Robert Pfeifer, MSW – Founder/Managing Member &
Mindi Levins-Pfeifer, LCSW – Executive Director
Robert and Mindi have a combined 40 years experience working with adolescents and young adults, as well as developing, overseeing and managing programs in the health services and education fields. They have both performed in executive, management and direct service roles. Their professional careers began while working in Hollywood, California for non-profit agencies that focused on adolescents and young adults. For Mindi and Robert, Sober College is a labor of love, second only to their marriage of eleven years and two children.
Liz Gomez, MSW – Associate Executive Director
Liz Gomez received her undergraduate degree in social work from Syracuse University in New York, and her master’s degree in social work from California State University, Long Beach. Before coming to Sober College, Gomez served as as a consultant for youth programs across the country. Her experience in providing training and technical assistance and expertise on trauma informed approaches to working with runaway and homeless youth; the operation of a transitional living and independent living programs; and on administrative operations for programs providing services for youth – expertise she gained through serving as Executive Director of Los Angeles Youth Network (LAYN), a position she held for 17 years. She joined the LAYN staff in 1989, bringing with her nearly 10 years of experience working with juvenile offenders, homeless youth and other high-risk youth populations. She has served on the boards of the California Coalition for Youth, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce; the advisory board of The California Wellness Foundation’s Violence Prevention Initiative.
In addition to working at Sober College, Gomez currently serves as a board member for The California Wellness Foundation and has been actively involved in the leadership of numerous youth-serving, philanthropic, civic and community organizations. Gomez shares, “What drew me to Sober College was their niche in serving young adults seeking recovery. Through my work over the years with this population of young people, it is clear they have unique needs and not everyone is equipped to provide quality services for them as Sober College is.”
Bruce Stark, MD – Physician
Bruce Stark, M.D. brings a great combination of professional expertise, enthusiastic energy and a down-to-earth manner that makes him ideal for the Sober College environment. Special interests include medical treatment and evaluation of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and all aspects of preventative health care.
An avid surfer, skateboarder and guitar player, Dr. Stark is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and also a Diplomate with the American Board of Internal Medicine. He is a Graduate of the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine in 1990. He has 12 years experience in private practice and did his Residency Training in Internal Medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
Dr. Stark is a specialist in non-invasive cardiac testing, headache management and substance abuse while he spends most of his time treating a wide variety of illnesses. These include treatment of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, weight loss, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, preventative health care and cancer screening. Dr. Stark is committed to treating all aspects of a patient’s health, physiological and psychological.
Dr. Stark is married and enjoys spending his spare time surfing, playing guitar and coaching his daughter’s T-Ball team. Dr. Stark also speaks Spanish.
Shahla Modir, MD – Psychiatrist
Shahla Modir, M.D. completed residency in Psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and a 2 year sub-specialty fellowship in Addiction Psychiatry at UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Modir is double board certified. This is a rare qualification in the treatment of dual diagnosis. She is a Diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology for Psychiatry AND Addiction Psychiatry. She is trained in all of the evidence based psycho-social therapies to treat addiction such as motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy. Furthermore, she is trained and has led groups in dialectical behavioral therapy.
Over the past 7 years Dr. Modir has worked primarily in residential treatment program helping young adults struggling with addiction and co-occurring disorders. Her expertise in dual-diagnosis treatment and Addiction Psychiatry makes her a vital part of Sober College’s Clinical Treatment Program.
Therese Mansour Moriarty, MA, PsyD – Neuropsychologist
After Graduating USC, Boston College and Pepperdine University, Dr. Therese Mansour Moriarty has done extensive work in psychiatry across the country, publishing papers and continuing research in neuropsychology. For over two years prior to coming to Sober College, Dr. Moriarty was involved exclusively in neuropsychological assessment, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and consultation.
Dr. Moriarty completed her internship at the Federal prison where she conducted neuropsychological evaluations on the inmate population, evaluating levels of impairment, functioning, and creating treatment plans and/or recommendations to help them function at the most optimal level while incarcerated. Following the completion of her doctorate, Dr. Moriarty was working in the private sector conducting neuropsychological evaluations on athletes, personal injury cases, workers comp, stroke, and dementia cases.
Dr. Moriarty has completed this training while working for the Los Angeles Neuropsychology Group, as well as my employment at the Sports Concussion Institute. In addition to evaluating patients, she engages in cognitive rehabilitation with individuals following traumatic brain injury, strokes, and injured athletes.
Aimee Noel, LCSW – Clinical Director
Aimee is a native Angeleno joining the Sober College team after working in the non-profit family service field since 1996. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Developmental Psychology at California State University, Chico in 1995 and went on to study at Smith College School For Social Work in Northampton, MA where she earned her Master’s degree in 2002.
