Ronna Yablonski, Frank Cascino

Ronna Yablonski, Cambria County executive director, is shown at left. Frank Cascino, founder of The Frontline, is shown at right.

Six years ago, Frank Cascino was pumping iron at a Johnstown gym with a heavy weight on his mind.

For 15 years, he suffered in silence with addiction, and newly sober, he was tackling recovery the same way – until his old high school gym teacher walked through the door with concern in his eyes.

“He walked up and said, ‘Frank, what’s going on with you?’ Cascino said.

In that moment, the 8th Ward man opened up, telling him ‘You’re looking at 15 years of hardcore substance abuse.’

“I was in shambles ... but I told him I was trying to overcome it.”

His old teacher listened, and then reached out his hand as if to shake it, Cascino said. 

When he reached back, the man gave him a hug – and words of encouragement he still carries with him today.

“He was proud of me for facing it ... he congratulated me,” he said. “At that moment, I knew that stigma of addiction had nothing to do with me.”

Today, Cascino is one of a growing number of people sharing their story with anyone willing to listen that there’s life after addiction.

Now nearly six years sober, the founder of The Frontline will tell his story about recovery to a crowd Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church on Vine Street. And that’s just one of more than a half-dozen events scheduled over the next three weeks as part of National Recovery Month.

Whether it’s radio programs, faith-based support or live music at an event called Harvest of Hope, Cambria County Executive Director Ronna Yablonski said, there’ll be a central message: “Recovery happens.”

It’s a message that is vital today at a time too many people – and families affected by addiction – still view overcoming the disease as a hopeless path. But events being scheduled between now and early October will provide real-life examples that will erase that stigma, Yablonski said.

“People do recover – they live in recovery and hold gainful jobs,” she said. “And it’s time to start spreading the word.”

National Recovery Month was launched by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration in 1989, and although its official name has changed a few times, the mission has been constant, the federal agency’s website shows.

“Recovery month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery, just as we celebrate health improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease,” SAMHSA officials wrote.

The Cambria County commissioners will present a proclamation Thursday denoting recovery month at 10 a.m. during their meeting  at Cambria County Courthouse.

Skills of Central Pa.’s Portage treatment facility hosted an open house Thursday at its Main Street office, featuring tours and discussions to mark its first anniversary.

Cambria County Drug and Alcohol had a recovery fair last week at Central Park and the group We Will Recover 2017 had an all-day event at Greenhouse Park on Sept. 9 that featured 21 speakers, resources to help people on their path to recovery and workshops.

To Yablonski, the groundswell of public events being planned to celebrate recovery is a blessing and possibly, the start of something bigger.

Raising awareness that it’s OK to talk about addiction, recovery and the impact both have on the community is a vital step toward overcoming the region’s drug epidemic, she said.

“We’re going to high school football games now with Forever Media, bringing awareness to addiction and the work we provide to support people. And I think just the fact that we’re being welcomed there says something,” Yablonski said. “Certainly, in years past, you wouldn’t see something like heroin openly talked about it on a campus setting.”

It must be talked about, she said.

“And to see the community rallying around this crisis, it brings a real sense of hope,” Yablonski said. “The people in recovery who are sharing their stories ... it really shows that lives and communities can be changed.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

Recommended for you