In Josh Bressette's name, nonprofit guides addicts through recovery

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Photo Gallery | Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life Inc.

POWNAL, VT. - After more than a year clean, Melissa Borer was shocked to find herself sitting in a jail cell.

Just weeks after she had won the fight to regain custody of her daughter in September and more than 12 month since she'd last touched a needle, Borer was driving through Adams when she was stopped for a defective tail light.

Minutes later, she was in cuffs.

Borer was surprised to learn that there was a warrant for her arrest on a felony trespassing charge in Bennington, Vt., which she apparently had earned while on a drug binge that culminated in an overdose more than a year ago.

Borer couldn't afford to sit in jail — she had medication to take, a daughter to care for — but she also couldn't afford the $2,500 bail set by a Bennington judge.

"I wasn't doing things wrong, I wasn't purposely avoiding a court case," said Borer, an Adams resident. She said had no memory of being summonsed to court in Vermont.

In stepped Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life, led by Kenna Waterman, which chipped in the last $500 for Borer's bail, keeping her on her feet while she faces the Vermont charges.

Borer spent only three days in jail — "the worst three days of my life."

"I was able to get back on track so soon," she said.

Waterman launched the certified nonprofit shortly after the slaying of her son, whose body was discovered by New York City Police officers last May atop a Bronx, N.Y. housing project.

Bressette both dealt and used heroin prior to his death, and family and friends say his addiction led to his death. Although his killing remains unsolved, both Waterman and prosecutors have linked his slaying to his role as a confidential police informant against a Williamstown man now serving up to 17 years in prison for drug offenses.

Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life aims to help smooth the many bumps in an addict's road to recovery, often serving as an advocate when there is no one else to do so. In Borer's situation, her family could only put in $2,000 of the $2,500 for bail and there was nobody else to turn to.

Borer has since had her case resolved with the Department of Children of Families and remains clean the this day. She hopes to resolve the trespassing charges shortly as well as seven misdemeanor counts of false pretense also stemming from a 2013 arrest.

North Adams and southern Vermont are not unique in their battle with opiates; several Northeastern states are currently struggling to address the issue. In 2014, then-Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency, equipping first responders with a powerful drug to combat drug overdoses and seeking tighter opioid prescription monitoring — a course of action also now being taken by new Attorney General Maura Healey. In June 2014, the Brien Center reported that the number of people treated for opiate abuse had surpassed that of those treated for alcohol.

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Borer says her experience facing unexpected charges is a perfect example of the many obstacles addicts face in recovery, and it's exactly where Waterman is aiming the Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life's limited funds.

Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life, managed by Waterman from her Pownal, Vt., home with two volunteers, primarily focuses on helping addicts who have already completed a detox program — which is generally covered by insurance — and are looking to complete a lengthier, 30-day program or a stay in a halfway house. But the organization remains flexible in how it targets its funds, such as in Borer's situation.

"If you just go to detox and go home again, you're going to start using," Waterman says, based on her experience not only with her late son's addiction but with her daughter's as well.

Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life will also pay for or provide rides to treatment, which can often be miles away.

"Any little thing that might prevent them from going [to rehab] might cause them to relapse." Waterman said. "If you need a ride to Taunton, [we'll do] whatever it takes to get the person there."

The efforts of the organization have already won support from local community leaders.

Mayor Richard Alcombright described their actions as "heroic," even if it only ever helped one heroin addict turn his or her life around.

"I admire it so much," he said.

Jennifer St. Germain, one of the two volunteers — and nine years into recovery herself — joined the organization after it had helped a family member pay for a 30-day rehabilitation program.

"If it wasn't for Kenna and Commit to Save a Life, he would not have been successful in his recovery," St. Germain said. "After that, Kenna asked me to jump aboard."

St. Germain, who also works at the Brien Center, is the organization's expert at tracking down available beds for addicts and has also helped Commit to Save a Life establish a strong social media presence that gains more attention every week.

The organization has funded the stay of two people in different halfway houses, which cost about $500 a month, according to Waterman.

The nonprofit has already managed to help several people into rehab and garnered nearly $11,000 in donations, despite only a fledgling fundraising system that Waterman and her volunteers hope to step up. The sale of bracelet's engraved with the organization's name earned it more than $2,000 alone. In the future, she hopes to have an online auction and possibly a benefit concert.

"We've been trying to get our name out there to get people to donate," Waterman said, but "most of the donors are the same people who donate every month."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6308.

To make a tax-deductible donations — or to seek help — go to commit2savealife.org or call Waterman at 802-681-8758.


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