Milford cycling event benefits Bridges' health care mission

Photo of Brian Gioiele

MILFORD — When helping those with mental illness or addiction, Jennifer Fiorillo says success can come with small steps in a positive direction.  

Fiorillo is executive director of Bridges Healthcare, an agency which touches the lives of some 7,000 individuals annually with services ranging from clinical treatment to addiction prevention, grief counseling to young adult outreach and early intervention.  

“Bridges is not only just about servicing people with serious emotional issues or mental illness, but also people dealing with situational issues, like a job loss or a death,” Fiorillo said. “We are a safety net for those people as well.”  

“We should not be seen as simply an agency that just provides services to people who are severe and chronic,” she added.  

The road to improving people’s mental and physical health does come at a cost, and Fiorillo said state grants and donations, at times, are not enough. That is why Folks on Spokes and Step Forward — the annual ride and walk for mental health — set for Oct. 2 is so key to the Bridges’ continued success.  

“As our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Fiorillo added, “we’re extremely grateful to the greater Milford community for continuing to participate and support Bridges’ vital programs.”  

Bridges, in existence since 1957 with offices in Milford, West Haven, and Stratford, provides mental and behavioral health and substance abuse services to people in Milford, Orange, West Haven, and Stratford, as well as numerous surrounding communities. The agency offers 24-7 mobile care.

“Success for us comes in as small as one step in the right direction,” Fiorillo said. “To those we help, success is also one step on the road to recovery. We accept people where they are and work with them to take those steps in the right direction.”  

Hundreds of cyclists and walkers will be hitting the road to support Bridges’ work. The event, a staple in the Milford community for more than 30 years, begins at 8 a.m. at Fowler Field. The agency hopes to raise a goal of $50,000 for its community health programs and services.  

There are two ways to participate — ride one of the event’s 5-, 10-, 20-, or 40-mile routes or walk the 5K— all along the scenic Connecticut coastline. Participants can honor the lives of loved ones lost to addiction, overdose, suicide or other mental health related issues and uplift those in recovery by taking part in the event’s Remembrance Ceremony.  

“We do get grants, state contracts, and we’re supported by generous donors, but the cost to provide outpatient services is very expensive,” said Allison Csonka, director of fund development and communications.  

“We have licensed clinicians, prescribers, registered nurses, and the cost of therapeutic service is high,” Csonka added. “Grants and reimbursements do not always cover the cost of services. We need money to provide services at a level considered high quality, and these events help us to do that.”  

Bridges has a team of nearly 200 employees, including licensed, experienced clinicians in mental health, substance use disorders, and recovery and uses, according to Fiorillo, noting there is a customized, recovery-based approach for each person.  

Services are offered to individuals and families, adults to children as young as 5. They deliver services at three main office locations, in people’s homes and in the community as well as through telehealth, which became part of the offering necessitated during the pandemic.  

Fiorillo said the agency has 24-mobile crisis services, employment training and placement, grief counseling and bereavement support, medication management, mental health evaluation and treatment, substance use disorder screening and treatment, and young adult outreach and early intervention. It also provides integrated primary care with Optimus Healthcare at its Bridgeport Avenue location. 

And Fiorillo says the case load remains heavy, as more people realize, post-COVID, that mental health is part of a person’s overall health, and “it is OK to seek help for mental health issues.”  

Bridges also has its MATT’S van, Connecticut's first Mobile Addiction Treatment Team for opioid addiction. Fiorillo said this mobile service reduces the barriers to treatment by offering individuals a way to get help without having to make an appointment at a clinic and wait to be seen by a clinician.

MATT's van clients are seen immediately by a recovery coach and prescriber.

Fiorillo added that clients will have access to a peer counselor, a Narcan overdose reversal kit, referral to a treatment center like Bridges, and access to an on-site pharmacy to fill the prescription.  

The agency will also be soon introducing its WOW (Wellness on Wheels) vehicle, a traveling service that will provide health screenings.  

“One of our goals this year is to do more outreach in the community, to make sure people who need to access services are accessing those services,” Csonka said. “WOW will allow us to do some of that outreach.”  

Proceeds from Folks on Spokes and Step Forward go to help local children, families, teens, young adults and adults who need mental and behavioral health, substance abuse, and integrated primary care services. 

“One of the big reasons we have events is to raise awareness,” Fiorillo said. “Folks on Spokes is a 30-year event, and it’s not just to raise money but to make sure people are still thinking about mental health.”  

"Bridges has been a staple in Milford for 65 years,” Csonka added, “and people are still surprised how involved we are, whether it’s with school systems, young adult programs, clinical services.”  

To register, sponsor, volunteer, or learn more, visit folksonspokes.bridgesct.org

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com