Letter from The Lighthouse: ‘We Could Have Better Handled the Communication’

We are the operators of The Lighthouse sober living residence in New Canaan.

The Lighthouse was conceived as a solution to a very specific need. A place where professional men could go after treatment to be immersed in sober fellowship and surrounded by a supportive community. A place that helps support the transition back to work and allows families time and space to build a solid foundation for recovery. The Lighthouse has the goal of being the gold standard in sober living. We were founded as a business. Margaret Thatcher once said, “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.”

Our business plan has three simple components:

  1. Integrity—what we say we are going to do, we do;
  2. Respect—A deep respect for the privacy of our clients; and
  3. Results—If our clients succeed, we will succeed.

Lighthouse opened its first house in January 2016 and reached capacity in October. Our clients have done very well and our neighbors have had no cause for concern. As demand for our services increased, we made the decision to look for another house in a bordering town. On Jan. 3, we set up our second residence in New Canaan.

We are a small group, founded by Trey Laird and myself, who have done extensive research on sober living. In the past three years, we have consulted with several local healthcare providers, community groups, legal experts, government officials, real estate brokers, business experts and service providers. We understand, respect and have followed all the laws that affect us.

We are open and transparent with our information, have answered every question and made ourselves available to communicate.

We at the Lighthouse are sensitive to the concerns of our neighbors and could have better handled the communication about our transition into New Canaan. We regret the discomfort this has caused and apologize for our part in it.

We look forward to working with town officials to address the valid concerns of the community and to agree on guidelines that will promote the safety and health of our clients and our neighbors.

My name is Tony Kiniry and I am in long-term recovery. After graduating college in 1981, I got a job as a clerk in a securities firm in New York City, married my college sweetheart and moved to Brooklyn. I was given an expense account and entertained three nights per week. My career and my life progressed nicely. I worked hard, had our kids, became a Managing Director of a major global bank and moved to New Canaan.

Bringing up kids in New Canaan was an amazing experience for our family. The kids swam for the YMCA, my son played lacrosse and my daughter won three state soccer championships at NCHS. We joined a wonderful church, with a world-class youth group. My kids were editors of the high school newspaper and yearbook.

Life was terrific, until it wasn’t.

While my career and life was progressing, so was my drinking and it soon turned into alcoholism. Life in our beautiful house on Weed Street became a nightmare, with an emotionally absent dad and terrified kids. Alcohol brought me to a place of “incomprehensible demoralization.”

Then in September 1997, a miracle happened. One Wednesday morning on the 6:20 a.m. train to the city I sat next to my friend, Jimmy Cleaver. Hung over and smelling of alcohol, I heard Jimmy say, “Man, you look awful.” He was right. I responded, “I don’t get it, Jim. I have a great job, nice house, three cars and my wife says she wants a divorce.” Jim asked how much I drink, and I lied and told him, “about three drinks a night.”

Jimmy wisely pointed out, “Things are going to get much worse for you and here’s what you are going to do… You’re going to stop drinking; you’re going to work and then home to those kids. Then you are coming to my house on Monday and you are going to tell me how it’s going.”

I was so desperate and lost, I did what he told me.

Turned out Jim’s wife was in recovery and she brought me up the hill into a “small but growing circle of friends” that shared with me how to get sober and stay sober. That was Sept. 12, 1997. All they asked in return was to stay sober and help others.

It was too late for sobriety to save my marriage.

The lawyers told me not to move out, and the tension in the house was awful. Thank God for my New Canaan church, the recovery meetings in town, Lydabel Pollard and Pastor Skip. I had a place to go. Also, gratitude to the moms that reached out to my kids and the supportive community that allowed me the time and space to save my life. I’m now in my 20th year without a drink or mind-altering drug.

Not drinking put plenty of free time in my hands. I became heavily involved in my church and committed to saying ‘Yes’ to everything they asked me to do. I volunteered at Norwalk Hospital in their detox unit, joined the board of a Norwalk men’s recovery ministry. Other men in recovery showed me how to do all these things. I was told that the best way for me to stay sober was to help somebody else get sober.

Today, I am married and live with my wife and 12-year-old son in Westport. Five years ago, I left financial services and started working full time in the addiction treatment field. My experience and connection to the recovery community in Fairfield County have given me the opportunity and insight to be a resource for many people seeking help from addiction.

Tony Kiniry

Tony@thelighthousect.com

6 thoughts on “Letter from The Lighthouse: ‘We Could Have Better Handled the Communication’

  1. What a thoughtful and heartfelt response to a difficult situation . I am thankful that the lighthouse had the courage to venture out and garner the resources to create a beautiful sanctuary for men to continue their recovery. These men could be our brothers, our fathers, our husbands, our sons. Thank you.

