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Credo celebrates its 40th anniversary

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From humble beginnings to a mega operation.

That is how Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions co-founder Edith E. Marsala described the evolution of the nonprofit that has treated people with drug and alcohol addictions for 40 years.

“When I’d go out and speak to different groups, I hoped in my lifetime I’d see the end of it,” she said. “It’s not going to, and I just realized that now.”

Mrs. Marsala said her parents were alcoholics and her son was a drug addict, and in the 1970s there was no local help for her son or others with addictions. The Rev. Raymond J. Wertman, whom she said is a recovering alcoholic and also agency co-founder, used to walk down to Public Square’s Peanut Park in the early ’70s to offer guidance to addicts who hung out there.

“That was a big part of why we needed something in the area,” she said.

Since 1973, the nonprofit has remained committed to treating north country residents and others sick with addictions, according to Executive Director James P. Scordo. The challenge, he said, is there is no one-size-fits-all plan.

“There’s no rhyme or reason as to what will make it successful for someone,” he said. “It’s difficult to pinpoint what’s going to be the key to help someone make it. Every day is a new challenge. It’s not like you’re in a factory and everything’s the same.”

That means that Credo’s 1,591 clients in 2012 each received individual personal attention from counselors and other agency staff during their treatment of alcohol or substance addictions.

Mr. Scordo said Credo served only a fraction of that in its early years, when the agency was known as Credo Foundation Inc. The foundation remained separate from the Community Center for Alcoholism of Jefferson County, Inc. since the foundation’s inception in 1973. The community center was established in 1970.

The 1970s, Mr. Scordo said, were a time when drug and alcohol treatment facilities began to emerge in response to growing drug problems. Heroin was recognized as a problem statewide in the ’70s, but by the 1980s marijuana had become a big issue, Mr. Scordo said.

But the number of people who are alcohol dependent has always remained high. Cocaine, he said, used to be a rich man’s drug, but when that turned into crack, it became more widespread and affordable.

The 1980s was when cocaine use spiked locally. It wasn’t until the ’90s that the use of inhalants and hallucinogens increased here, and then heroin resurfaced in the early 2000s. At that same time, “opiates opened the floodgates for people in addiction,” Mr. Scordo said. “It’s almost all available in Jefferson County.”

Just in the last two to three years, he said, the use of synthetic drugs was in the forefront until laws were put in place to make those substances illegal.

Credo started as a residential program in 1973 and added outpatient services in 1988. During that time, the community center opened a men’s halfway house and began outpatient services. It wasn’t until 2000 that the two agencies merged to form what the agency is known as today: Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions. Credo now has a total of 95 full- and part-time employees, an outpatient clinic and four residences.

A big concern now, Mr. Scordo said, is not knowing the future of treatment options. He said the recent announcement about the closure of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center frightens him as to what will happen to treatment facilities for alcohol and drug addictions. That fear, he said, stems from the state’s move to managed care, in which the focus is on treating the person as a whole.

Mr. Scordo said with a chance of the state offices of Mental Health and Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services merging, Credo’s board now looks at its three-year strategic plan as a working document.

Credo will celebrate its successes during an invitation-only anniversary dinner Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1290 Arsenal St.

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