Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




M. P.

FAMILY SCHOOL TRUTH CAMPAIGN NOTE: East Ridge is a 12-step recovery cult in upstate NY.  Their program is based off of All Addicts Anonymous, a program that believes people who are diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorders are in need of a 12-step recovery program, not medical treatment.

Tony and Betty Argiros are the founders of The Family Foundation School; Annie Argiros is now the principal at the School.

This is very hard for me to write, but I feel it is necessary. My experience at what was then just called, "The Family," occurred before Tony and Betty Argiros incorporated and made their "mission" of helping "addicts" into a "school." If memory serves correctly, and it has been many years, I was living at Tony and Betty's original house from the Spring of 1979 to the Winter of 1980. I later became a member of a community down the road with whom the Argiros family were friendly-- East Ridge. I was at East Ridge, living in an apartment in a house right near there for about 6 months. They then sent me back to the Argiros home, where I stayed for a few months until I ran away. This whole time of my life was a nightmare. Because I am now married and have a professional career, I have not used my name here. For years, I wanted to go to the child abuse authorities to report the Argiros family and was once called by the New York State's attorney's office, but the investigations being done at that time seemed to dead-end.

I lived with Tony, Betty and their their then-teenage kids, Mike and Annie, who were still living at home. I was in college in April 1979 and my mother had just died. I was estranged from my family due to an abusive father and relatives who would not help with that situation. I was in the middle of grieving the death of my mother when I went to a health fair at my college. It was there that I had first contact with Annie Argiros, who told me that she and her family had a farm where people could come and live. She made it sound like a warm, loving, fun atmosphere, which is exactly what an emotionally needy grieving young student needed. In short, she saw my vulnerability and honed in on it. In a couple of weeks, Anne Argiros, her father, Tony, and others came to collect me and my few belongs for what I thought would be a summer at the farm. I will say, at this point, that I had not been a drinker nor did I have the experience of taking drugs that they later, through abuse, forced me to state. Basically, I had to lie to them to say I had this problem in order to make their abuse stop and mental cruelty end. It did not end until long after I left The Family.

When I got to the Argiros home, I worked with them part time in the Montgomery Wards store they owned in Hancock and the rest of the time that I did farm chores along with other young people and the Argiros kids. Betty Argiros and her daughter, a single mom (Michelle), taunted me about my lack of having done physical work before. Having grown up in a large city, I had no background in farm work. I was required to go out, often with inadequate clothing, in the freezing cold of pre-dawn winter weather to chip frozen water dishes attached to cages where the Argiros kept mink they were raising and cages where they had rabbits. I was also required to shovel the manure from the barn with the cows. These were normal farm chores, but I was inadequately clothed and the Argiros were clear that they did not want to hear any complaints about that. Originally, I was housed in the basement of their house with other young people. We slept in bunk beds and day beds. Mike Argiros had his own room in the back part of the basement while the rest of us crowded into the remaining space. We had a wood stove in the basement and took turns feeding it so we were up in the middle of the night and were still expected to do the morning chores and be to breakfast on time.

At that time, Anthony Argiros was taking heavy doses of steroids. I think he had arthritis or something and this was prescribed, but Betty and Michelle both said that it caused him to have mood problems, including irritability. At that time, Tony and Betty were raising sheep, cows, pigs, mink and rabbits. Once when I went up the hill to give the cows water and food, I tripped on the electric wire fence and was shocked. No one offered any assistance. Instead, I was left to lay on the ground until I could complete my chores. I don't know if it was from that incident, but I later developed medical issues that may have been related to it.

During my stay there, I had to go through various stages of acceptance by The Family. They had nightly family meetings around the table and morning meetings after breakfast also. They used the method of breaking people down, but never really built them up.
During my residence there, I was given "hot seat" meetings in which I had to sit on a chair in the middle of a circle. Everyone else sat around me. They screamed obscenities and accusations at me for several hours and Tony threw an ashtray full of cigarette butts and ashes at me. (Back then Betty and some others still smoked in the house.)

I was also not of the same religion as the Argiros family. They were Catholic and I was not. I was forced to go to church with them, which I did not want to do. I pretended to be ok with this and to want to go because the reward was Tony's approval-- which meant no abuse for that day.

There were times that Tony inappropriately fondled my rear and my breasts. There were times he hit me-- too many times to count.

While at the Argiros, Tony meted out approval and anger in a way that controlled the behavior of the residents at The Family. Back then, they took adults in as well as teens. Mostly,there were young people, but while I was there a few adults came through their program. While I was there, I witnessed Tony and Betty, Anne and Mike verbally abusing an elderly man who had come to stay with them as well as a young man who was from the local community and who had sexual identity issues. This young man need real psychotherapy, not verbal abuse. In addition, there were was a young woman diagnosed with schizophrenia who came there. The Argiros family took away her medications, she became psychotic and they stripped her till she was naked, tied her up with a garden hose in a chair on the porch and threw water on her. I think she ran away because the next night she was gone.

There was also a young man whose name I do not now recall. However, Tony and Betty allowed their daughter, Anne, to start dating him. All the Argiros folks were pushing for a marriage there. He eventually moved out and was working on a snow plow at Camp French Woods, down the road. The snow plow turned over with him in it and he was crushed to death. At the funeral and during the ride home, we were not allowed to cry or express any grief. We had to sing uplifting Catholic hymns instead.

