Mare’s House, offering transitional living for women in recovery, to welcome first residents in Bird Rock

Mare's House founder Alex Zemeckis (left) and program director Cannon Kristofferson
Founder Alex Zemeckis (left) and program director Cannon Kristofferson run Mare’s House, a new women’s transitional-living facility in Bird Rock.
(Courtesy of Mare’s House)

In coming weeks, a transitional-living facility called Mare’s House in Bird Rock will see its first group of residents move in.

Mare’s House is an “after-care” facility for women with substance abuse and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, body image problems, learning disabilities and trauma from life events.

Mare’s House, named for the mother of founder Alex Zemeckis of La Jolla, is a sister of Zemeckis’ The Grounds, a men’s recovery program that has been operating for almost eight years near Kate Sessions Park.

Mare’s House was established in early July with eight female clients expected to be in place by the end of August. Residency typically will be six months, but longer stays can happen.

Residents must be substance-free on arrival. Those who are in early stages of drug or alcohol withdrawal are not considered good candidates.

“Our main objective is to launch them and gain independence,” Zemeckis said. “We’re not residential rehab or treatment, but we’re not sober living. We’re in the middle and focus on life-skills training. We focus on integrating them back into real life: school, work, etc. It’s difficult to do that if you have a history of these co-occurring issues. They can take over your whole life. We give them a supportive environment.”

Residents typically are 18 to 35 years old, a key age group, Zemeckis said.

“I found that a significant reason why young adults don’t thrive is due to complacency and not having a safe environment to take things one step at a time,” he said. “That’s what we do. We keep them active and stimulated and how to have fun so they aren’t being destructive to themselves.”

To craft the program, Zemeckis drew on his own troubled youth.

“I’ve been in recovery for 13 years and struggled with drugs and alcohol through my adolescence,” he said. “I got sober at 22 years old in 2008. Through treatment stints, I got to see it all. I looked at what works best and what’s needed.”

He and program director Cannon Kristofferson, a La Jolla native who attended The Bishop’s School and La Jolla High School, “asked ourselves what we needed at 20,” Zemeckis said. “We asked what would have worked for us. We kept seeing people doing this patient shuffling because other programs were missing this piece. They needed coaches to teach them accountability in their personal lives and real-world accountability like with banking.”

“Everyone has to get a job, demonstrate they can be consistent,” he added. “Then as they save money, they cover more expenses and do the significant family work. Then we set them up for career moves. We start with basic building blocks. With people in early recovery, you have to start small.”

Clinical services such as therapy sessions, psychiatric oversight and medication arrangement are handled offsite.

Kristofferson said that after getting sober as a young adult, he started driving people to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and later got certified as a drug and alcohol counselor and worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs. To him, a key component is working with families.

“If just the client is the person that is trying to change their narrative and the family is still reading from the same script, it’s not going to work,” he said. “They all need to read from the same narrative. ... It’s up to me to get the families to look at the situation through a different lens.”

When he sees a family make lifestyle changes that align with a client’s recovery, “I see the patient has a shot at staying sober,” Kristofferson said. “It’s tough when the patient is really trying but the family is still doing the same things.”

Zemeckis said Mare’s House’s immediate neighbors were notified when the facility was established, but he hopes it won’t be apparent that the house is for transitional living. Zemeckis said the house is on La Jolla Boulevard but did not disclose the exact location.

“We want to do what’s best for the community,” he said. “We’re really good neighbors; we don’t loiter out front, we keep the container tight. We don’t want constant attention.”

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