Bridges Healthcare includes as part of its mission the goal of improving the lives of children, families and adults with mental health disorders and substance abuse challenges.
As if that weren’t a lofty enough goal, the organization, which provides services for thousands of Milford, Orange and West Haven residents, has recently worked hard to also make a difference in the center of West Haven, where it operates a small business, Coffee Haven West.
The unique shop at 535 Campbell Ave. offers a selection of tasty coffees and refreshments for downtown workers and residents. As a Center business, the organization wanted to go a step further in becoming a good “corporate citizen” to the community as well.
In the last couple of months, the organization began an effort to beautify the downtown area, help inspire other businesses to do the same, and help build character for its clients.
John Ciambriello, a social rehabilitation case manager at Bridges, had an idea to share his love of gardening with other staff and clients by organizing a group called “Garden Together.”
The group started with six pottery planters at the entrances to the municipal parking lot serving the row of stores in which the coffee shop operates. Previously, the large planters had become receptacles for unsightly trash and weeds.
In early June, Garden Together planted a mix of colorful begonias, petunias and marigolds in the planters to visually change and improve the area. The group included clients Alex Flynn, Rebecca Pinkleton and Kurt Zehnder.
Learning from online videos and the experiences of its members, the group has also planted a garden of vegetables and flowers behind Coffee Haven West and has involved staff and clients in tending to the planters to keep them watered to ensure they thrive in the warmer months.
To build on those efforts, the organization then reached out to members of the West Haven Beautification Committee and asked if they could help with new plantings around City Hall.
In late June, Bridges organized a team of seven staff members and clients of Young Adult Services to meet with a representative of the Beautification Committee to plant two large planters in front of City Hall — one on Campbell Avenue, one on Main Street — and a planting area opposite City Hall on the northeast corner of the Green.
The Bridges team, in addition to Ciambriello, included Jason Crockett, director of operations for Young Adult Services; Shirley Leto, recovery coordinator for YAS; and clients Andrea Zello, Shania Ploughman, Salena Gural and Raidah Arshad.
The group joined forces with committee co-Chair David Killeen and toiled late that day to complete the work — with impressive results.
“Keeping an attractive appearance around City Hall is a major concern of my administration,” Mayor Nancy R. Rossi said. “The efforts of groups like Bridges and the Beautification Committee help us make the area attractive at a considerable savings for the city. I am thankful for their contribution to this effort.”
“Bridges Healthcare is committed to being a part of the community and is always looking for opportunities to involve our staff and clients in projects that really make a difference around us,” Crockett said. “These efforts in West Haven are a perfect example.”
The coffee shop serves to provide vocational training and opportunities for clients engaged with Bridges’ Young Adult Services program. YAS takes a multidimensional approach to assist young adults with a history of trauma, abuse or other mental health issues to develop independent living skills and self-sufficiency and reach their fullest potential, Crockett said.
YAS is funded by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Killeen, who is also the assistant city planner, added: “We were pleased to partner with Bridges to make this kind of improvement in the West Haven Center. We assist with similar efforts throughout the city, and our goal is to help build pride in the community.”
Killeen said the committee provided a mix of perennial and annual flowers to fill the planting areas.
West Haven’s Beautification Program is being financed by the city Department of Human Resources under the leadership of Commissioner Beth A. Sabo.