NORTH BRUNSWICK – When Antonia Maria Montalvo was recovering from addiction, she was not allowed at her sister’s home for a year.
She said she butted heads with her brother-in-law, who focused on accountability and integrity, because she “couldn’t stand anyone who got in my way.”
“It takes time. There was a lot of destruction,” her sister’s husband, Vic Tartara, said. “People who are not healthy enough can’t get over [addiction] but people who take the time, they do.”
Fast-forward four years, and Montalvo and Tartara are best friends, working on building a house together to help women like Montalvo who have struggled with trauma and addiction but who are on the road to recovery.
Gracie’s House in North Brunswick provides temporary housing and life skills training for women over 18 as they move from dependent, often abusive or substance-dependent relationships to strong women of recovery.
There are seven beds available at the house at 828 Livingston Ave. for stays that range from a minimum of three months to up to one year. There is a shared bathroom and kitchen, plus a nook to sit and read, and a living room with a shared television. Each woman gets her own bed with fresh linens, a closet and a dresser.
Women can come from anywhere across the country, but must be medically cleared to move in. They must be clean, and are subject to random drug and alcohol testing as well as random room searches.
“We realize the goal is to get them independent and moving forward and moving on with their lives,” Montalvo, the executive director, said. “We want them to grow.”
In the past two years, about 20 women have graduated from Gracie’s House, which was named after Montalvo’s grandmother. Montalvo has been so successful with the venture she began more than four years ago, when she was six months into recovery at the time, that she is now planning to open a second sober living house right next door.
With the implementation of the Antonia Maria Foundation came Gracie’s House in 2017, and Leo’s House, named after her cousin who lost his battle with addiction in 2018, is set to open in Spring 2020.
She sought the assistance of Tartara and Frank Fiumefreddo of Day One Sober Living with the renovation of the 1,600-foot house that shares frontage on Livingston Avenue because she realized the need for more structured environments for women in healing.
“This is purposeful,” Montalvo said. “It needed to come from a soul level.”
The new home will have 10 beds – two singles and four doubles – in the expected 2,500 square feet of space, which will include a second floor and additions to the foundation. For every two double beds there will be one bathroom. The showers and toilets will be separate from the sinks.
There will be a multi-media room, a larger kitchen, outside space, security cameras, a microfridge in each bedroom and a separate testing room.
Montalvo said since she did not grow up in a healthy environment, “I created this with whatever I wanted in a healthy home. … This is what I needed for myself.”
“We took what works [at Gracie’s House] and added what we wish we could have here … anything that can strive for the success of these women living on their own in the future,” Tartara said. “We’re trying to step up the level of service and amenities we want to give the ladies.”
The new house was purchased about four months ago, and the scope of the work will be soon put together for the contractors, according to Tartara. After being granted approval from township officials, which Tartara hopes will be in October, construction could start as early as Nov. 1.
The focus is on healing and living a healthy lifestyle. Modalities include meditation, yoga, spiritual healing, Reiki, recovery groups and 12-step meetings. However, Montalvo said each woman’s path is customized to their individual needs, as everyone in recovery may heal differently.
“The stories are beautiful and great, but after awhile they have to change,” Montalvo said. “It’s hard to get out of the addiction state of mind. … We talk about how to change the story, find purpose, find a new story. I don’t want them to be here and be [labeled as] addicts.”
“The person in the disease is the only person who can change and break the chain of the disease,” Tartara said. “This empowers them to break the chain and move forward in life.”
Montalvo said there is a lot of accountability, responsibility and pride in actions – such as making the bed, cleaning dishes or doing laundry. She said any confidence the women build in any task can be helpful.
“I turn everything into a positive. The 100 percent you gave to get those drugs is the same 100 percent you need to use in your recovery,” she said. “It’s not about what happened to you, it’s about what happened for you.”
However, she said on some days, she understands the best a woman can do is get up, go to work and attend a support group meeting.
“Then they grow when you let them be. We’re their circle. We let them grow from there,” she said.
Now a wife and mother, Montalvo is currently writing a book about her relationship with God, how moving on from addiction is possible, how you don’t have to be labeled as an addict for your entire life, how you can inspire social change and how to achieve a level of normalcy in life.
“You don’t have to live in this disease for the rest of your life,” she said. “I want to learn how to dance with [the past] and walk with it.”
Montalvo also has the support of Dominika Carver-Francy, housing director, and Laura Imbriale, spiritual director; both are peer recovery coaches. She said Honor Yoga North Brunswick offers the women free yoga and meditation classes.
The Antonia Maria Foundation will hold a fashion show fundraiser from noon to 4 p.m. on Oct. 13 at ReCreations Salon, 1626 Route 130, North Brunswick. Tickets are $35. Registration includes food and beverages, and a t-shirt.
To donate a merchandise, gift cards, cash or a service for the auction, call Antonia at 732-823-8350, Dominika at 732-832-5361 or Laura at 908-902-7383. For more information, visit Eventbrite.com.
In addition, Montalvo said she plans to hold her second annual gala in the spring, A Night for Leo, with proceeds used to furnish Leo’s House. More information will be available next year.
For more information on the Antonia Maria Foundation and Gracie’s House, visit www.antoniamariafoundation.org, follow Montalvo on social media, or call 888-633-2693.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.