  2. I am a neighbor who’s property abuts 909 West Road, where the Lighthouse is operating. I have been interested in the back and forth and the fear of not just neighbors, but people who live all over town. I have no problem with the Lighthouse being directly next door. These are professional men, like all the commuting men of New Canaan, who are taking one of the final steps to sobriety which they need so much. While I wish this letter had been written in the beginning, I support this home and what it is doing. New Canaan is a town of wonderful outreach programs, and this one should be welcomed. That is who and what New Canaan is, and always has been.

  3. No one truly understands the effect of addiction until it hits one’s own family. The options for effective transitional living are slim, and New Canaan is lucky to have a sober house. Good facilities fill up rapidly because the problem of addiction is so vast. Transitional living was essential to my family member’s path to healthy living and appropriate choices. Tony Kiniry is well known in recovery circles, and his letter today shows his integrity and knowledge. I fully support his mission.

  4. I absolutely feel for people who struggle with this terrible disease. I think that New Canaan offers a lot of help and services for those that are suffering.

    I wonder if the next Lighthouse will be operating in a home in the owner’s Westport neighborhood.

  5. How wonderful for Tony to share his story in his letter! I also feel heartened to read the readers’ comments that are supportive of this sober house. I have seen this property at an open house, and it is a serene oasis that is private and should be very conducive to recovery. However, even if the house was mere yards away, neighbors would have nothing to worry about.

  6. Tony Kiniry’s letter today is much appreciated. It represents the first public communication from the Lighthouse on this subject. But its short on facts, and continues the Lighthouse’s closed approach.

    The Lighthouse leased 909 West during the first week of January. Neither they nor the owner of 909 made any attempt to inform the Town, nor to determine whether there were zoning, health and safety, licensing or other issues involved for a house to be occupied by as many as ten or more unrelated individuals. The Town Planning Department only found out about the project when local neighbors told them about it. And to date, there has been no data provided by the Lighthouse as to what their plans are. Will they have 8 residents and 2 staff (as suggested on their website)? 6 residents and 1 (as the Town has said in several instances)? 10 residents and three staff members (as the current total lack of regulation from the Town would seem to permit)? Will residents have cars? If the Lighthouse provides transportation (as its website says it does) how will it do so? By van? By car? All of these are issues that should have been vetted by the Town Planning Department in an open forum, before the Town made a decision on its own, without public input, that this was an as of right use.

    The Lighthouse may have an admirable mission, but it is also a very profitable commercial business. Charitable organizations need to make money to fund their missions, Mr. Kiniry is right about that. But that’s why charitable organizations form themselves as tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Being non profit in no way prevents a charity from raising money for its mission, but it does prevent excess money from being spent anywhere but for continuance of its mission. In a non profit, beyond reasonable and defensible salaries, employees, sponsors, and owners are not allowed to keep any 0f the money they make in pursuit of their mission– all profit must go back to the mission. Because the Lighthouse is of its own choosing a for profit corporation, none of these rules apply.

    The Lighthouse offers space for $12,000 per person per month for 8 people. While there are undoubtedly other expenses, its biggest component– rent– is only $14,000 a month. So it begs the question whether the Lighthouse is anything other than a commercial, for profit business. Its hard to understand why the Lighthouse is a for profit entity while long established and well respected charitable providers in New Canaan, such as the Waveny Care Center, Grace Farms and even Silver Hill, are organized, and have thrived, as 501(c)(3)non profits.

    There are a number of issues that affect zoning for this use tied to federal and State laws, none of which are black and white, and which are impossible to interpret given the lack of any specific information provided by the Lighthouse.

    There are more than 30 residents in Town who are part of the group opposed to this money making development in a residential zone. None of us are opposed to the mission of the Lighthouse. But all of us are opposed to the development of an essentially commercial, highly profitable business in our midst. And we are equally frustrated by the complete lack of detail and disclosure made made to the Town as to its plans.

    We believe that the Town owes it to its its tax paying residents to investigate the Lighthouse’s plans and its suitability for a residential environment and to make the results available to the public before operations commence. Residents have already begun moving in to the facility, and no public vetting has been permitted.

    The mission of the Lighthouse is a good one. But, the complete lack of disclosure to its neighbors in New Canaan and Town officials feels like a dead of the night move. Even while residents are moving into the house, Mr. Kiniry’s letter provides no additional information that would allow anyone to understand the project or to regulate it. This is why we oppose the project.

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