While I was at the Argiros, they were raising sheep. Tony told me I could have a lamb as a pet. The next day, in the early morning, I heard gun shots in front of the house on the hill. I was told he shot the lamb for food. I was later forced to sit at the table and eat this animal who had been a beloved pet. It was revolting.

The best times at The Family were Christmas because Tony's mother came to cook for them. He was nicer when his mother was around. We went to her house a couple of times and it felt like a more normal day than we usually had there.

After the first summer at The Family, I was not allowed to leave to return to college. Instead, I was told to transfer to the same college that Michelle was attending because I had no car, did not know how to drive and they could not transport me to classes at my original school. Faced with the prospect of transfer or no college education, I transferred and rode daily to and from college with their daughter Michelle, who lived separately in the town of Hancock. During the ride to and from classes, she either berated me or gave me the "silent treatment," refusing to talk with me. When Anne eventually joined us for this ride-- for her brief time in college there-- I was totally ignored. I became invisible.

I struggled through classes, commute, farm chores, hot seat meetings, sexual abuse from Tony, verbal and emotional abuse from Tony, Betty, Anne and Michelle and eventually got them to allow me to move out. I moved to an apartment in the city where I was attending college.

A year and a half later, I became very physically ill. I called the people at East Ridge who were friends with The Family. I began attending meetings at East Ridge and attended a seminar about health issues there. They gave me some medical help and I began to get better. However, while I was attending meetings and visiting people at East Ridge, I had to stay at The Family overnight as a guest. This was before I learned to drive, so I was dependent upon them to get me to and from any connection to transportation back to my city apartment. While staying with them, Betty repeatedly told me that I would die if I didn't return back to the family and do what they told me.

Since I had made a good connection with someone at East Ridge and my year at school was coming to a close, and with much pressure from the folks at East Ridge to continue to save my health, I moved to a small apartment in Hankins. After about six months in Hankins, during which time I experienced repeated health problems, emotional abuse from Tom Powers (the leader of East Ridge) and some of his followers, as well as financial problems due to lack of employment in the area, I was called into a meeting with Tom Powers, Tony and Betty Argiros. At that time, Tom said I would never belong anywhere and that I needed to beg Tony and Betty to take me back. Tony and Betty agreed to take me back. That night, I drove back to The Family with Tony and Betty. I think this was in 1983.

As soon as we got in the door of the house, Tony called a family meeting. He told everyone that I was not to speak unless spoken to, that I was sent back because of too much pride and couldn't make it in the outside world (even though I had gotten good grades at college each semester that I lived on my own). He said this even though I was not using any drugs or drinking, even though I had been working at my college and getting good grades. He said this to convince the group to shun me. I was immediately back at the bottom of the Argiros pecking order. I was back on pre-dawn farm chore duty. I felt stuck and totally depressed. The one saving grace was that I had, while at East Ridge, enrolled in a course to become a home health aide. I had to go to the classes five days weekly.

One morning, after my chores of shoveling manure in the cow barn in the winter without adequate clothing, we had a family meeting. I mentioned that it had been my turn to be able to use the rubber farm boots but that one of the other residents took them and would not let me use them. I was immediately placed in a hot seat meeting and berated for about a half hour for being lazy and a failure, and a spoiled brat. Luckily, they knew I had to be out on the road to catch a ride from their daughter, Michelle, to take me to the Greyhound bus so I could get into Liberty, NY, where my class was held. I was left out on the road that morning to wait for her. As soon as the Argiros van was out of sight, I ran down the road and hitched a ride to the apartment in Hankins where I had been living while at East Ridge. My belongings were still there. I gathered what I could in a total panic because I knew that the Argiros van would come looking for me as soon as Michelle told them she had not picked me up. Luckily, the phone was still working because I was not at The Family long enough to have cleared out my apartment and gotten the phone service shut off. I called a friend in my college town and she and her spouse said they'd meet me if I could get to that city. I hitched a ride into Liberty and got a $5 Greyhound ticket to the city to meet my friend. She and her husband met me when I came off the bus.

Due to my lack of income, I was immediately homeless. I wound up going to the YWCA and the counselors there gave me a room. One of the brainwashing messages the Argiros instilled in me was that anyone who ran away from them did so because the devil and demons were after them, forcing them to leave. So, in addition to the fears of the Argiros van coming and looking for me, I was scared of these demons they said were in control of me. Thankfully, the counselors at the YWCA were skilled and helpful. They helped to undo some of this brainwashing and friends I had previously made in the city encouraged and helped me to get back into college. I lived in the YWCA for six months, got into counseling and eventually got my college degree. I went on for advanced graduate education, earned another degree and started on my career path.

The unresolved grief of my mother's death and emotional neediness of that time eventually healed. The emotional scars from living with Tony and Betty Argiros were addressed in years of counseling after I left there. One day, I got a call from the New York State's Attorney's Office. They asked me about what I experienced there. I answered the investigator's questions, but nothing ever came of it. Today I have a profession and a family. I own a home. I help others. I do yoga and I meditate. Several decades have passed. I know that Tony was a sick person, but I find it hard to forgive him. He had too much power and he abused that power with tyrannical behavior. I just wish he were out of business and that justice could be served. It saddens me to know that what was once just his house with a few lost souls has become a whole "foundation" and a "school." It is a breeding ground for abuse and the lack of professional help for those who need real mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Submitted By: M. P.