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Richie Thomas on his wedding day.

When Frank Cascino decided to seek recovery from a life of drug addiction, he turned to Richie Thomas, his best friend from Johnstown High School. Despite the ten years Frank had been gone from his life, Richie and his wife Michele embraced Frank with unconditional love and the support he needed to seek treatment.

“I was worried to call,” says Frank. “I didn’t know what he’d say. His response was so kind and genuine and he just said to me, Frank, everybody needs help sometimes.”

Michele, a substance abuse counselor, found a facility and the funding so Frank could get sober. He hasn’t used drugs since.

Six months later, Richie died from a massive heart attack.

Frank Cascino shares his story with students

Now in his eighth year of recovery, Frank takes his hard-earned wisdom on the road, using it to inspire students and church groups throughout Cambria County, and parts of Somerset and Bedford counties. He’s a popular speaker at local high schools, where he encourages students to find their voices at a young age, and learn to have tough conversations with important people in their lives so that confusing, stressful, and dangerous feelings don’t build up.

“The feeling you have after you talk about your feelings will outweigh the feeling of any substance you can put into your body,” Frank tells them.

Frank wants these speaking engagements to say something about his friend, Richie, too. Frank  teamed up with Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to create the Richie Thomas Memorial Scholarship Fund, providing funding for students pursing careers in social work, counseling, treatment, or anything that supports addiction recovery. Half of Frank’s speaking fees will go toward the scholarship. In this way, he hopes to encourage help for future addicts, and discourage a rising generation from abusing drugs or alcohol in the first place.

“This is key to how we help people help people,” says CFA Donor Services Officer Katrina Perkosky. “We lift the burden of nonprofit administration so individuals like Frank can act on their passions. Frank shares his story with inspiring honesty, to lift our region from its drug epidemic. We’re grateful for the work he’s doing, and glad to be part of it.”

Frank feels this fund is a way to partner with the friend who saved his life, even if his friend is no longer here.

“I think of it as now we’re back together again,” adds Frank. “All those years that I wasn’t around, I found out Richie was really engrained in the little league system in town. He was an umpire, little kids always looked up to him, he was a mentor.”

The road to recovery isn’t easy, and it wasn’t easy for Frank. Six months of outpatient therapy gave him the tools he needed to rebuild his life. He worked low-wage jobs to regain his career track. He set a high bar for himself, wanting to live a full life — not one defined by his sobriety.

Today it’s a life of purpose. In celebration of the friend who will never see it realized, Frank is sharing the hope and love that lifted him from the depths of his addiction and gave him light to shine.

Visit Frank’s website to find out more and request a presentation.

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