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Urban Mission Bridge program offers a lifeline to those battling addictions

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When you’re at a bridge, you have two choices: jump off and give up, or walk across and follow a new path.

Carthage resident Richard G. Covell, 72, chose the latter when he decided to participate in the Watertown Urban Mission’s Bridge Program as the alternative to going to jail when he received his fourth driving while intoxicated citation in late 2007.

“I almost hit a car head-on; it opened my eyes a bit,” he said. “I’d been drinking a long time, since I was 18 or 19. You just start out with two or three, but add more, and it kept getting more and more.”

Sharing his stories, he said, may inspire others to become sober, and also contribute to the agency’s $2 million “Mission: Possible” capital campaign to raise funds to create an endowment, and to renovate the 247 Factory St. building to create more privacy and efficiency for clients and staff members.

“The Bridge Program changed my life around; it’s a bridge you just cross,” Mr. Covell said. “I could have lost a lot along the way. I had a good wife who stuck by me. I realized there’s got to be something better than this. If I didn’t stop, I think I would have been dead by now.”

He said he credits his hard work through the Bridge Program, and the support of its director, Salvatore J. Ciulo, for saving his life.

Bridge “is designed to get these individuals who are all great people, but their addictions led them to make rotten choices,” Mr. Ciulo said. “Addiction is so powerful, it doesn’t discriminate who it is. I don’t think a lot of people, when they get up in the morning, plan to get a DWI.”

He said Bridge clients are referred by the court system and may remain in the program for up to three years, depending on how badly they struggle with their addictions. A majority of clients, Mr. Ciulo said, are in Bridge for three years because more can be accomplished over time. Treatment plans must start with rehabilitation for the addiction at an inpatient or outpatient center.

“Treatment drives the train, especially the ones who are sick coming out of jail or detoxing at home,” Mr. Ciulo said. “Then I build on other stuff. They’re coming in, and half the problem is their addiction is at the forefront. There are so many things you have to break through. The real John Doe is in there somewhere.”

Clients go through a life transformation as they become sober, he said, as they often find themselves either working toward the equivalent of a high school diploma or securing a job or a place to call home.

There is no room in the program’s budget for office renovations, which would provide more privacy for clients or handicapped accessibility in the back office. Support for the capital campaign will take care of that, Urban Mission Executive Director Erika F. Flint said.

Having that privacy and dignity, Mr. Ciulo said, along with tools provided by Bridge, will help clients succeed. After their initial treatment is successfully completed, he said, life struggles remain, as addiction is a constant battle, even after years of sobriety. If Bridge clients feel as if they’re on the verge of a relapse, he said, they can always seek support from him or fellow Bridge clients.

“I don’t want to do that again,” Mr. Covell said. “I’m lucky I get to pass this on to someone else. Stay out of it. You get so many chances and that’s it. I try to keep everyone happy because I’m happy now.”

Mr. Covell said he not only changed his lifestyle, but also changed his friends and extracurricular activities. The avid New York Yankees fan makes handcrafted toy chests for his grandchildren, volunteers at the Urban Mission and spends time with family.

Meanwhile, Urban Mission Development Director Andrew G. Mangione said the campaign has raised $1.85 million so far, which puts the campaign almost a year ahead of schedule. Renovations are expected to begin in February, but the agency is still looking for that last $200,000.

To contribute, drop off cash or send a check payable to Watertown Urban Mission, with “capital campaign” written in the memo line, to Watertown Urban Mission, 247 Factory St., Watertown, N.Y. 13601. Pledges may be made over five years.

Donations also can be made online via the mission’s website, http://wdt.me/r36bkA.

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