A few little birdies here have been tweeting about a dedicated and hardworking staff member at our Academy in Los Angeles. So we perched together with Tony Fratantonio, MA Ed., PPS, Odyssey Unit Director, who motivates and oversees the young men at Phoenix House Academy in Los Angeles, to find out what makes him so appreciated.
Phoenix House: What inspired you to enter this field?
Tony Fratantonio: I grew up without a father. I was raised by my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother. I quickly had to figure out on my own how to become a man. It frustrates me to see adolescent males stumble because of a lack of a positive male role model in their lives. Therefore, my inspiration comes from wanting to be a positive male role model for those without one. My goal is to facilitate change for adolescents so that they break the cycle of absentee fathers. My goal is to affect them enough to make better choices such as not using drugs.
PH: What do you teach clients?
TF: I’ve found that clients often tell falsehoods rather than face the reality of their actions. Therefore, I preach honesty. Through honesty comes responsibility for one’s actions. People like to scapegoat. They may have a thousand excuses for their actions, which never include taking responsibility. Once you learn to take responsibility for your actions, you only have one choice, which is to work on changing your actions rather than blaming someone else. All my clients leave the program understanding the importance of integrity.
PH: Are there any events that your clients have really enjoyed?
TF: During the holidays we have a Christmas and New Year celebration. We dance to music, watch movies, watch the ball drop, eat ice cream, drink sparkling cider, open gifts, make homemade food for the clients, and do anything to make them enjoy their holidays away from their families. We make Phoenix House as close to home as we can. The Odyssey Unit does an amazing job during the holidays and we keep the clients engaged as evidenced by all Odyssey Unit clients completing their treatment during the holiday season.
PH: What do you find most rewarding about your work?
TF: I like to see everyone else happy. I’m aware that’s cliché. For example, hearing someone say, “Man, you helped change my life.” If you can get just one such comment, it’s priceless. It’s people recognizing your effort and thanking you.
PH: What have you learned from working with the clients?
TF: I learned that you can’t bring your problems through the door. It can affect your ability to be there for the clients. They expect for you to be on your “A” game all the time. They don’t care if you’re having a rough day; this keeps you in check.
PH: What’s one thing you hope clients learn at the end of the day?
TF: Control vs. concern. You can be concerned about a thousand things throughout a day, but what can you control? Take control of your own life, and take responsibility for your own actions so that you can begin to correct them. Once you stop blaming others or making excuses, then you can begin to change.
PH: Have you ever considered writing a book about your approach?
TF: [Laughs] If I had free time, I would love to. I love to share my philosophies with anyone who is willing to listen. But ultimately, you can’t be successful in this field if you don’t put the needs of others before your own. The clients come first and it helps to put yourself in their shoes. This in turn provides clients with the kind of empathy and compassion to make them feel understood. As a manager, you have to do the same for other staff. I want every staff who works here to feel that they are making a difference and are valued. Everyone here works really hard and I like to model that for my peers and my clients. Leading by example is the way change can happen. I relentlessly strive to affect change.