Legal Action Center has an updated website, and we continue to build our presence on social media. As part of our upgraded presence on the web, we recently launched a new LAC blog to highlight our work and that of our partner organizations and share information and opinions about the issues we work on: civil rights, criminal justice reform, substance use prevention and treatment, and HIV/AIDS confidentiality and care.
One feature we will be including is coverage of Leaders in Action who are making a difference for people with addictions, criminal records, or HIV/AIDS. We will do our best to talk with every Leader in Action we cover, and on occasion we will have a Leader in Action post a guest blog about their work, motivation, or vision for the future.
Our first Leaders in Action are two longtime leaders in the field of substance use disorder treatment: Jim and Sue Cusack.
I got to talk with Jim and Sue on the phone about their more than fifty years of experience in the field of addiction treatment. They told me about their remarkable journey, turning their own experiences with overcoming addictions to alcohol into lifetimes of healing service to others.
Jim and Sue are the Chairman and President, respectively, of the Villa Veritas Foundation in Kerhonkson, New York. Sue is also a member of the LAC Board of Directors. Villa Veritas is an inpatient substance use treatment facility for “treat[ing] the whole person: body, mind, and spirit” as Jim and Sue tell me their approach to treatment requires. Since opening Villa Veritas in 1973, Jim and Sue have worked side-by-side as husband and wife to change the lives of over ten thousand people who have passed through their doors.
Five years after getting into recovery, Sue tells me, Jim began “helping others get sober in the back of his parents’ candy shop.” He eventually found work as a manager at Glenacre Lodge in 1960. After studying at Hazeldon Rehab Center in Minnesota to supplement what he learned through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Jim became part owner of Glenacre Lodge and landed his first big account with the NYC Police Department, becoming a “pioneer in family programs and employee assistance programs.”
A few years later, having left the field of addiction treatment, Jim began dating and eventually married Sue. Jim longed to return to helping people overcome their addictions. Through a series of what seemed like divine interventions, Jim and Sue got the chance to start a treatment center at the St. Charles Villa on a beautiful stretch of land owned by the Dominican Sisters of Amityville.
One of their friends in recovery, a Dominican nun, told Jim and Sue that the villa was originally named the Veritas Villa (“truth house”), and it seemed like a fitting moniker for the new center. And so on May 30, 1973, Veritas Villa, Inc. opened its doors and turned on its phones. After nine successful years, the sisters had to sell the larger property on which the Villa sat, and the Villa moved to its current location in Kerhonkson.
Over the years, Jim and Sue built Veritas Villa around their philosophy of treating the body, mind, and spirit.
They are best friends who have remained very much in love through forty-three years of marriage and the ups and downs of building a facility and staff that has cared for so many. “It’s our baby,” they tell me, explaining how important it is to them that the Villa will continue their legacy by operating on their philosophy and embodying their warmth even after they no longer are able to run it.
That’s why in 2010 they converted the for-profit Veritas Villa into the non-profit Villa Veritas Foundation. As Chairman and President, they continue to actively manage Villa Veritas, and the employees know that they will be able to carry on the traditions they have built with Jim and Sue for decades to come.
When I asked Jim and Sue about the secret to their success, they told me “Do what you love with who you love.” Jim and Sue Cusack are true Leaders in Action because they have dedicated their lives to delivering recovery and hope to other people still suffering from addiction.