Aimee has experience working in residential treatment, working with adults with co-occurring disorders, conducting therapy with children and families and has strong ties in the recovery community. She has pursued specialized training in suicide risk assessment, family systems, trauma and mindfulness. Aimee brings the perspective of looking at individuals along a developmental continuum within a biopsychosocial context. “One of the things I love most about Sober College is that we are not just treating each resident’s drug abuse issues, we are looking at all aspects of the individual’s life and offering support to the whole person.”
Aimee brings a strong clinical background, an entrenched understanding of the complexities of adolescent and young adults and most importantly is tied into the professional network that exists in the Southern California community. Aimee’s leadership and organizational skills will be paramount in leading an internal Sober College team that includes Psychiatry, Neuropsychology, Internal Medicine, Individual and Group Psychotherapy, Somatic Mindfulness Experiencing, urban Experiential Activities and much more. Additionally, she will coordinate the delivery of specialized therapies and treatments when necessary.
Melisa Tablada, CDS, CATC II – Director of Administration & Business Affairs
Melisa has worked at Sober College since 2007. As a CATC II and a CDS she has worked in the field of addiction since 2003. Melisa, like most of the staff, has personally had her life affected by substance abuse and has a passion for helping young adults and their families to recover from alcoholism. Prior to working at Sober College Melisa owned and ran her own business for ten years. She, also, was on the sexual assault team for a year and a half. Melisa explains, “I get to see young adults come to Sober College in so much pain, and watch them grow into happy functioning adults. It is an amazing thing to witness”
Ken Niemann, MA, DC – Fitness Director, Principles of Healthy Living Teacher (BHVR 1700)
A native of Pennsylvania, Ken received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Pepperdine University where he served as the captain of an intercollegiate Lacrosse team. After working nearly a decade as a nuclear and biochemist at places such as UCLA and Amgen, he returned to school to receive his Doctor of Chiropractic degree, an M.A. in Bioethics, and is currently a candidate for a Masters in Public Health degree through the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is certified by The National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist. Ken is also a Medical Assistant and adjunct professor of Health and Wellness at Woodbury University. He remains active by playing and coaching Lacrosse, doing triathlons, and working as a private trainer and spin instructor.
Rick Macrory, CCDC – Program Director
Rick Macrory is a Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor with the California Certification Board of Chemical Dependency Counselors. He has experience as a Case Manager and facilitator in other treatment facilities, and has a thorough knowledge of the 12-step program and how it works for recovery as well as life. A native of Southern California, Rick attended Point Loma College in San Diego, CA, where he studied Business Administration and excelled in basketball and baseball for the school teams.
In addition to his studies, Rick has worked on many professional levels, from construction to top sales positions, as well as real estate and mortgage experience. More than that, Rick brings to Sober College his own real life experiences and street knowledge from his 20-year battle with drug addiction, which led to broken family relationships, attending treatment facilities, and eventually spending 4 years incarceration because of drug addiction. Rick has been a part of Sober College from the start and looks forward to showing up to work everyday.
Rick’s strengths are his genuine love, care, and concern for young adults who struggle with addiction, as well as helping his clients find meaning and purpose in their lives. He has a unique ability to build trusting relationships that allow him to mentor and counsel, not only through words, but also by sharing and experiencing fun activities in sobriety with these young adults.
Rick’s hobbies include working out, playing all types of sports, and in addition he is a devoted Los Angeles Lakers fan. Rick is very spiritual and thanks God daily for all the ways he has been blessed. He accepts as a blessing that he has the opportunity to work and help make a difference in the lives of young adults.
Lori Turner – Marketing & Admissions Director
With over 20 years of marketing, advertising, communication and sales activation experience, Lori has a reputation for creating and implementing sales and marketing plans that positively impact revenues, brand awareness and engagement.
Recently Lori has held the Director of Marketing position for The American Musical and Dramatic Arts Academy, a two and four year accredited collage with campuses in NYC and Los Angeles. Prior to that, she held Account Management positions at top-tier advertising agencies managing the marketing for brands like Honda, SAP, Blue Cross of CA and FX Network.
On a personal note, Lori enjoys cooking, traveling and hiking. She lives in Lake Balboa with her husband and their rescue dogs and cats.
Dan Bakst, MS, MFTi – Therapist
Dan graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from California State University Channel Islands and received his Masters degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from California Lutheran University.
While earning his Masters, Dan worked at the California Lutheran Counseling Center working with individuals, children and victims of domestic violence. He has 7 years experience working in the field of addiction and believes strongly in working with the individual and with the family. “I believe that Sober College offers young adults the possibility to reach their potential,” Dan explains, “We provide them with an environment that is conducive to recovery by treating every client individually based on their specific needs”.
