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NDFW Alumna improving the Orange County Community
Lauri Burns, founder of Teen Project and Alumnae of New Directions for Women

We at New Directions for Women want to celebrate one of our alumnae, Lauri Burns, whose story was recently featured in the Orange County Register. She is a living testimony that there is brilliance in recovery. She has founded her own non-profit organization, published a book, and manages a technology company. Hopefully, her story will encourage you the way it has encouraged us.

We have pasted her story below, which was originally featured on Feb 3rd, 2012. She graciously gave us permission to celebrate her being featured in the life section of the OC Register Newspaper.

O.C. exec’s path includes heroin, hooking

To see the original article, please visit: https://www.ocregister.com/articles/lauri-338750-dad-one.html


Imagine this, if you can.

The place: Long Island, N.Y.

The time: The ’70s.

Dad is an airline pilot. Mom is a mom.

You are just a kid. A kid who for some reason is Dad’s punching bag.

You have an older sister who seems to be Dad’s friend and a younger sister who is too young to realize what is going on.

One day your mom packs her suitcase and leaves for Los Angeles and a new life. She promises to send you a ticket when she gets settled.

You’re still waiting when, a few months later, your friend walks into your bathroom to see your dad beating you with a blow dryer.

Your dad, afraid he’ll be reported, hides his handgun, calls the police, and says you stole it and are unstable.

You are driven to a large brick building. And locked inside.

You start screaming. You don’t belong in a mental institute. But you are afraid to report the truth. You’re only 13, still holding out hope that your dad might love you if you don’t make trouble.

For months (not quite sure how many because you’re drugged), the song “Don’t Give Up on Us Baby,” spins over and over on the record player of another locked-up girl.

Your dad visits once a week with a Whopper, fries and a vanilla shake. The day your 8-year-old sister visits with him, you are in a straight jacket.

Meanwhile, your mom keeps phoning Long Island to check in.

She always asks to talk to you.

You’re always outside playing, your sisters have been instructed to report. Finally, Mom demands you be brought to the phone. When they can’t produce you, she calls a family friend who tells her you are locked up at Central Islip.

Crying, Mom gets you out, sends you a one-way ticket to Orange County.

But it’s only the beginning.

Looking back, Lauri Burns wouldn’t have it any other way, though.

If I hadn’t gone through everything I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be living this magnificent life right now.


By the time Lauri got to Newport Beach she was done with God. And people, for that matter. She gave up bonding after returning home from middle school one day back on Long Island to find her best friend, a dog named Pepper, gone. No explanation.


They would be her new friend.

She and her friends began ditching class at Newport Harbor High and breaking into homes to steal money and jewelry to pay for them. She was arrested, and locked up again. This time in juvenile detention. After that she lived in group homes, which she ran away from as often as possible.

By the time she was 16, she was shooting up cocaine. By 18 she was pregnant.

After her daughter was born, Lauri went back to the drugs and seedy motel living. One night her mom found her hiding in the bathtub, a knife clutched tight, in the grip of paranoia.

By the time Lauri was 20 heroin had replaced coke. She needed fixes to keep her bones from aching and her sticky skin from reeking.

She told herself that if she could endure hugging her father and telling him she loved him after every time he beat her, as was required by him, she could endure letting other men touch her for money.

Selling myself for less and less money I had no limits to the depths I would sink, she writes in “Punished for Purpose,” the memoir she published last year.

When her daughter was 2, she was taken away.

Driving past an alcohol recovery center in Garden Grove one day, Lauri went in and asked them to admit her. The man there saw her bruised track marks on her arms and told her he didn’t think alcohol was her problem. So she went to a liquor store, bought a bottle of Seagram’s and sat in the parking lot, drinking it until they let her in.

When the program ended 30 days later, though, so did her sobriety.

Then one night she got into a car with two men on Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana. She knew she was in trouble when they got onto the freeway. Stopping on a desolate canyon road, they beat and raped her, and fought over whether or not to kill her.

Kill me! Just kill me!

That’s the last thing she remembers screaming. When she came to, a black man in a white van was picking her up in his arms. He took her to a hospital. The next morning, wearing a hospital gown, she walked back out into the daylight and called a friend from a payphone. He took her to a recovery house. A few weeks later, in February 1987, she entered New Directions for Women in Costa Mesa.

And she began to talk. And talk. And talk. She had never talked about her childhood.

It had been festering like an infected wound… it seeped out in every part of me, but I had never noticed.

The counselors wanted her to talk to God too. She hadn’t tried that since the mental hospital. No one listened then, why now?

She had to try, they told her. Pick a God.

She picked George Burns.

From that day forward I prayed to a god who looked like, and for all intents and purposes was, George Burns.

One day the counselor and she got on the phone with her dad and asked him to come hear what she had to tell him. After some stammering, she began screaming, asking why he hated her, why he hurt her.

She’ll never forget his words: If you had only fed the dog, it would have been different.

Ridiculous. Outrageous. And proof he was the crazy one.

From that day forward I would speak the truth about abuse and nothing would stop me.

Lauri began writing prayers on pieces of paper and dropping them in an old shoe box, her God Box. She also began sending off letters to her dad, telling him she forgave him.

The best day came when she got her 5-year-old daughter back. She also enrolled in a computer course and got hired at a software company. In 1999 she started her own computer consulting firm in Rancho Santa Margarita, Sole-lutions, earning $320,000 that first year.

About that time she began fostering teen girls. She soon realized that once they hit 18, and the system dumps them, they’ve got nowhere to go. No phone, no money, no car. They’re ripe for the streets, like she was. She began to tell her story to raise money for what she called The Teen Project. Within a year she had a Teen Project House in Lake Forest and volunteers to hand out bus cards, food cards and phone cards to street kids.

One night, on her knees talking to God, she told him she had everything she needed and didn’t even mind that her life was missing a man. She heard a reply: Drop husband in the God box.

I thought what? Are you freaking kidding?

But drop it she did. And three weeks later she met Jeffrey McMullens. Not only did he have a God box, he thought God looked like George Burns too. Six months later they were married.


Three years ago, on a royal Caribbean cruise, Lauri got a call. It was from a mental hospital in New York. They had a man who said his only family was her. It was her dad. He had tried to kill himself.

The man who locked me up in a looney bin was now in one himself and his only rescue – me. Life is funny sometimes isn’t it?

Lauri’s dad is 78 and in therapy in Florida. He saw her story on Oprah.com and has since told her he is proud of her.

Lauri’s daughter went on to get her master’s from Columbia University and is a social worker in New York.

Lauri’s mom Barbaralives in Palm Desert. She thinks it will be painful to read her daughter’s book, but plans to someday.

Lauri’s little sister Allison Burns designs high-end handbags that can be seen in celeb magazines on the shoulders of stars like Steven Tyler.

Lauri is 25 years sober. On Wednesday she will open the PAD (Protection and Direction), a teen outreach steps from the sand at Venice Beach, where runaways congregate.

She has no regrets.

Contact the writer: lbasheda@ocregister.com

If you wish to learn more about New Directions for Women contact us at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or simply by phone at 800-939-6636.







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