My Own Joan of Arc

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

More than 15 years ago, Joan Hajjar was living on the edge. Homeless and without hope, her daily existence revolved around her next drug or drink. Determined to beat her addiction, she entered Phoenix House in 1993, where she found the tools to reclaim her life. Now serving as director of Phoenix House’s AmeriCorps and Youth Power Mentoring Corps programs, she was recently honored as one of the twelve OASAS Spotlight Individuals for National Recovery Month. Here, her daughter Erica, 23, shares her perspective on her mother’s journey—and the bond they’ve formed.

If you saw my mother and me today, you probably wouldn’t guess that I didn’t really know her until I was a teenager.

When I was four, she made the most difficult decision a parent can make. Battling addiction, she realized that she couldn’t raise me in the way she felt I deserved. For my own wellbeing, she decided it was best that I leave her care and live with my paternal grandparents.

For the next ten years, I saw her only occasionally—even though we lived not too far from one another in Brooklyn. I didn’t resent her (from the beginning, my grandparents taught me that she did what she had to do), but at the same time, we didn’t have much of a connection.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that we began to form the close relationship we have now. By then, she was clean and had started working at Phoenix House. She reached out to me and we began seeing each other more frequently on weekends. If it weren’t for Phoenix House, I wouldn’t have her here with me today.

At 23, I’ve pushed the rare flashbacks of my parents fighting to the deepest parts of my brain—and instead, focus on the wonderful memories my mother and I have worked so hard to create. I think of the volunteering I’ve done with her at Phoenix House—where I’ve had the chance to see the incredible work she does. And I think how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know her side of the family.

Through the years, we’ve come to an understanding. I am who I am and she can’t do anything to change my ways, so she only gives me encouragement and support with all of my endeavors.

Most of all, I appreciate the important lesson she’s taught me: with patience and understanding, a person can truly get through any hardship. It doesn’t hurt to have a little faith in God as well.

My mother’s name is Joan, so I always make the association with Joan of Arc. She’s the best candidate to be chosen as one of the twelve OASAS Spotlight Stories. While addiction is a vicious, chronic condition, she has taken control of her disease—and come out on top.

Erica Olsen
Erica Olsen and Joan Hajjar
Erica Olsen and her mom Joan Hajjar at the 2008 A&E Recovery Rally
Share this page: Print this page:
Back to Index


  • Wow Joan! What a wonderful and inspiring story. You have really proven how quickly we can become all that we are created to be by moving forward with an attitude of gratitude. I love the way that you have taken what you have learned from PHF and passed it on to so many others. When I hear stories like yours I feel truly inspired to inspire others! Thank you so much.

  • I thank you for sharing this inspire story. You and Erica look wonderful together. I love you for always being a great person. May you always be bless and love by all. Jackie sends her love.

  • Joan & Erica are alike in all good ways. Loving, generous and sensitive to everyone around them. They deserve all the happiness the future brings to them! I feel inspired by and grateful for them both. Love & Joy, Mary

  • Aunt Joan – It’s not about the choices we made in the past, but the choices we make for our future that count. Continue to make the most of every moment.
    Relax. Breathe. Love.
    Be proud of who you are. I’m amazed by your strength and fortitude.
    Love always, Beachy

  • Wow Joan Do you remember me Barry Phillips we started in Belle Terre,it was great hearing your story I am alive and well with 15 years of recovery and enjoying every day of it. I am looking for stories from some of our peers God Bless you and Keep you Joan


  • Donna Basini

    Hi Joan, your story is inspiring! I am graduating this November 5th. Can’t wait. I’m working as Jeffrey Korman’s assistant, and doing a wonderful job. My life is so wonderful, my kids, husband, thanks to Phoenix! Hope I see you at graduation, I’ll be at Jay street Oct 13th . Talk to you soon.