Melissa Feldman, MS, MFTi – Therapist
Melissa received a B.A in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a M.A in Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Phillips Graduate Institute.
Melissa worked as a college counselor at Santa Barbara Business College which sparked her interest to work with young adult in search of a new path. Once returning to school and completing her masters, Melissa worked at Glendale Community College offering therapy to college students. Melissa has made a career of helping others change their lives emotionally and academically. She continues to have a passion to watch the transformation take place.
Lauren Brezner, MA – Women’s Counselor
Lauren earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado and received her master’s degree from Alliant International University in Marriage and Family Therapy.
Lauren’s passion is working with adolescents and young adults with substance abuse and mental health issues. While earning her master’s degree she worked as a counselor at a high school and two middle schools servicing low income communities in the San Fernando Valley. She worked with gang violence, PTSD, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, learning disabilities, psychopathology and crisis intervention.
Lauren uses her own recovery and knowledge of the twelve steps to help those in need. She believes there is nothing like watching an individual transform from the darkest of places into a happy, productive and meaningful life.
Daniel Murphy – Primary Counselor
Daniel is a graduate of Sober College and is a prime example of how this treatment program can change lives. After he transitioned through Sober College’s treatment program, Daniel became a Mentor; he worked hands-on with primary residents and used his life experience and residency at Sober College to help students in early recovery. Daniel continued to grow at Sober College, becoming an Overnight Supervisor then House Manger for the Apartment Program. As a House Manager, Daniel helped residents transition into independent living while also managing Mentors on a daily basis. In addition to working at Sober College, Daniel earned his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from California State University, Northridge and has now become the Lead Counselor for the Apartment program. As a counselor, Daniel’s goal is to use his education and experience in recovery to help motivate residents and teach them how to live healthy and sober lives.
DaMarcus Morton – Primary Counselor
Coming from a background where success was simply a word on a motivational poster, DaMarcus has overcome his own adversities. DaMarcus was introduced to social services at the early age of 12 where he participated in Say Yes To Tennis Inc., a drug prevention program focused on teaching tennis. After participating in this program for 6 years, he began working for this program as a mentor/tennis instructor. DaMarcus took a break from the social service arena to focus on his education so that he could return to the work he loved with more knowledge and education.
DaMarcus received his degree in Criminal Justice in 2001. DaMarcus has since used this education not for punitive means, but for empowerment. With the goal of one day creating his own program, he began gaining experience in the different populations of social services, ranging from the homeless population, abused and run-a-way youth, youth involved in the justice system, mental treatment and now, drug and alcohol treatment.
DaMarcus attends Pierce College where he is currently working on obtaining his CDP in the field. DaMarcus comes to us here at Sober College from Tarzana Treatment Centers where he also worked with the youth population. DaMarcus is our Lead Counselor for the Apartment Program where he works to assist the residents with developing independent living skills.
Rachel Sanders, MA - Academic Director, Drugs and Alcohol in Popular Culture Teacher (SOC 1700)
M.A. Sociology, San Diego State University; B.A. Sociology, minors in Applied Psychology and Education, University of California, Santa Barbara.
I developed the Drugs and Alcohol in Popular Culture course specifically for the Sober College student. It is my goal to help students develop a sociological perspective on drug and alcohol use and addiction through the study of American popular culture. In this course the student is the expert; they are hugely familiar with both the culture they live in as well as with their personal experiences surrounding drug and alcohol use. We use this expertise to critique and analyze the beliefs surrounding drugs and drug use in our society. Students will discover how beliefs are transmitted to the general population and how in turn those beliefs continually influence our understanding of drugs, alcohol and those that use.
I enjoy introducing new material in innovative ways and showing students how sociology is a part of their everyday lives. The aspect that I love most about teaching is the interaction with the students. Developing a rapport with students is very important to me. Receiving positive feedback from students about my ability to maintain a safe and fun classroom environment is very rewarding and one of the reasons why I love what I do. As a teacher within a therapeutic community, it is perhaps most rewarding to see the positive effects in their own lives as a result of the study of sociology. It is amazing to watch student’s process the academic information presented in class and, in turn, transmute it to tangible and identifiable action and positive change in their search for recovery.
Robert Reiher, Ph.D – Psychology of Personal Transformation Teacher (PSYC 170)
Dr. Reiher received his B.A. in education and psychology and completed his Masters Degree in experimental psychology. His doctorate, completed at the University of Southern California, is in educational psychology with a specialization in human development, social psychology, and personality theory. Dr. Reiher has conducted research in attribution theory and cognitive psychology and is published in several journals including the Journal of Psychology. Robert has authored and co-authored several books and numerous papers on marketing and human development.
