A Connecticut Tradesman Making a Difference: Sober Living in Central Connecticut
The Recovery Mansion nameplate is displayed by the entrance of the sober house in the Fair Haven Heights section of New Haven on February 3, 2020.
Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media
Rick DelValle sat in his in-law condo on Lake Quonnipaug in Guilford at 1 a.m. on Feb. 5, 2008, waiting to die. He'd recently consumed a large amount of heroin, crack, and booze. He was 43 years old at the time.
"All the drugs were gone, but I didn’t die," DelValle said, exactly 12 years later, as he took a break from painting the interior of the four-story Victorian Gothic "Recovery Mansion" in Fair Haven Heights, one of five A New Beginning Recovery houses that he and his wife own and operate in New Haven. "That was when I got down on my knees and told myself I didn’t want to live like this anymore."
Up to the month of Feb. 5, 2008. The New Britain native had idolized his father since he was a child. "He was handsome, strong and funny," said DelValle.
But, according to DelValle, he had drug-abusing relatives. The house was in shambles. He started smoking weed and drinking beer at the age of 14, then progressed to heavier narcotics like heroin and cocaine, he added. He dropped out of school and spent years bouncing back and forth between jail, detox, and treatment, only to relapse time and time again.
He awoke at 6 a.m. and dialed a number to have someone drive him to a 12-step meeting. Another guy made a phone call and got me to a sober house, "he stated after the meeting. For the next 18 months, he would reside at New Haven's Harry Rosen House, a sober living home for men devoted to recovery from addiction.
He met Executive Director John Davey there, who not only accompanied DelValle to court when he had to turn himself in on a warrant for a probation violation but also returned the next week and convinced the bail commissioner to release him. He moved into his own apartment a year and a half later.
He acquired a pickup truck and founded Leave it to Us Home Services, a modest contracting business on the Shoreline that promises to "do anything you don't want to do" after supporting himself with odd jobs.
"He didn’t have to take the time," said DelValle, 55, who wears the rugged look of an ex-Marine. "He taught me a lot about caring about people just by what he did."
Around that time, he began studying to become an addiction counselor at Gateway Community College's Drug and Alcohol Recovery Counselor program.
A case manager engaged him to do some contracting work at her sober house while he was undertaking an internship at New Haven's Grant Street Partnership, an inpatient substance addiction treatment clinic.
"I told her opening a sober house was a dream of mine, and if she ever wanted to sell it, I’d be interested," he said.
The call came a few months later. It was possible to rent the entire house, which contained eight beds. It was in desperate need of repair. DelValle and a friend remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as applying a fresh coat of paint. He explained, "We went over it with a fine-tooth comb and made it a wonderful place to live."
Jess, his wife, was expecting a child at the moment. DelValle had met her at a softball game for men and women. They tied the knot in 2013. In 2014, they founded A New Beginning Recovery Houses, naming the first one "Richard's House" after their first son. They began the second in September 2015, while his wife was expecting their second child, and dubbed it "Carson's House."
They currently run five residences with a total of 65 beds.
Jess is in charge of intake and billing.
Each house is "dedicated to helping individuals in early recovery rebuild their lives," according to its website, and is built on the foundation of structure and accountability, with clients required to agree to a treatment plan, contribute to the upkeep of the house, and attend 12-step meetings on a regular basis, as well as fulfill a weekly service commitment at Habitat for Humanity. "It’s all about being accountable," said a Richard’s House alumnus who is now a homeowner in Milford. "At the beginning, you have to do a 30 and 30" — 30 meetings in 30 days—"and you have to clean up after yourself, make your bed every day, just simple things that get you used to being a normal, productive member of society." For another former client, even those simple things could be a struggle. "Just learning to get up at a reasonable time, shower, and get to whatever you’re doing for recovery, that was foreign to me when for so many years my life had been just an endless repeat of survive, get what you need, watch your back, repeat," he said.
"I won’t give up on anybody," DelValle said. "If any of my guys are in trouble, they can call me at 3 in the morning and I’ll find them help."
DelValle founded Redemption House in response to a policy at New Beginning Recovery House that required individuals to leave the house for 72 hours after a relapse.
It will open on June 1 in New Haven and will provide a safe haven for anyone who has relapsed until the treatments they require are available.
DelValle's advocacy of Connecticut's Clean Slate legislation, which would immediately expunge the criminal records of residents who remain crime-free for three years after a misdemeanor and five years after a non-violent felony, stems from the same motivation. "I’ve been blessed with such a great life today and how I keep it is by helping others," he said. "The work I do, the houses we run, are a legacy for my sons. This is my calling. It’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. It’s everything. "
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Our sober house directory is a great tool to help you find the homes, but it’s up to you to find the right fit. While certification and a good outward appearance is a start, do more digging before you commit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! While many homes offer fantastic sober living, we’re partial to Vanderburgh House, but that’s because they helped build this directory.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to open a sober house, we would encourage you to reach out to Vanderburgh Communities, the first organization offering sober living charters in the United States. Keep your head up and take it one day at a time!