point-of-sale machines for processing credit-card sales, she said.
Purpura hopes the business will be self-sustaining over time. In addition to selling furniture, the store also offers consumers a place to have damaged furniture restored for a fee.
“We have 19 pieces right now that people are paying us to restore,” Purpura said.
Anyone who wants to hire Furniture Rehab to store a piece can call Jones, the stores clerk, at 304-9168. The showroom on Magazine Street is open Thursday though Saturday, Jones said.
Since the store opened June 5, about 10 pieces have been sold, ranging in price from a $15 brass fish to an $825 kitchen island, Jones said.
Furniture Rehab “is not a thrift store; its high-end quality store,” said Edward Carlson, Odyssey’s executive director.
The business also is the second cottage industry created by the agency established in 1973. Pre-Katrina, Odyssey House was best known for its substance abuse treatment program, providing some dormitory-style housing for addicts actively engaged in treatment. Three houses are available for women in the program to live with their children. Odyssey House also offers outpatient psychological services that include group and individual counseling as well as a psychiatrist who prescribes medication.
In 2006, the nonprofit become one of 10 social service organizations selected by a grant review boars to become part of the New York-based United Methodist Committee on Relief’s multimillion-dollar Katrina Aid Today initiative.
About 10 years ago, Odyssey House created Second Helping Catering, a business linked to its culinary arts program, said Carlson.
“We are working on creating tracks for our clients to help them redevelop their work ethic and work skills,” Carlson said. “Every day they get up, go to work. It’s part of their treatment process. It gives them some basic skills they can use to go back out into the workforce.”
“This puts something on their resume they can show they’ve has basic training for,” he added. “It also helps generate some revenue for the organization. Right now, the money that the state pays us (for substance abuse rehabilitation services) doesn’t even cover out costs. Were trying to figure out ways for generating revenue for ourselves so we are able to meet the needs of our clients.
By Leslie Williams
Published in The Times Picayune, June 26, 2007