An intimate gathering joined together in support of the Phoenix House in the lavish ballroom at the Beverly Hills Montage Hotel. As guests were seated, Violin prodigy Lee England, Jr. jammed in the middle of the tables “We Could Be Heroes.” His moving rendition of David Bowie’s “Hero” was a beautiful way to start the gala.
For 35 years the Phoenix House (across ten states) has helped those with addiction and substance dependency with a caring team of professionals who treat the whole person and their families. The night’s 12th Annual Triumph for Teens Gala consisted of incredibly inspirational speeches from many Angelenos. Two teens bravely shared their agony with substance abuse and how Phoenix House saved their lives and set them on course for a bright future. A Board member shared how he lost his son to heroine.
Actor and humanitarian Matthew Perry received the “2015 Phoenix Rising Award” and former Los Angeles Mayor and civic leader the Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa, the “2015 Public Service Award” this past Monday, June 15.
KCBS/KCAL weather anchor/reporter Kaj Goldberg hosted the dinner and award ceremony. Phoenix Houses of California Board members, Michael Dwyer, DeeDee Gordon and Michael Kraus co-chaired the event.
Pouria Abbassi, President and Chief Executive Officer, Phoenix Houses of California, shared the stellar success rate of Phoenix House in reintegrating teens, many of whom come from the juvenile justice system and foster homes back into the community in a way that improves both their prospects for success and society at large.
Tim Noonan, President of the Board of Directors for Phoenix House was joined on stage by fellow Board member Brad De Koning who paid tribute to the late Scott Dunham, Board member and integral member of the Phoenix House family whose contributions to the organization over the years were immeasurable. In recognition, the Scott Dunham Memorial Garden will be dedicated at the Phoenix House Lakeview Terrace facility. Dunham’s widow Barbara was on hand to accept a commemorative plaque on behalf of the family.
Internationally recognized businessman, philanthropist and former Phoenix House board member Marc Nathanson presented the “2015 Public Service Award” to former Los Angeles Mayor and civic leader Antonio Villaraigosa describing his good friend as “all about new beginnings and overcoming great obstacles to rise to the top of the leadership of our city, our state and our nation.”
Nathanson described Villaraigosa’s hard fought early years and his eventual determination to turn his life around. “He’s a fighter who never has forgotten his roots,” he continued, “and has always been a good friend to our youth in his policies, his actions and his heart. Antonio has risen like a Phoenix to become one of the most respected leaders in our state and, in my opinion, he will make an outstanding governor.”
Mayor Villaraigosa divulged his own personal struggles with substance abuse due to a range of issues as a youngster, from his father abandoning him at an early age. He said, “You can turn your life around. Keep getting up! You can be on the top of the mountain and the next minute the mountain is on top of you. You can get back up and get on top of the mountain. The Phoenix House does great work to help kids reach for the stars and get above those cracks.”
Emmy-winning actress, writer and producer Lisa Kudrow presented the “2015 Phoenix Rising Award” to her former “Friends” cast mate, Matthew Perry. Lauding the actor for his “quick wit…sizzling instinct and intellect…creativity and humor,” she noted that working with Perry “was like shooting hoops with Shaq. It raises your game.” She went on to describe his personal and often public battle with addiction and sobriety, “facing the reality of his situation with characteristic resilience, stamina and grace. Not only did he handle it all,” she continued, “he showed outstanding generosity and compassion by turning his Malibu home into a post-treatment sober house for others in recovery.”
Lisa Kudrow went on to share heartfelt personal tales of their time together working on the famous sitcom that aired for ten years. She said she was the oldest in the cast and Matthew started when he was 24. She joyfully expressed how Matthew always had her laughing. One episode they filmed required them to jump in a fountain and splash each other an endless amount of times. Kudrow said she’ll never forget Matthew’s wit like when he joked, “Can’t remember a time I wasn’t in this fountain!” and then later “Can’t remember a time I wasn’t wet!”
Matthew Perry expressed how he shouldn’t be receiving the award, but the kids at Phoenix House should. After spending time there, he shared Phoenix House is his definition of hope. “To do this as a teenager seems downright impossible…Phoenix House is invested in the well being of all the kids. A certain point it is just you and the drugs. Your dead inside. This House gives them hope, give them life inside…Given light…could see it in their eyes. The Phoenix House is the most life affirming place I’ve ever been.” Matthew battled his own dependency on mass quantities of Vicodin, which he said would make him puke.
A nice break between dinner and speeches included the legendary Don Felder, former lead guitarist for The Eagles, who magically performed “Take it Easy,” showing us that he has still got it. He ended the night with a powerful rendition of “Hotel California.”
The evening was one of the most genuine and inspirational charity events I have ever attended, and it was an honor to be part of this special evening of Triumph for Teens showing hope for teens and hope for all. The message was clear. You can turn your life around at any time; the choice is yours.