Jenna Patronete, MA – Academic Coach, Public Speaking Teacher (COMM 120)
Communication Studies, M. A., Communication Studies, B. A., Minor Political Science
An Alumni of the San Diego State University Aztecs Jenna received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with a minor in Political Science, and continued on to earn a Master of Arts in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Gender Studies and Persuasion. Teaching experience includes Public Speaking, Intercultural Communication and Communication and Politics. It is my hope that my students experience the power of their education as I did through shared experiences and mutual understanding.
Chantell Barnhill, MA- Academic Coach, Creative Writing Teacher (COMM 110)
M.A. English; B.S. Public Relations
Chantell earned a Bachelor of Science in public relations from Ball State University and went on to earn a Master of Arts in English from Indiana University South Bend. While teaching English composition at IUSB, Chantell strengthened her skills not only as an instructor but as an academic coach. Her goal is to help students realize their full potential and to encourage them to take an active role in their education.
Neli Petrosyan, BA – Academic Coach, Internship Coordinator
B.A. Sociology; Minor Russian Language, UCLA
Neli earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Russian Language from University of California, Los Angeles. From there she went on to become an Academic Adviser at UCLA, where she advised students regarding their academic futures; she assisted with completing college applications, writing personal statements, revising resumes and held financial aid workshops. This experience helped Neli transition to Sober College where she continues to assist students with their academic plan—be it choosing the right college, job preparation and searching and coordinating Sober College’s first Internship Program. My desire is to help students understand the importance of education and to work through their life challenges in order to achieve their goals. To me, this motivation helps our population learn to believe in themselves and know that if they work hard they can achieve anything.
Michelle Gardner – Chief Financial Officer
Michelle Gardner is a native of Phoenix, Arizona and has been working with Sober College since 2007. Over the past six years she has been witness to the amazing growth of both the residents and the business alike. Prior to to working at Sober College, Michelle was a general manager with Starbucks Coffee, where she helped to develop some of their lowest ranked stores into the highly profitable locations that they are today. She attended Emerson College in Boston and then New York University before settling down in Los Angeles and making it her home. Having been raised in a 12 step environment, Sober College was a natural fit for Michelle who adds, “Seeing the transition in these kids lives from the day of arrival to the day they move on is a perk of the job that is truly priceless.”
Andy Dukeshire – Medical & Logistics Manager
While working full time at Sober College for over 5 years, Andy has completed the Addiction Studies Program at Pierce College, and is currently working on his Bachelors in Psychology from Woodbury University. As an alumnus of the Sober College program himself, Andy is passionate about the work he does with the young adults that come through Sober College. “I love working with young adults, and Sober College is the type of place where if a client has an idea, like wanting to be a mechanic, take classes to become and EMT or an ice skater, they are going to make it happen.”
As Medical and Logistics Manager Andy works closely with our primary physician, neuropsychologist, Clinical Director and psychiatrist to arrange client medication, schedule appointments, coordinate with house staff and house managers to ensure that all client needs are being met. With over 5 years of experience not only working in treatment, but working at Sober College, Andy is an integral part of the Sober College treatment process.
Gabriela Starkman – Office Manager
Gabriela has been with Sober College for over 4 years. Being in recovery herself, Gabriela was drawn to the idea of working with young adults trying to get sober. “I love seeing the relief on the faces of clients as they begin to feel the effects of the Sober College Program.” Gabriela is currently in school to expand her knowledge of the intricacies that go on behind the scenes which help Sober College run efficiently and effectively. “Having worked in other treatment centers prior to coming to Sober College, Gabriela bring the knowledge and experience in both recovery and administration and serves as an enormous asset to Sober College, the students, and the families that come through.
Keren Gee -Marketing & Admissions Coordinator, Vista Academy and ICDS
From London and Israel and having lived in Miami, FL and Manhattan, NY Keren has worked and gotten to know many in the recovery field around the world. She has had a huge positive impact on many young people, especially young women who struggled.
Keren has 9 years of experience of the 12 step program and has started 12-step meetings in New York and London and is in constant contact with the people she has helped across the globe. A genuine caring and loving young woman Keren says, “I know from my travelling that there is nothing like Sober College anywhere else in the world, I truly believe in Sober College. What they have going on is amazing!!”
Keren loves working with children and young adults and strives to help them understand that life can be fun and meaningful without the use of any mind altering substance.
Dr. Sarasue Spielman -ICDS Teacher
Dr.Spielman will be your guide and academic mentor as you work through the Sober College/ICDS Alcohol & Drug Counseling curriculum. A professor at the Oxnard and Ventura Colleges, Dr.Spielman’s courses in Addictive Disorders, Child Development and Psychology have informed and inspired students to reach beyond the classroom and make a difference in their community, and in the lives of others.