Philly developer opens addiction recovery center in memory of his son

Advocates say the Ford Road operation will be the first of its kind in the city.

Jon Orens (left) cuts the ribbon alongside nonprofit workers, marking the opening of the Daniel J. Orens Center for Life

Jon Orens (left) cuts the ribbon alongside nonprofit workers, marking the opening of the Daniel J. Orens Center for Life

Courtesy Jillian Bauer-Reese
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Jon Orens closed his first sale 30 years ago at 3900 Ford Rd., selling a property in Northwest Philly’s Park Plaza condos. Since then, he’s made a name for himself as a real estate developer, building in just about every neighborhood the city has to offer.

Orens visited that same Ford Road complex again last week for a different reason: the soft opening of an an addiction recovery center named for his son, who died from a drug overdose in November 2016.

The Daniel J. Orens Center for Life is the first of its kind in Philadelphia, advocates believe, in that it’s a collaborative of several different nonprofits that will share the same physical space to offer services. It will specialize in serving veterans, people with mental illnesses and people reentering society after incarceration.

There will also be therapy dogs.

Designed to serve about 50 clients at any given time, the six collective offices will offer intensive outpatient therapy, case management, 12-step meetings, 24-hour crisis management, housing referrals and workforce training. There’ll be a computer room on site for resume workshops, and a closet with clothes that clients can borrow for job interviews.

Dan Orens’s fiancee, a hairdresser named Merissa, was with him when he died. Orens said she plans to set up a styling chair at the center to give out free haircuts.

“I am taken aback,” Orens told Billy Penn. “It’s obviously touching to the whole family.”

Daniel Orens experienced a fatal overdose in 2016.

Daniel Orens experienced a fatal overdose in 2016.

Courtesy Jon Orens

Proximity counts

Unlike residential recovery facilities, this center won’t have any beds, just daytime services. And advocates cite its incorporation of varying resources as an asset, made possible by a diverse set of nonprofit partners, including:

  • Daniel J. Orens, Foundation, Inc., which was organized by Jon Orens to spread awareness about substance use disorder in memory of his son
  • New Leash on Life USA, which seeks to improve the lives of people who are incarcerated by teaching them to train prison dogs
  • A Wealth of Women, which provides resources like financial literacy classes and self-esteem workshops to women in recovery
  • Pennsylvania Alliance for Recovery Residences, which certifies sober housing for people in recovery from addiction
  • Dr. Clifford L. Stanley, Major General, United States Marine Corps — the first African American to command a United States Marine regiment, Stanley will oversee veterans services at the center.

Individuals who use the center will come from various Philly veterans organizations and state prisons associated with New Leash on Life USA, per Sandi Williams, the founder of A Wealth of Women.

“It’s a really powerful team of people who really know what they’re doing,” Williams said. “We’re maximizing resources for the population.”

This center works to combat a common problem in addiction services: when you refer clients to resources outside your nonprofit, you never know if they’ll actually make it there, Williams said.

“Having a center like this, it’s going to be helpful for us to have [clients] there and present,” said Rob Rosa, the associate vice president of prison programs at New Leash on Life USA.

“We don’t have to wait and refer them to someone else, or wait for a date for them to be seen. We can just send them right across the hall.”

Dogs don’t judge

New Leash on Life USA records a 7.4 percent recidivism rate in Philadelphia, Rosa said, compared to the citywide rate of 33.9 precent. When he was 18 years old, Rosa spent 12 years incarcerated at Graterford. He credits his recovery to another prison dog program called Canine Partners for Life.

“Dogs didn’t judge me for being in a prison jumpsuit,” Rosa said. “They made me feel human.”

His personal experience, plus evidence that the program works, are the reasons why Rosa said he’s excited to bring prison dog programming to the Daniel J. Orens Center for Life.

And yes, Rosa confirmed to Billy Penn, there will be dogs on site.

“We hope to have dogs there when we do individual case management and programs,” Rosa said.

Although the center officially opened on Saturday, it isn’t quite ready yet. For the time being, it’s offering case management, life skills and entrepreneurial training sessions. Williams expects the rest of the services will be finalized by Sept. 1.

In the meantime, she’s eager for the full rollout of services.

“Under one umbrella, we have a collaboration of organizations that will deliver results,” Williams said. “That’s what makes me really excited about it.”

“And once again,” Orens added, “Dan is helping people on the other side.”