“I am that positive face of recovery,” said Carol Cruz as she accepted one of eight community builder awards last week at a United Way community builders recognition luncheon.
Cruz nearly had her son taken away from her 20 years ago because she was a drug addict, abusing alcohol and using heroin and crack cocaine.
She started the organization REACH OUT in recent years after attending a Parent Leadership Training Institute course in Milford, which was designed to mold community leaders. The course members had to do a project, and Cruz chose to start REACH OUT.
It is the type of group she’d dreamed of starting for many years because she strongly believes that people like herself who have faced these challenges can help others going through them.
Her struggle with addiction peaked in 1994. In 1994 Cruz was pregnant, and a week after her son was born her mother and sister took the tough love approach and told her they wouldn’t help with the baby until she got clean.
Addicted to heroin and crack cocaine, Cruz was in the bathroom of her apartment getting high when she heard her son screaming. The drugs made her paranoid and she thought the worst, that someone had broken in.
But when she got to her baby, he was fine, looking at her with big eyes that to her said, “Mommy please stop. I need you.”
So she stopped. And she has “been clean” ever since.
For her accomplishments, she received the United Way’s Meeting Critical Needs award.
The other recipients of the United Way awards are Dr. Perry Opin, who received the United Way’s Lifetime Achievement award; Ardienne Damicis, earning the Spirit of Milford award; Officer James Kiely, who took the Strengthening Families award; Diane Frankel Gramelis, who received the Champion of Caring award; Lillian Holmes, recipient of the Distinguished Service award; Megan Altomare, who received the Nurturing Children award; and Alec Albright, who received the Youth Leadership award.
Former Library Director Jean Tsang nominated Damicis for the Spirit of Milford award for devoting time to preserving Milford heritage.
Damicis coordinates school group tours at the Historical Society, and “she dons a Colonial costume and becomes an active participant in the tours,” according a United Way write-up.
A retired teacher from Orchard Hills School, she is involved with the Friends of the Milford Cemetery and the Daughters of the American Revolution, and she worked on the city’s 375th anniversary committee.
“Ardienne has worked tirelessly to preserve our city’s heritage and to instill civic pride in countless city school children,” United Way officials said.