The road to recovery from drug addiction is lined with many hurdles and pitfalls. For the past five years, St. Bonaventure Parish in Allegany has worked with a counseling recovery service to provide a safe passage to sobriety.
St. Bonaventure's outreach program, aptly called The Bridge, uses volunteers from Weston's Manor, a transitional residence facility for men in recovery from substance addiction located in Weston Mills, to pick up and deliver furniture and appliances sold at The Bridge thrift store. It's honest work that helps the men give back to society.
"Without them our outreach program would be non-existent, because we just have elderly gentlemen that do the driving, and then these young men do all the lifting for us," explained Jacki Howden, furniture outreach coordinator for St. Bonaventure Parish. "We're kind of training them to use the paperwork system that they use. It's a delivery slip or pick up slip. We encourage them to do that part of it, so it's kind of a training thing. At one time a gentleman said to the young men, they could go out and get a job at any furniture delivery places. So this is a step in the direction of possibly training for them to get a job when they are out of the program."
Doing this type of work prepares the volunteers for the demands of working regular hours, as they are expected to be punctual, fulfill their duties and account for their time. They also learn the detailed work of dealing with invoices and order forms.
Along with job training, the volunteers get to interact with people outside of Weston's Manor, where they attend classes and talk with counselors. Most of the volunteers are between the ages of 18 and 30. They can socialize and get life advice from the older drivers they work with.
"These young men are encouraged to talk with people about their addiction," Howden said. "They're very open about what happened to them. Most of them come from very good families and they just got off with the wrong crowd. Weston's said we're like a counseling service to them, because they are comfortable with talking to us."
These men also volunteer with other projects at St. Bonaventure Parish, such as renovating the store and helping out at the summer lawn fete. They also serve at the Salvation Army, SPCA and St. Bonaventure University's Warming House.
"Part of changing their life is learning to follow the rules," said Tina Wilson, community residence manager for Weston's Manor, which is operated by the Council on Addiction Recovery Services in Olean. "With the volunteer aspect, I encourage them to think of it like a job. They expect you to be there on certain days, at certain times. You can always put that on an application that you volunteered."
Wilson said she has seen men at the manor come from many different backgrounds. The residents can come from an upper middle class neighborhood or the city mission. A common story is for someone to take opiate pain medication after an injury, then develop an addiction and start using heroin once their prescription runs out.
"We've had people in our program who did well for a long period of time, worked and had a good job, and started using and things started falling apart," she said.
They usually come to the manor from inpatient programs. Some have been in jail. "A lot of our guys are mandated from a legal entity because they got themselves into some legal trouble due to their use," Wilson said. "We help to teach them sober living skills and work on any kind of family issues or any other issues that they might be struggling with and try to get them back into the community life without using."
From Wilson's point of view, both Weston's Manor and the Bridge have been successful on helping these men stay clean. "I think it gives them a sense of purpose. It helps get them out in the community. Sometimes a lot of people within the community are almost shocked to hear that the guys that are helping out at the Bridge are people who have been at Weston's," she said. "It helps them be out in the community and learn positive skills. It builds self-esteem for them. I think a lot of them are really beat down by the time they get here. They think pretty negatively of themselves. So, when they go to volunteer at the Bridge, Jacki doesn't have any preconceived notion about our guys. She just wants to see them do well."