Oak Forest Recovery in Agoura Hills, meet the Founder & Owner RJ Elizarraz
Interview with RJ Elizaraz where RJ discusses his personal experiences in recovery and how they have shaped his business, and the principles that guide him as a leader.
Describe your business
What differentiates us really is the fact that Oak Forest has a really incredible structure. The structure is entirely created out of my own recovery and those recoveries that I’ve seen and admire most. We have a brotherhood here, and it’s an all male facility. Were gender specific, which I think is also very important because it creates a really cool camaraderie and that camaraderie is all being facilitated in the high structure environment that we have created here. We get guys up at 5:30 am, which is early, but what we find is that when you’re around 15 other guys going through the same struggles, waking up at the same time and meeting in the kitchen to have breakfast together with not only myself, but also Gerry and Marcos, it’s not so much of a chore to wake up anymore. It becomes like a fun summer camp, where these guys are waking up on their own and having fun in the kitchen at 5am before the sun is even out yet. Then after breakfast we go to a 7am meeting and after the meeting, we head to the gym for about an hour and a half to two hours. The gym is mandatory. Sometimes you get push-back from guys the beginning, but there is a male camaraderie that happens and its only facilitated through these structured events that happen. Getting up in the morning, going to the meeting together, going to the gym together, training together, playing basketball together and doing fun things creates a male bond where these guys are pulling each other through the fears. We put a lot of care into making sure that the clients that do come here are getting the right treatment. What also makes us unique is that we have an entire network of intensive outpatient programs, psychiatrists, doctors and therapists so we can really cater to the needs of our clients. Not only are they getting these men into a routine here and getting male camaraderie, but we are also setting them up with the right resources that allow for the best recovery.
What made you decide to open this business?
My recovery journey started when I was about 20. I turned 21 in my first rehab in Utah. I went to a 45-60 day in patient treatment center and then went to a all male sober living in Salt Lake City. I connected so well with the guys there. I got into going to the gym, I got into fitness, I got into healthy eating, and healthy habits. I felt a camaraderie and brotherhood that I had never experienced before. I stayed sober fro 4 years from that and then I relapsed. Following my relapse, I started a tour of several other treatment centers and rehabs. I wanted to recreate what I found in my first sobriety but make sure to add the principles of spirituality and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. That is what I set out to strive to do and I think we achieved that.
What has surprised you most when owning a business?
I think the biggest surprise of running and owning a business has been the deep relationships that are created with the people I work with. One of the most important things to me is that anyone that I work with or that works for me feels like family. I didn’t expect it to be to the level that I have now found in running and owning a business, but the guys that work with me, I would lay my life on the line for. I think a business is only as good as the relationships that are created in it.
What is something most people don’t know about the business?
My life is totally transparent to everyone that is here. People don’t really understand the depth of that until they live here. There is noting in my life that is secret. It has created such an incredible wellspring of trust and relationship building. These guys can track where I am 24/7. They know every move I make whether I’m here, not here, where I go, who I see. They know everything. Its cool because it allows me to expect from them, the same level of transparency that I give to them. I am leading by example.
What are your goals over the next year?
Right now we’re an all men’s house, I would love to see a women’s house open or a second men’s house open. What we’re really good at here is the high structure, family environment. I want to recreate that for women and expand my capacity for men. I always want to use our local community for resources as far as therapists, doctors and psychiatrists and I plan to continue utilizing our outreach for our expansion moving forward.
How long have you lived in the neighborhood?
I was born in Los Robles Hospital. I grew up all over the Conejo Valley, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Agoura and Newbury Park, but mainly in Westlake Village.
I had the unique opportunity of going to Westlake High School, Oak Park High School and Newbury Park High School. I can definitely say I loved my experience at all 3 schools.
What do you love most about the neighborhood?
I started a business here because I love this area. Westlake Village, Agoura Hills, the entire Conejo Valley – it’s one of the most incredible places to raise a family and raise kids. I grew up my entire life living in Westlake. I grew up my whole life in Westlake. I was a little kid running the street in Westlake and not once did I ever feel worried or scared. I never want to leave, I want my kids to grow up here.
What do you want to see improve the most in this neighborhood?
I would love to see more things for young kids to do in the later evenings. With the recent open of Dave and Busters in our area, everyone seems to be going there and loving it. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s just nice to see something that these young people are getting excited about.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had working with a customer?
There was a kid who came into Oak Forest and he was 20. He celebrated his 21st birthday here. He had never had a license, he had never worked a job in his life, he never paid bills and he had never had a normal life. Today is a year and a half later. He has a license, he bought his own car, him and his family are a part of my family now, his family fully trusts him. He also has a full time job working in treatment and getting paid about 20/hour and fully supports himself in only a year and a half. He is someone that will be part of my life forever and these are the experiences that are priceless.
Anything exciting going on that customers should know about?
Oak Forest is continuing to grow. We are looking for another house and are hopefully going to expand our capacity and offer services like this for women in the future.
I also started a media company called Mad Rose media which is a full production business. We do video production and high end content creation for corporate business needs.