Sage’s Army gets nearly $600K to expand addiction outreach, support | TribLIVE.com
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Deb Erdley

Carmen Capozzi was overwhelmed when his 20-year-old son, Sage, died of a heroin overdose in a Hempfield motel room in March 2012.

But the Irwin contractor collected himself, took his grief, molded it into an anti-addiction campaign and Sage’s Army was born.

For 7½ years, working on a dream and a shoestring, Capozzi and a group of like-minded volunteers — many of whom had lost a loved one to addiction — staffed an around-the-clock help line (724-863-LIFE) offering advice, support and referrals to those battling addiction. If someone needed a referral for treatment or a ride to a therapist, they stepped in. If families needed to talk to others who’d traveled the dark journey with loved ones, support groups were formed.

Now, courtesy of $586,000 in new grants, Sage’s Army is calling in reinforcements. Capozzi said the organization is hiring permanent staff, expanding from its Irwin office to a second site in Hempfield scheduled to open early next year and planning for peer mentoring and life support services to support those in recovery.

“We want to start a recovery coach program where people are able to come in and get guidance and we stay with them for five years working with them on life skills, treatment and all kinds of things,” Capozzi said.

State Sen. Kim Ward and Rep. Eric Nelson, both Hempfield Republicans, collaborated to assist Capozzi. They said Sage’s Army has worked tirelessly to fill a void in a community ravished by addiction.

“It’s a great example of how we get everyone working together with the grass roots to see what’s really needed in the community,” Nelson said. He said he’s been supporting the group almost since its inception.

Sage’s Army was among five organizations across the state, and the only one in Western Pennsylvania, to share in $2.1 million in federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grants awarded to Pennsylvania to enhance community support for people in addiction recovery.

Capozzi previously relied on family, friends and volunteers to staff the Sage’s Army hotline and provide referrals and support groups. The addition of professional staff will allow the group to expand to help meet a crying need in the community, he said.

And they will continue to provide services at no charge, Capozzi said.

“It’s 24/7 with us. Last night, I was on the phone until 11:30 p.m. talking to a husband about how to help his wife, giving him knowledge about how to help her, how to walk with her, not against her. If this was any other disease, we’d have this mapped out by now,” he said.

Ward said she’s listened to Capozzi on his cellphone trying to find a treatment referral for a family while the contractor was working on a job she’d hired him for in her home. She’s impressed with his dedication.

“Sage’s Army and Carmen Capozzi have really been a constant fixture in our community and the surrounding counties in trying to help folks suffering from addiction. They talk people off the ledge. They make sure they know where they can go for help and they hold their hand. He has been committed 100 percent to doing this and putting his own time and resources into helping people,” Ward said.

“I was so proud to be able to help him find funding to carry on this work in the community. I told him Sage is smiling at you today for reaching your goal,” she added.

The first staff hired for Sage’s Army shares Capozzi’s commitment.

Toni Antonucci, the agency’s new operations director, came from STRIVE, a Greensburg-based clinic where she worked as a psychotherapist.

Like Capozzi, she lost a child to addiction. Antonucci said her 26-year-old son, Demetre Josebeck, was in recovery when he relapsed and died of an overdose on July 4, 2018.

The phone hotline will continue, she said.

“We will staff it with a combination of volunteers and paid staff. We’re also bringing on certified recovery specialists to provide peer support and follow up for those in recovery,” Antonucci said.

“It’s easy to send someone off to treatment for 60 days. But often when they come home, they have nothing. We will provide life skills like learning to use a checking account and write a resume, and we’re going to provide transportation — a ride service like Lyft or Uber — so people can get to work once they get a job. We want to work with them to rebuild their lives after treatment and stay in recovery,” Antonucci said.

Sage’s Army also will sponsor sober-living events for those in recovery looking to get out of the house. And it will continue to work with families.

“I was in the treatment world. And if I had a hard time navigating the treatment world for my son, I cannot imagine what challenges other families face,” Antonucci said. “If we can change that for one person in the family, we can change everyone in the family.”

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